“You Meant Noth­ing,” He Said

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Michelle Brown

You were a door down a hall­way that led to an­other hall­way, both con­verg­ing in an al­ley where only you knew the exit,

and if I were in the sit­u­a­tion again, I wouldn’t en­ter it, just ac­knowl­edge the com­plex­ity of the pas­sage­way with a nod,

tak­ing my own taxi, ask­ing to be driven out of town the slow­est way, win­dows down, un­til we get to a park­ing lot

where scream­ing for hours on your knees won’t get you ar­rested, and that would’ve been it: a lit­tle agony.

He later served as a cab­i­net mem­ber in the gov­ern­ment of the new ter­ri­tory. He has also been a bor­na­gain Chris­tian for much of his adult life, root­ing his pol­i­tics in those re­li­gious be­liefs. When I reached him — he’s now in his seven­ties — he said that Arm­bruster “is like a brother to many of our com­mu­ni­ties. He’s not one you would call a ma­jor prophet. He’s a helper more than any­thing else.”

Com­mu­nity lead­ers have em­braced the NAR ’s mes­sage of Chris­tian heal­ing. Eva Deer, a for­mer mayor of Quaq­taq in Nu­navik, the Inuit re­gion of north­ern Que­bec, ap­peared in the Trans­for­ma­tions movie and works closely with apos­tle and prophet Russ Moyer (an am­bas­sador of the In­ter­na­tional Coali­tion of Apos­tles— the orig­i­nal net­work started by Wag­ner). She runs a publicly funded heal­ing cen­tre that treats in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma through prayer and Chris­tian coun­selling. “Only the spirit of God can re­ally heal a per­son,” ex­plained Deer when I reached her by phone. “Psy­chol­o­gists can­not heal a per­son.” Arm­bruster spoke at the cen­tre’s of­fi­cial open­ing. Johnny Oo­vaut, who was also fea­tured in the Trans­for­ma­tions movie, has or­ga­nized “Men Arise” events, which sup­pos­edly bring Chris­tian heal­ing to Inuit men. In 2010, the con­fer­ence fea­tured a pre­sen­ta­tion by a mis­sion­ary who claims to have over­come ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity through re­li­gion. Both ini­tia­tives are funded through Un­galuk, a Nu­navik crime preven­tion pro­gram fi­nanced by the Que­bec gov­ern­ment.

“I be­lieve there is a spir­i­tual au­thor­ity that has been given to the orig­i­nal peo­ples of the land,” says Arm­bruster, who ex­plains that his role is to help Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, both in Canada and abroad, carry out their ul­ti­mate com­mis­sion: to “fill the earth with sons and daugh­ters who will re­flect His im­age.”

The NAR has pro­moted its the­ol­ogy through books, schools, and min­istries. The crown jewel in its pro­mo­tional ef­forts is the Trans­for­ma­tions se­ries, pseudo-doc­u­men­taries that pur­port to show the dra­matic eco­nomic and so­ci­etal trans­for­ma­tion vis­ited on com­mu­ni­ties that ac­cept God’s glory.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sen­tinel Group — which pro­duces the movies and de­nies any as­so­ci­a­tion with the NAR — the Trans­for­ma­tions se­ries has been trans­lated into thirty-one lan­guages and viewed more than 200 mil­lion times. It has also played a key role in the NAR ’s shift from con­vert­ing in­di­vid­u­als to so­ci­eties; when shown in churches, movies are ac­com­pa­nied by in­struc­tion on spir­i­tual-war­fare tech­niques.

All of the movies fea­ture a sim­i­lar nar­ra­tive: an im­pov­er­ished re­gion turns to God, erad­i­cates non-chris­tian be­liefs, and un­der­goes so­ci­etal and eco­nomic heal­ing. In Kenya, a witch doc­tor is driven from her com­mu­nity, re­sult­ing in a de­creased crime rate. In Fiji, an Indige­nous com­mu­nity burns sa­cred masks, putting a dra­matic end to a vi­o­lent civil war.

In 2001, Trans­for­ma­tions II shone a spot­light on the Cana­dian North, which—along with other fea­tured re­gions like Uganda— came to sym­bol­ize a theo­cratic tab­ula rasa, a world ripe for con­ver­sion. The east­ernArc­tic seg­ment of the movie opens with an an­i­mated scene: a spir­i­tual leader of a no­madic Inuit clan learns of a new God, Je­susie, from a trav­el­ling Inuk. The leader vows to ac­cept Je­susie if he has a suc­cess­ful hunt. On a moon­less night, he kills a seal, then brings it back to his clan, who eat from its meat, ac­cept­ing Christ as their Lord and saviour. Only later, af­ter mis­sion­ar­ies ar­rive, do they learn the whole story of Chris­tian­ity.

