Flame of Love Project: Margaret Poloma and the Templeton Foundation Mainstream the NAR
New Apostolic Reformation doctrine teaches that followers of competing belief systems practice idolatry and witchcraft, and NAR leaders advise their followers to burn, smash, or otherwise destroy or dispose of books, art, and other objects associated with competing beliefs, such as Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hinduism, eastern religions, Christian Science, native religions, and Baha'i.
While the NAR's "Spiritual Mapping" practices include the targeting and demonization of individuals identified as practicing witchcraft and sorcery, top NAR leaders have also engaged, on a global level, in demonizing LGBT citizens and are tied to an antigay crusade, in the African nation of Uganda, behind draconian pending legislation that, in its original form, proposed establishing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" and three-year prison sentences for citizens who failed to report homosexual activity to police.
Godly Love, or 'Christian Jihad' ?
Some critics have compared the New Apostolic Reformation to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Among these critics is Colonel Vaughn Doner, a leading strategist and architect of the modern American religious right who has renounced the political aspirations of the movement he helped create and, in his new book Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America, suggests that the NAR mirrors the strain of radical Islamic fundamentalism behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and states,
"While many fear the Islamic fundamentalists' plot to place the world under Islamic Law, the Sharia, most Americans may not know that Christian conservatives, long the dominant wing of the Republican Party, are increasingly falling under the spell of theocratic utopianism with its goal of establishing "God's Law" as the law of the land."
C. Peter Wagner, possibly the NAR's leading theorist and widely credited as the most influential leader in the movement, has suggested that the 2011 tsunami which claimed the lives of upwards of 20,000 Japanese citizens might have occurred because of Japan's resistance to Christianity. Wagner traces his movement's "dominion" theology through R.J. Rushdoony, the intellectual father of the Christian Reconstructionism movement.
Rushdoony advocated a radical form of theocratic libertarianism "which would dramatically reduce the federal government and control society through enforcement of biblical law at the local and state levels".
Wagner also celebrates, as a model for "social transformation", the exploits of late-15th Century Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola--known for his attempts to institute a utopian Christian political regime in Florence, Italy, his backing of legislation that would have punished homosexuality by burning at the stake, and his instigation of the "bonfire of the vanities", during which large numbers of "profane" objects, including books and fine art that by some reports included several paintings by the Renaissance master Botticelli, were gathered in great quantities and publicly set ablaze.
An aggressive proponent of warfare theology who blurs the line between "spiritual warfare" and actual warfare , Wagner writes, on page 7 of his 2008 book Dominion - How Kingdom Action Can Change The World,
"The church is expected to war. Cosmic powers of evil have been assigned to thwart the Kingdom of God on earth, but they can be confronted and defeated. Apostles are designated to lead the church into war because it takes a government to overthrow a government. Jesus invaded the kingdom of Satan when he came to earth, and he said that kingdom will be taken by violence. Some Christian leaders have promulgated an unfortunate antiwar movement, but the dangers of this need to be exposed. For society to be transformed, bondages related to the land must be identified and broken through informed intercession. In war the victor plunder the enemy's camp, and God will cause this to happen as never before."
Recently the controversial and heavily political NAR has been covered in American mainstream media, with some pundits claiming, in response, that the NAR--whose leadership has demonstrated ties to 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as well as 2012 presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich--is a fringe movement.
In February 2012, a story in The Nation, concerning Newt Gingrich's tactical alliance with apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation, quoted sociologist Margaret Poloma, "The way some of the [NAR] leaders talk, you'd think they were an army planning to take over the world." Added Poloma, "It sounds to me like radical Islam."
The Nation readers might have made the natural assumption that Margaret Poloma opposes the NAR. But in January 2009, I discovered a free video offering, at the website of C. Peter Wagner's Wagner Leadership Institute--a one-hour sample lecture from the WLI course AP825, "Developing Structures for Apostolic Ministry". Watching the segment, I was startled to hear Wagner tell his audience,
"Margaret Poloma's here. She's doing a videotape of Randy [Clark] right now, but she's a professor in the University of Akron, a sociologist - one of the greatest born-again, kingdom-minded sociologists that we have." (see embedded video at story end.)
