The self-styled prophets are stars in one of the fastest-growing corners of American Christianity. What happens when they get it wrong? (2023)

Jeremiah Johnson, a 33-year-old self-proclaimed prophet, was one of the few evangelical Christians who took Donald Trump's political future seriously in 2015.

This record created a loyal audience of hundreds of thousands of people who follow him on social media and latch on to his predictions on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, the makeup of the Supreme Court and the possibility of a spiritual renaissance in America. And they found solace before last fall's presidential election when Johnson shared a prophetic dream about Trump stumbling while running the Boston Marathon until two frail elderly women emerged from the crowd to help him across the finish line.

So when Joe Biden was certified as the winner of the election, Johnson had to admit that he had failed his supporters.

"I was wrong, I am deeply sorry and I apologize," he wrote in a detailed letter posted online. "I would like to repent for wrongly prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as President of the United States."

The desire to divine the future is venerable and fuels belief in figures ranging from ancient Greek oracles to modern astrologers. Christianity in particular is a religion whose basic text is full of prophecies that are proven true at the end of the book. Whether the gift of prophecy continues to this day has long been the subject of intense theological debate. But in recent years, self-styled prophets have spread across the country and accelerated in growth during the Trump era. They are stars of what is now one of the fastest-growing corners of Christianity: a loose but fervent movement led by hundreds of people who believe they can channel supernatural powers and have special spiritual insight into world events.

Many are independent evangelists who do not lead churches or other institutions. They operate primarily online and through appearances at conferences or as guest speakers at churches, making money through book sales, donations and speaking fees. And they are part of the growing appeal of conspiracies in Christian settings, reflected by QAnon's popularity among many evangelicals and resistance to mainstream information sources.

The prophetic imagination extends far beyond national politics. Follow the Super Bowl and the weather; looks at events in pop culture, such as Kanye West's recent turn toward evangelicalism, and global events, including a particular fascination with Israel. Many prophets warn their followers not to trust what they read in the news, but instead offer a kind of alternative news cycle that breaks and interprets real-world events through a supernatural lens.

(Video) The rise of self-proclaimed Christian prophets

"In my life, 49 years as a follower of Jesus, I have never seen this level of interest in prophecy," said Michael Brown, an evangelical radio host and commentator who believes in prophecy but has called for greater accountability when prophecies are revealed. show. FAKE. "And that's a shame, because it's an embarrassment to the movement."

The past year was plagued by unfulfilled prophecies. When the coronavirus swept across the United States this spring, several prophets publicly assured that it would subside by Easter; Cindy Jacobs, one of America's most influential prophets, led a global day of prayer to "contain" the virus in March. And by the fall, so many prominent prophets had wrongly predicted Trump's re-election that the apologies and recriminations now constitute a crisis in the movement.

Reaction to Johnson's apology was immediate. On Facebook, he reported receiving "several death threats and thousands and thousands of emails from Christians saying the most vile and vulgar things I've ever heard about my family and my ministry." He also said he had lost money from donors who accused him of being "a coward, a traitor and a traitor to the Holy Spirit."

But the popularity of self-proclaimed prophets shows no signs of waning.

As denominational Christianity declines almost across the board, magnetic independent leaders have filled the void.

"There's this idea that you can't trust anyone except these trusted people," said Brad Christerson, a sociologist at Evangelical Biola University. “It is a symptom of our times. People do not trust institutions and believe that all major institutions are corrupt: universities, science, government, media. They are looking for real sources of truth.”

The self-styled prophets are stars in one of the fastest-growing corners of American Christianity. What happens when they get it wrong? (1)

The result is that many congregations are inundated with misinformation. Nearly half of Protestant pastors frequently hear members of their congregations repeat conspiracy theories about current events, according to a survey released last month by Lifeway Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

(Video) False Prophets, False Teachers & Deception | Pastor Allen Jackson

Prophecy is a facet of the fast-growing charismatic Christian movement, which has an estimated 500 million followers worldwide and is characterized in part by the belief that the "gifts of the spirit," which also include speaking in tongues and supernatural healing, continue. to this day, rather than being an artifact of biblical times.

Trump boosted the public profile of this already rising stream of Christian culture. His evangelical advisory board included an unprecedented number of charismatic leaders, including his top faith adviser, Paula White, a charismatic pastor and broadcaster. Weeks before the 2020 election, he attended services for the third time at a "healing and prophetic" megachurch in Las Vegas, where speakers shared predictions and visions about his second term, to applause from Trump and the congregation. (The Charismatic movement in general is notably multiracial, although the most successful politically oriented prophets in the Trump era were white and drew audiences similar to Trump's base.)

Christian prophets satisfy a hunger for calm and clarity that can be seen in other corners of American culture. Astrology is exploding in popularity. More than 40% of Americans believe in psychics, according to Pew.