The movie then cuts to tes­ti­mony from born-again Inuit. Over lurid im­ages of bruised bod­ies, they de­scribe wide­spread phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse and al­co­holism. Inuit chil­dren push rocks into a shal­low grave — the eighth sui­cide of the year, ex­plains the voice-over, mak­ing their rate more than twenty times the na­tional av­er­age. Demons, ac­cord­ing to one Inuk be­liever, had in­vaded their com­mu­ni­ties. Even the land had turned its back: cari­bou and berries be­gan to dis­ap­pear.

Had God aban­doned the Inuit? No; God was “look­ing to re-es­tab­lish the re­la­tion­ship” their fore­fa­thers had long ago ac­cepted. Over tri­umphant mu­sic, the movie de­picts a frenzy of bap­tisms and im­pas­sioned church ser­vices — the re­vival that was grip­ping the ter­ri­tory. Peo­ple in Pond In­let, so moved by the Holy Spirit, gather all their un­godly pos­ses­sions — drugs, pornog­ra­phy, heavy metal mu­sic — and with the aid of the RC MP set them ablaze. “The

fire of the Lord is spread­ing!” ex­claims an ec­static Inuk woman. Inuit are por­trayed as be­ing health­ier and hap­pier — even sui­cide is on the de­cline, they say. (A 2014 study by a Nu­navut land claims group con­tra­dicts this as­ser­tion.)

The film con­cludes by high­light­ing how God is “rais­ing up” a new set of Inuit lead­ers who are “not shy about declar­ing the Lord­ship of Christ.” A teacher boasts how all her pupils are Chris­tian, and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors de­fi­antly state that no meet­ing starts with­out prayer. One of the last shots is of Arm­bruster. He’s hunched down in the atrium of Nu­navut’s newly built leg­is­la­ture, gaz­ing at a mace made of nar­whal tusk. The Lord’s prayer, he de­clares proudly, is en­cased within. “It’s brought into the leg­is­la­ture ev­ery time they meet to do of­fi­cial busi­ness!”

Many Indigeno us Chris­tians speak about their faith in terms of em­pow­er­ment. But some Indige­nous lead­ers, an­gered by Western re­li­gion, have started to fight the en­croach­ment of what they de­scribe as mod­ern-day col­o­niz­ers — be they Pen­te­costal, Catholic, or the NAR .

Last year, on a cold Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noon in Win­nipeg, Larry Mor­ris­sette took me for a tour of the North End. An el­e­gant com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, Mor­ris­sette — who died a few months af­ter we spoke — wore his saltand-pep­per hair slicked back, like a char­ac­ter from The Out­siders. The res­i­den­tial streets, a mix of tightly packed bun­ga­lows and so­cial hous­ing, looked serene un­der a fresh blan­ket of snow. This, how­ever, is one of Canada’s most vi­o­lent neigh­bour­hoods, where kids as young as eight can be found work­ing the sex trade. The grow­ing com­mu­nity at­tracts Indige­nous peo­ple from around the prov­ince, many of whom live in poverty and are alien­ated from the city’s non-indige­nous ma­jor­ity.

As a child, evan­ge­lists would pick Mor­ris­sette up off the street and bring him to church base­ments; they would give him food and tell him about the Lord. They meant well. But he felt that their un­der­ly­ing mes­sage — that poverty was the re­sult of a moral de­fect — was deeply dam­ag­ing. As we passed by a mis­sion serv­ing lunches, he lamented the num­ber of Indige­nous peo­ple who have in­ter­nal­ized that be­lief. “You find my friends and rel­a­tives in these lines — their sto­ries are of­ten re­lated to per­sonal fail­ure. But it’s not true.” Chris­tians, he ex­plained, are fix­ated on pro­mot­ing the idea that God can res­cue you, and they ig­nore the sys­tem­atic is­sues, such as the le­gacy of res­i­den­tial schools and lack of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, that un­der­lie the dys­func­tion.