The Flame of Love Project
As science writer John Horgan describes, the Templeton Foundation "spends tens of millions of dollars a year to support academic programs, publications, broadcasts, lectures, conferences and research on topics that supposedly have some spiritual component."
Since 2008, at academic conferences and in their scholarship, a cadre of prominent American scholars heavily funded by the John Templeton Foundation have been enthusiastically promoting the NAR's apostles and prophets, including New Apostolic Reformation guru C. Peter Wagner, as examples of positive Christian engagement in the world: "exemplars of Godly Love" who are alleged to be so benevolent that they have no worldly enemies.
Leading that effort is sociologist Margaret Poloma's Flame of Love Project -- which is co-directed by American academics Margaret Poloma, Matthew T. Lee, Stephen G. Post, and John C. Green, and endorsed by noted scholar of religion Harvey Cox, pollster George H. Gallup, Jr., and Princeton Sociologist Robert Wuthnow, who sit on the Flame of Love Project advisory board.
While an investigation by journalist Nathan Schneider, published June 3, 2010 in The Nation, addressed concerns within the scientific community over the growing flood of Templeton Foundation grants, which characteristically blur lines between science and spirituality, the story, that introduced the topic with a mention of sociologist Margaret Poloma's Flame of Love Project, nonetheless did not delve into the Templeton-financed effort.
Based out of the University of Akron, funded with a $2.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, and spearheaded by Margaret M. Poloma and Matthew T. Lee, currently interim chair of the University of Akron sociology department, the Flame of Love Project claims to be "establishing an interdisciplinary science of Godly Love", with Godly Love defined as "the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence".
As the "overview" page of the Flame of Love Project describes,
"The primary goal is to use multiple methods to investigate the phenomena of Godly Love with the expressed purpose of fostering a wide-ranging interdisciplinary dialogue. The resulting discourse has the potential to provide answers to the pressing questions of our day. These questions include:
Project founder Margaret M. Poloma has written extensively on missionary and faith healer Heidi Baker, covered in a feature story in the May 2012 print issue of Christianity Today. One of the academics Poloma's project has funded is University of Indiana at Bloomington professor Candy Gunther Brown who - as discussed in the Christianity Today story, conducted, in partnership with Heidi Baker's Iris Ministries, a small study in Mozambique which purported to demonstrate the power of what Brown calls "Proximal Intercessory Prayer".
Baker's ministry is widely known for its many claims of miracles, such as Heidi Baker's claim to have cured a leper by stamping on his foot, and Baker's story, recounted on the 700 Club, of how chicken dinners miraculously manifested to feed all the guests, at a Christmas dinner hosted by Iris Ministries, who wanted to eat chicken rather than the fish that had been prepared. After praying, according to Baker, "God just made more chicken for us."
Raising the Dead
While Flame of Love Project leaders clothe their effort in scientific jargon, Project surveys rely on (subjective) self reporting of subjective phenomenon that cannot be empirically measured, phenomenon whose very existence cannot necessarily even be demonstrated.
Extreme faith healing claims--that have proven deeply controversial and divisive even among some leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation--are presented uncritically or tacitly endorsed by Flame of Love Project academics, who seem seem willing to extend credence to undocumented claims of raising the dead, faith healing of HIV/AIDS, and the miraculous regeneration of missing limbs and eyeballs.
At a Flame of Love Project conference held October 22-23, 2010 at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA, Margaret Poloma presented "prophecy, healing, and miracles" alleged to be carried out by some of these "exemplars" as proven phenomenon. Citing "exemplar" Bill Johnson's Redding, CA Bethel Church, Poloma stated,
"Some of you are familiar with, let's say, what is going on in Redding, California, at Bethel Church, I mean with the high degree of supernatural-type activity. Some of those exemplars that we interviewed, I mean they're doing things that other exemplars would never know was possible... So let's say, if they're really moving in prophecy, and healing, and miracles, that's one indicator."