Prophecy, similarly, is not only a predictive tool but also an analytical lens for making sense of past and current events. The most successful prophets are able to connect seemingly disparate pieces of data into a grand narrative that adds new layers of interpretation as events unfold and invites others to contribute.

In Crystal River, Florida, Scott Wallis had read Johnson's prophecies on Facebook and was encouraged by them. He trusted Johnson in part, he said, because of two recent prophecies that turned out to be true, including one about the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the World Series. (Johnson reported the prophecy two days before the team won the championship.)

To Wallis, pastor and prophet, it made perfect sense that God would be involved in the outcome of the American election, just as He is in every human life.

"Some people, like deists, believe that God created the earth but abandoned the people and left them alone," Wallis said. "I do not believe that".

When a friend prophesied to him in 2014 that he would soon get married, he did not even have a girlfriend, but by the end of the year he was married.

(Video) Kanon the Preacher | National Geographic

The Internet has made it much easier for prophets to spread their visions, with many more outlets at their disposal: social media, podcasts, books, and an ecosystem of traditional media that remains largely under the radar, even for many other evangelicals. An appearance on "It's Supernatural!", a talk show hosted by octogenarian televangelist Sid Roth, can make a career for prophets. Ditto for endorsing the venerable Elijah List newsletter, which has 240,000 subscribers. Media outlets include Charisma magazine and the Christian Broadcasting Network, both of which cover prophetic predictions as news.

Jennifer Eivaz, who calls herself "the praying prophet," realized in college that she could hear God's voice in a way that she could "prove." When she and her husband began leading a church in central California, she had dreams and received specific information about the people who attended. He was careful not to scare people away, he said, often choosing to consult with them rather than make specific predictions or insights about their lives.

She also began recording training videos on prayer and prophecy, which caught the attention of Steve Shultz, who had founded The Elijah List and invited her to contribute. As her profile rose, she became an internationally sought-after speaker at events with names like the Institute for Inner Healing and Liberation and the Prophetic Wisdom and Prayer conference, where believers pay to gather for music, prophecy and inspiration.

Eivaz occasionally offers public prophecies about national or international events. In May 2015, he announced that California's year-long drought had ended and that "the rains were back." The message united the experience of the biblical prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel; Eivaz's recent trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; a vision of a mother bear fighting for her cubs; the California state flag; and Governor Gavin Newsom. (The drought did not formally end until 2017, although the state experienced unusually high rainfall during the summer of 2015.)

But such visions only come to him once or twice a year, he said. He has watched with alarm as predictive prophecies such as these have come to dominate the prophetic movement.

"It's like buying data," he said, adding that social media rewards "hype and sensationalism" over wisdom and puts particular pressure on independent prophets to produce new predictions every few days.

Mike Killion, who was a charter bus driver in North Carolina until the pandemic dried up his business, is aware of what he calls "synchronicities" and what others might call coincidences. He believes that God is closely involved in world events and closely attuned to the prayers of his people.

If Killion's phone is on the table and he mentions he's going on a cruise, for example, the phone "hears" him and starts showing cruise ads, he said.

(Video) From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, Part One (full documentary) | FRONTLINE

"God works the same way," he explained. "He listens to everything you say."

Prophets aren't always right in every prediction, Killion said, and they certainly aren't always right right away.

“There's this idea that prophets have to be right all the time, and they have to be right next week,” Killion said, “when there are prophets in the Bible who had prophecies that were not fulfilled in their lifetime. "

Killion mocked Johnson for backing up his prediction of a Trump victory in 2020.

"Jeremiah Johnson should have kept his mouth shut," he said a few days before Biden's inauguration. "It can still happen."

Johnson, for his part, appears to remain chastened. This week, he began a YouTube series titled "I Was Wrong," in which he plans to discuss what the prophetic movement is and where he believes it has gone awry.

In the first episode, he reviewed some of his past prophecies about politics and national events, breaking down how he got it wrong in 2020.

"Not everything that God speaks to us in private should have been publicly known," he said grimly. "I was stuck at the moment."

(Video) From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, Part Two (full documentary) | FRONTLINE

He spoke of his hope for "reform" and his worries about God's judgment to come. And in future episodes of the series, he promised he'll share what God shows him about what's coming next.

ca. 2021 The New York Times Company


What happened to Christianity in America? ›

About 64% of Americans call themselves Christian today. That might sound like a lot, but 50 years ago that number was 90%, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center study. That same survey said the Christian majority in the US may disappear by 2070. The Covid-19 pandemic also hurt the church in America.

Who is the main prophet in Christianity? ›

The major prophets is a grouping of books in the Christian Old Testament that does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. All of these books are traditionally regarded as authored by a prophet such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel.