Many busi­nesses, fed up with the crime and poverty, have fled this neigh­bour­hood, leav­ing boarded-up build­ings. There are, how­ever, plenty of churches and faith­based char­i­ties. You can’t find a gro­cery store, but you can “step out of your house and get con­verted,” Mor­ris­sette said.

As a re­sult, he felt that the North End was un­der siege and that the re­lent­less pros­e­ly­tiz­ing ran counter to a grow­ing project to “de­col­o­nize” the neigh­bour­hood: to build up Indige­nous busi­ness, re­vi­tal­ize Indige­nous cul­ture, and move away from Western sys­tems of heal­ing and be­lief.

Such pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, he felt, flew in the face of the fi­nal re­port from the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC ). Re­leased in 2015, the re­port lays out how Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem — where thou­sands of chil­dren died — was op­er­ated pri­mar­ily by Catholic and Angli­can churches that aimed to “take the In­dian out of the child” and cre­ate a serf class of Chris­tian labour­ers. Indige­nous be­liefs were de­mo­nized, lead­ing to deep rifts be­tween Chris­tians and non-chris­tians that con­tinue to be a source of ten­sion, par­tic­u­larly in small com­mu­ni­ties where ef­forts to de­col­o­nize can rub up un­com­fort­ably against deeply held re­li­gious be­liefs.

In 2011, Oujé-bougoumou, a Cree com­mu­nity in north­ern Que­bec, went so far as to out­law tra­di­tional spir­i­tu­al­ity af­ter a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity con­structed a sweat lodge. “The com­mu­nity was founded by Chris­tian faith and val­ues of our elders and past lead­er­ship,” stated the band coun­cil’s res­o­lu­tion. Tra­di­tional spir­i­tual prac­tices “do not con­form with the tra­di­tional val­ues and teach­ings of our elders.” South of the bor­der, in an Ojibwe com­mu­nity in Wis­con­sin, a cer­e­mo­nial lodge and two sweat lodges were burned to the ground in 2012. Many in the com­mu­nity feel it was likely some­one as­so­ci­ated with an on­re­serve NAR -re­lated Pen­te­costal church that had shown the Trans­for­ma­tions videos.

To Mor­ris­sette, the NAR is an­other ugly ex­am­ple of Chris­tians’ on­go­ing ef­forts to “re­pro­gram” the world­view of Indige­nous peo­ples. Up north, he felt, many peo­ple had in­ter­nal­ized Chris­tian val­ues and viewed

the land as a com­mod­ity rather than a vi­tal part of their spir­i­tual life. That is why, ac­cord­ing to him, north­ern com­mu­ni­ties have struck agree­ments with in­dus­try to de­velop their ter­ri­tory. The ul­ti­mate goal of Chris­tians is “to rid our peo­ple of who and what we are,” he said.

The TRC re­port calls on faith groups to “re­spect Indige­nous spir­i­tu­al­ity in its own right.” For Mor­ris­sette, whose mother sur­vived a Catholic res­i­den­tial school, the mes­sage of the re­port was clear. “The mis­sion­ary days are over,” he said.

In 2004, Arm­bruster and Cur­ley trav­elled to Fiji, where, along with other high­pro­file NAR af­fil­i­ates, they were in­tro­duced to a spir­i­tual-war­fare tech­nique called the Heal­ing the Land Cer­e­mony. As ev­i­dence of its ef­fec­tive­ness, they were taken to a re­mote Indige­nous com­mu­nity called Nootko that had, a cou­ple of years ear­lier, car­ried out the cer­e­mony. Once plagued by in­fight­ing, the tiny com­mu­nity, they were told, had healed. Even the land re­acted — a stream, once pol­luted, now ran clean.

The tech­nique ex­cited Arm­bruster. The cer­e­mony traces a com­mu­nity’s present­day con­di­tions to the sins of its fore­fa­thers. There are five prin­ci­pal sources: the gen­er­a­tional dis­con­nect be­tween fa­thers and their chil­dren; the shed­ding of in­no­cent blood (mur­der); sex­ual sin (ho­mo­sex­ual acts, sex out of wed­lock); the break­ing of covenants (prom­ises and treaties); and idola­try and witch­craft (any non-chris­tian form of re­li­gion or spir­i­tu­al­ity). Ac­cord­ing to NAR the­ol­ogy, sin “wounds” the land, al­low­ing Satan’s forces to con­trol com­mu­ni­ties.