During the Vanguard University conference, Poloma described a planned book, provisionally titled "Dancing With God", to be co-written by Poloma, Lee, and Post, that would discuss such alleged miracles and would be geared towards a popular audience-- a book, according to Poloma, that might be picked up by average readers at Barnes and Noble or Borders bookstores.
"Exemplar" Bill Johnson's Bethel Church is known for its claims of hyper-charismatic supernatural phenomenon including gold dust manifested at church events and church teaching that average believers can raise the dead--adults, babies, and dead puppies alike.
Such Bethel teaching has already led to tragic consequences, in a 2008 case in which students from Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry, rather than alerting authorities after a friend fell almost 200 feet off a seacoast cliff, choose to try and pray 'back to life' the victim who, in fact, was not dead but merely seriously wounded and who subsequently opted to sue the Bethel students.
Beyond faith healing and other alleged charismatic phenomenon, the Flame of Love Project is more broadly concerned with altruistic love for others. A 2009 Flame of Love seminar at Calvin College headed by Margaret Poloma, Stephen H. Post, and Matthew T. Lee was advertised with the following,
"To what extent can emotionally powerful experiences of a divine "flame of love" move us beyond our ordinary self-interests and help us express unconditional, unlimited love for all others, especially when our human capacities seem to reach their limits? The answer to this question requires an investigation of Godly Love, which is defined as the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence. This perceived interaction provides the framework for a scholarly investigation of the Great Commandment: love God and love neighbor as self. The purpose of this summer seminar is to provide an opportunity for social scientists and theologians to think and write creatively about Godly Love in the Christian tradition. "
The Flame of Love Project has completed three national randomized telephone surveys which asked respondents to self-report on their own perceived patterns of generosity and acts of altruism, as well as their perceived sense of feeling "godly love". But perhaps the centerpiece has involved in-depth one-hour interviews with over 116 Christian leaders identified as "nationally recognized exemplars of Godly Love and their collaborators".
Exemplars of Godly Love
Over 1/4 of these "exemplars of Godly Love" identified by the Flame of Love Project were in, or have worked with, New Apostolic Reformation ministries and NAR apostolic networks of six individuals also listed among the "exemplars" - C. Peter Wagner, Che Ahn, Heidi Baker, Bill Johnson, John Arnott, and Randy Clark.
To an overwhelmingly degree, these six, and their associates, represent the dominant religious tendency among the project's "exemplars", and their apostolic networks comprise a significant segment of the burgeoning New Apostolic Reformation movement globally.
Che Ahn, Heidi Baker, Bill Johnson, John Arnott, and Randy Clark are members of a new NAR coalition called the Revival Alliance, which has brought together many of the apostolic networks outside of those aligned with C. Peter Wagner's wing of the NAR. The role of Revival Alliance members in the New Apostolic Reformation has been covered in a successive three-part series by researcher Rachel Tabachnick (part one, part two).
As an indication of the close ideological and political coherence of the movement, all six of these exemplars have been listed as teaching in the Wagner Leadership Institute, which Che Ahn now heads, as WLI Chancellor.
Among WLI's core faculty members is Florida evangelist Kim Daniels, who has suggested that Africans are especially prone to sex with demons, stated that "the Jews own everything!" and written, in a "prayer" for president Barack Obama published January 19, 2009 in Charisma magazine, "Lord, we come against every stronghold that keeps the president from the truth. We break every soul tie and vow that has been established between him and Harvard, secret societies and the illuminati."
In 2009, listed as teaching a course for the Wagner Leadership Institute Southeast, was Ugandan NAR apostle Julius Oyet, who claims to have helped co-author Uganda's notorious and internationally condemned Anti Homosexuality Bill and even served on a committee that picked Ugandan politician David Bahati to introduce the bill in Uganda's parliament.
The Revival Alliance, which formed in 2006, was publicly launched in March 2008 at a conference held at Che Ahn's Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, CA, which Ahn cofounded with The Call leader Lou Engle--who serves on Peter Wagner's Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders, the top group of prophets in the Wagner-associated block of the NAR.