Where is Christianity declining the most? ›

While Christianity is currently the predominant religion in Latin America, Europe, Canada and the United States, the religion is declining in many of these areas, including Western Europe, North America, and Oceania.

How many prophets are there in Christianity? ›

Christianity counts the Twelve Prophets as twelve individual prophetic books, and refers to them as the Dodekapropheton (Greek for “twelve prophets”) or simply as “the Minor Prophets,” indicating their relative length when compared to the Major Prophets.

Is Christianity growing or Shrinking in the US? ›

America's Christian majority is shrinking, and could dip below 50% by 2070 : NPR. America's Christian majority is shrinking, and could dip below 50% by 2070 The U.S.'s Christian majority has been shrinking for decades. A Pew Research Center study shows that as of 2020, about 64% of Americans identify as Christian.

Is Christianity increasing or decreasing? ›

A new report by Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey published on Tuesday found that the large numbers of people in the U.S who practice Christianity are declining.

What is the role of a prophet? ›

A prophet teaches truth and interprets the word of God. He calls the unrighteous to repentance. He receives revelations and directions from the Lord for our benefit. He may see into the future and foretell coming events so that the world may be warned.

Who was the first prophet in Christianity? ›

Denison Journal of Religion

Swensson claims not only that Abraham is the first prophet to appear in the Hebrew Bible, but also that his intimate, friendly relationship with God is the perfect model for the relationship between humanity and divinity.

Who was the last prophet in Christianity? ›

In Christianity, the last prophet of the Old Covenant before the arrival of Jesus is John the Baptist (cf. Luke 16:16).

Which religion is most powerful in the world? ›

Major religious groups
  • Christianity (31.1%)
  • Islam (24.9%)
  • Irreligion (15.6%)
  • Hinduism (15.2%)
  • Buddhism (6.6%)
  • Folk religions (5.6%)

What religion is fastest growing? ›

Modern growth. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. In 1990, 1.1 billion people were Muslims, while in 2010, 1.6 billion people were Muslims.

What percentage of the world is atheist? ›

According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera's review of numerous global studies on atheism, there are 450 to 500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide (7% of the world's population) with China alone accounting for 200 million of that demographic.

How many prophets were killed in the Bible? ›

A major theme is martyrdom of the prophets: six prophets are said to have been martyred.

Who are the 5 prophets Bible? ›

The five books of The Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel) cover a significant time span and present a wide array of messages.

How many times is God mentioned in the Bible? ›

According to Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, the term θεος (God) is used 1317 times. N. T.

Are Mormons Christians? ›

Beliefs. Mormons consider themselves Christians, but many Christians don't recognize Mormonism as an official denomination. Mormons believe in the crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. Followers claim that God sent more prophets after Jesus's death.

What religion is majority in China? ›

Chinese Buddhism and Folk Religions

China has the world's largest Buddhist population, with an estimated 185–250 million practitioners, according to Freedom House. Though Buddhism originated in India, it has a long history and tradition in China and today is the country's largest institutionalized religion.

What country has the most Christians? ›

The United States has the largest Christian population in the world, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and the Philippines.

Do Christians live longer? ›

In both samples, the study showed that those with documented religious affiliations lived an average of 9.45 and 5.64 years longer respectively than those who did not.

What is the largest denomination of Christianity in the United States? ›

Due to the diversity of Protestant denominations, Catholics boast the largest number of Christian adherents among the various denominations.

Who is oldest religion in the world? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Where in the Bible does it say believe in your prophet? ›

“Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper” 2 Chronicles 20:20(b) (NIV).

How does God speak through the prophets? ›

Prophets receive direction from God to help people navigate challenges and situations. In the Bible, prophets urged the people to repent and foretold of the birth, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, prophets continue to testify of Jesus. They also warn and advise all people about important topics.

Who is the prophet of God? ›

Among the prophets of the Old Testament were Daniel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Moses. Prophets also appear in the New Testament. Jesus called John the Baptist a prophet; Christians (see also Christian) consider him a bridge between the prophets of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament.

Which is the fastest growing religion in the world? ›

Studies in the 21st century suggest that, in terms of percentage and worldwide spread, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.

When did Christianity become big in America? ›

In response to this shift, a series of religious revivals swept through English areas of North America in the 1730s–1740s, later called the Great Awakening. These revivals cemented the place of personal experience as central to American Christianity.

What percentage of Americans go to church? ›

Fewer people in the pews

In March 2020, 75 percent of Americans reported that they attended a religious service at least once a year. That number dropped to about 66 percent by spring of 2022. Over the same timeline, the percentage of Americans said they "never" attended church rose from 25 percent to 33 percent.

What is the breakdown of American Christians? ›

Roughly 48.9% of Americans are Protestants, 23.0% are Catholics, 1.8% are Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).


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