Until I read this article by Casey Sanchez for The Southern Poverty Law Center, I did not really understand what was meant by the term “Joel’s Army”. A user over at Talk2Action and DailyKos by the name of dogemperor has been sounding the alarm over this movement for several years. She was brought up in an Assemblies of God Church which subscribed to this theologyand walked away from it a few years ago.
Dogemporer also has an excellent overview of Joel’s Army theology. This movement is also called “The New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR). There are a lot of links in the article, I recommend it highly. You can get lost in all of the links and craziness of these people. The only problem I have had with reading all of this material, is that dogemperor relies on AoG terminology which sometimes confuses me. Dogemperor says that the AoG churches officially deny they are supporting Joel’s Army activities, but a lot of AoG churches have been steeplejacked by Joel’s Army supporters.
But until I read the article by Sanchez, I was confused by the fact that most of the Pentecostal people I knew were the “lets not worry and just wait for the Rapture” sort of people. But it seems that within the AoG churches and assorted non-denominational churches, there are people who are not content for God to choose the time for the Rapture; they think it is up to them. I can see how a movement like this can start up. The rise of Prosperity Gospel and the idea that God can give them what they want here on earth can turn into the nightmare of Joel’s Army, if what one wants is political power.
Tattooed across his sternum are military dog tags that read “Joel’s Army.” They’re evidence of Bentley’s generalship in a rapidly growing apocalyptic movement that’s gone largely unnoticed by watchdogs of the theocratic right. According to Bentley and a handful of other “hyper-charismatic” preachers advancing the same agenda, Joel’s Army is prophesied to become an Armageddon-ready military force of young people with a divine mandate to physically impose Christian “dominion” on non-believers.
Joel’s Army followers, many of them teenagers and young adults who believe they’re members of the final generation to come of age before the end of the world, are breaking away in droves from mainline Pentecostal churches. Numbering in the tens of thousands, they base their beliefs on an esoteric reading of the second chapter of the Old Testament Book of Joel, in which an avenging swarm of locusts attacks Israel. In their view, the locusts are a metaphor for Joel’s Army.
It looks like the younger people in some of these churches want their Armageddon now and they want to bring it about themselves.
Those sounding the alarm about Joel’s Army are not secular foes of the Christian Right, few of whom are even aware of the movement or how widespread it’s become in the past decade. Instead, Joel’s Army critics are mostly conservative Christians, either neo-Pentecostals who left the movement in disgust or evangelical Christians who fear that Joel’s Army preachers are stealing their flocks, even sending spies to infiltrate their own congregations and sway their young people to heresy. And they say the movement is becoming frightening.
“The pitch and intensity of the military rhetoric of this branch of the global Dominionist movement has substantially increased since the beginning of 2008,” writes The Discernment Research Group, a Christian watchdog group that tracks what they call heresies or cults within Christianity. “One can only wonder how long before this transforms into real warfare with actual warriors.”
Joel’s Army believers are hard-core Christian dominionists, meaning they believe that America, along with the rest of the world, should be governed by conservative Christians and a conservative Christian interpretation of biblical law. There is no room in their doctrine for democracy or pluralism.
Dominionism’s original branch is Christian Reconstructionism, a grim, Calvinist call to theocracy that, as Reconstructionist writer Gary North describes, wants to “get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
Notorious for endorsing the public execution by stoning of homosexuals and adulterers, the Christian Reconstructionist movement is far better known in secular America than Joel’s Army. That’s largely because Reconstructionists have made several serious forays into mainstream politics and received a fair amount of negative publicity as a result. Joel’s Army followers eschew the political system, believing the path to world domination lies in taking over churches, not election to public office.
Another key difference between the two branches of dominionism, which maintain a testy, arms-length relationship with one another, is Christian Reconstructionism’s buttoned-down image and heavy emphasis on Bible study, which contrasts sharply with Joel’s Army anti-intellectual distrust of biblical scholars and its unruly style.