In early 2010, Wagner passed the chancellorship of the Wagner Leadership Institute to Ahn, who also co-founded Lou Engle's The Call ministry. In May 2010, The Call became notorious among gay rights groups for staging a rally in Kampala, Uganda, that was widely interpreted, including by leading Ugandan evangelist Julius Oyet, as supporting the Anti Homosexuality Bill, dubbed the "kill the gays" bill.
At the rally, Engle told BBC journalist Sorious Samura that he did not support the internationally condemned bill. But when Samura interviewed Julius Oyet at the event, the powerful Ugandan evangelist, who has ties to Uganda's president and first lady, assured Samura that "Lou Engle is a strong ally."
When Samura countered that Engle and American evangelicals had said they were withdrawing their support for the bill, Oyet responded, "To the media they may say that... what did he [Engle] say [at the rally]? He said, 'Uganda, you are key, you are standing now as a leader, for righteousness.' That is support."
The Call played a major role in fighting for passage of California's now overturned Proposition Eight voter amendment, banning same-sex marriage, including running eight field offices throughout CA. For his part, Che Ahn has compared the fight against legalized same-sex marriage to the anti-slavery movement.
A faith-healing kick in the face
All six "exemplars of Godly love" also have worked closely with or endorsed controversial evangelist Todd Bentley, who through much of 2008 Florida led a continuous tent revival event, known as the "Lakeland Outpouring".
Bentley claimed to be able to work faith healing miracles on people by violently assaulting them onstage, punching them, "leg dropping" them, even kicking them in the face with his biker boots.
In one especially disturbing case, during one of his nightly revival and faith healing sessions that were held under the auspices of Wagner apostle Stephen Strader's Lakeland, Florida Ignited Church - revival events that often drew thousands of people, Todd Bentley kneed or kicked in the stomach (link to video) a man billed as having Metatastic Stage 4 Colon Cancer.
Bentley, who like "exemplar" Heidi Baker claims the power to raise the dead, was featured in a Fall 2008 Southern Poverty Law Center story -- due to his aggressive promotion of "Joel's Army" theology, which maintains that a supernaturally endowed army will arise in the end-time to cleanse the Earth of evil and unbelievers.
On June 23, 2008, C. Peter Wagner - acting as "convening apostle", could be found up onstage leading a ceremony, described as an "apostolic alignment", during which Todd Bentley put himself under the apostolic oversight of Revival Alliance leaders Che Ahn, Bill Johnson, and John Arnott.
Randy Clark also participated with Bentley in leading revival events during the Lakeland Outpouring but among the Revival Alliance "exemplars" Bentley had worked most closely, perhaps, with Heidi Baker and with Iris Ministries, led by Heidi Baker and her husband Rolland Baker, another "exemplar".
In 2003, Bentley's Fresh Fire Ministries joined Iris Ministries in leading an evangelistic "crusade" in Malawi during which, according to one report on the event, Todd Bentley "has been encouraging the local people to bring the dead to the crusade meetings where opportunity will be given to see them raised up with resurrection power." Iris Ministries also partnered with Fresh Fire Ministries (and joined by Che Ahn's Harvest International Ministries) in leading a 2005 crusade in Mozambique.
Shortly after his June 23, 2008 "apostolic alignment", Todd Bentley admitted to having an extramarital sexual affair, and subsequent controversy concerning Bentley, and his endorsement by major New Apostolic Reformation leaders, led Charisma magazine, a flagship publication of the charismatic movement, to warn of a potential "charismatic civil war", with Editor Marcus Yoars stating,
"At the core were such issues as extra-biblical doctrine, overemphasis on angelic encounters and necromancy."
[video, below: NAR leader C. Peter Wagner, during a lecture for WLI course AP825, suggests that sociologist Margaret Poloma is a member of his movement]
Flame of Love Project: Margaret Poloma and the Templeton Foundation Mainstream the NAR | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Flame of Love Project: Margaret Poloma and the Templeton Foundation Mainstream the NAR | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)