That’s really great, the irrationality and anti intellectualism of the Joel’s Army seems to make them into a howling mob. Actually, read the following description of one of the services:
The audience members behave as if they are at a psychedelic counterculture festival. One couple jumps up and down twirling red and silver metallic flags. Dyed-haired teenagers pulled in by the revival’s presence on Facebook and MySpace wander around looking dazed. Women lay facedown on the floor, convulsing and howling. Fathers wail in tongues as their confused children look on. Strangers lay hands on those who fail to produce tongues or gyrate wildly enough, pressuring them to “let it out.”
Holy shit indeed.
Michael Barkun, a leading scholar of radical religion, notes that in 1958, Branham began teaching “Serpent Seed” doctrine, the belief that Satan had sex with Eve, resulting in Cain and his descendants. “Through Cain came all the smart, educated people down to the antediluvian flood — the intellectuals, bible colleges,” Branham wrote in the kind of anti-mainstream religion, anti-intellectual spirit that pervades the Joel’s Army movement to this day. “They know all their creeds but know nothing about God.”
It seems that their reach is far indeed and quite subtle. In fact, a large non-denominational church near where I live has an interesting selection of sermons on-line. In two sermons entitled, Picture of a Typical Unbeliever, July 27 and August 3 2008, the preacher is linking the biblical Cain and his descendants with non-Christians and atheists as the main theme of the sermons. I don’t know if he realizes that the “Serpent Seed” theology is also promulgated by racist Christian Identity churches, except their descendants of Cain are non-white instead of non-Christian. Different groups but the same demonizing.
Here is another article about the Joel’s Army people over at Talk2Action. There is also a link to one of the preachers that advocate this theology. He talks about taking over the government.
Sarah Palin’s churches are being portrayed by many religion writers as typical of traditional Assemblies of God congregations. This includes claims that she may share the endtimes belief that the godly will be snatched from the earth in the Rapture and therefore avoid the reign of the Antichrist in the Tribulation and the Apocalypse. This conclusion completely ignores the fact that Palin’s churches are deeply involved in the activities and beliefs of a nondenominational movement that is sweeping the globe. The followers of this movement are not waiting around for the Rapture!
Here is a quick overview of the theology:
While Pentecostal churches have always celebrated a restoration of the church, this has been tempered with Rapture theology. As churches embrace this Apostolic revolution they are moving away from the traditions of Assemblies of God and other denominations and are adopting a view of the end time that includes the triumph and perfection of the church as opposed to escaping in the Rapture from an evil world descending into the apocalypse. They see the imminent end times as a time of great glory for the restored true Apostolic church greater than the one of New Testament times, and a time when the foot soldiers of this church will be imparted with supernatural powers. This outpouring of powers will allow them to crush evil with a “rod of iron” and deliver a purified church to Jesus when he returns. Their schedule is even more pressing than many in other Dominionist groups because their hybrid mixture of end time beliefs maintains the urgency of an imminent return of Jesus. The writer whose title I borrowed for this article states, “This growing army of delivered, discipled and deployed Christians are now prepared to become active participants in the cosmic battle for every area of God’s terra-firma.”
It almost sounds like a kooky mixture of Mormonism and Scientology. Just substitute demons with thetans and you have the basics of Scientology. And a group called Morningstar Ministries produces a lot of their training materials. Hmmm. Interesting name, Morningstar. Isn’t Morningstar another name of the Roman god Lucius Fero, aka Lucifer. Perhaps this should be pointed out to the more superstitious Christians. After all, don’t they believe the Antichrist will come as a false prophet?
I’ll end this article with a quote from the comments to this article.
Note that most “pew sitters” have LITTLE CLUE what they are involved with. (I sure didn’t!!!!) However, since Palin grew up in this movement, had hands laid on her by some big figures, etc., I would guess that she knows full well that her “destiny” is to “reach” the world so that her (soon to be immortalized?) children can literally “rule” it, as Laffoon would say. While Palin hasn’t been discipled by him specifically, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that she HAS been discipled under the wings of the larger NAR movement.
And the ultimate goal, in Joel’s Army circles?
To quote Pinky and the Brain, “Try to take over the world”.
And we discuss this in much more detail in tomorrow’s post…as the implications are disturbing indeed.
And some music by Bad Religion to set the mood.