On a sunny morn­ing in the sum­mer of 2007, Arm­bruster per­formed the Heal­ing the Land Cer­e­mony on the out­skirts of Clyde River, Nu­navut, a com­mu­nity of some 900 peo­ple. “God chose the places for peo­ple to live,” he ex­plained, stand­ing in a cir­cle of com­mu­nity mem­bers. “When God cre­ated the earth, he cre­ated ev­ery­thing good — but our sins have de­filed the land.” Arm­bruster clutched his well-worn bi­ble in his left hand. “Much of what we re­ceived from our fore­fa­thers was good — but we have to atone for what was not.”

An el­derly Inuk in a long black coat spoke next; an Inuk woman stood be­side to him, trans­lat­ing his tes­ti­mony. The man pointed to­ward the wa­ter. “This spot is where they prayed to the evil spir­its,” he re­layed in Inuk­ti­tut. “Satan used to wait out there to de­vour and de­stroy peo­ple.” The man looked ashamed. “The Lord has also shown me where a mother gave birth, then fed it to the dogs. Be­cause of these sins the earth has been de­filed. And be­cause it’s been de­filed, we have suf­fered much and gone through hard­ship.”

Arm­bruster, who stood to the left of the pair, nod­ded ap­prov­ingly. “Amen,” he said.

In the days af­ter I watched the video of this cer­e­mony, cer­tain im­ages — weep­ing teenagers beg­ging for God’s grace; an Inuk man con­fess­ing in a cir­cle of com­mu­nity mem­bers that he had mo­lested a young child — lin­gered with me. James Ar­reak, a for­mer pas­tor who now leads a ma­jor land claims or­ga­ni­za­tion, was at the event. I asked him why the re­ac­tion was so emo­tional. Peo­ple get tired of be­ing anx­ious and de­pressed, he said. Within the past fifty years, the gov­ern­ment has forced Inuit to give up their way of life, set­tle in com­mu­ni­ties, and at­tend res­i­den­tial schools—a se­ries of vi­o­lent ex­pe­ri­ences that have caused Inuit to “re­sort to cop­ing mech­a­nisms that aren’t good for us.” The cer­e­monies pro­vided a safe and healthy venue for peo­ple to “con­fess their sins.”

Like other Inuit Chris­tians I spoke to, Ar­reak be­lieves faith in God is es­sen­tial to over­com­ing the painful le­gacy of colo­nial­ism. “With­out Je­sus, we’re not go­ing to have mech­a­nisms that pull us through and keep us healthy and up­right.”

One night, I joined Mclean and a group from his con­gre­ga­tion for a post- church tra­di­tion: Tim Hor­tons. Mclean and two of his friends — whom he’s known for thirty-plus years — al­ter­nated be­tween English and Ojibwe. It was the first time I’d heard Ray­mond speak Ojibwe, and I asked if he was flu­ent. “I’m los­ing it,” said Mclean, look­ing sheep­ish. A while back, he ex­plained, he had been vis­it­ing a re­serve and was asked to de­liver a ser­mon in Ojibwe. He took out his bi­ble, turned to Psalms 23, and be­gan trans­lat­ing its fa­mous first line out loud: “The Lord is my Shep­herd; I shall not want.” It didn’t go well. “I got it all wrong,” he said, look­ing down and cov­er­ing his face. “I said the sheep tram­pled over the Lord.” All three shook with laugh­ter.

I said good­bye and caught a ride with Mclean’s mar­ried friends Harold and Anne. It was dark and icy, and Harold drove

cau­tiously as the cou­ple told me their story. Harold in­tro­duced Anne to Pen­te­costal­ism in the 1980s, and she fell in love with it. She told me it of­fered some­thing more mean­ing­ful than the Catholic Church ever did.

“I never told the priests my se­crets,” said Anne. “I would never con­fess them to a man.” Be­cause he was a man? I asked.

“No — be­cause a man is not the Lord,” she said.

Both said they’re un­com­fort­able with the idea of bring­ing el­e­ments of Indige­nous cul­ture into the First Na­tions Fam­ily Wor­ship Cen­tre — a tac­tic some churches have used to com­pro­mise with Indige­nous non-be­liev­ers and to bring in new con­verts. Smudg­ing, feath­ers, and pow­wow danc­ing are okay out­side of the church, they said, but they have no place within.

What, I asked, would bother them about it?

“Ac­cord­ing to God’s words, it’s not a part of our wor­ship,” said Harold.

“That’s a dif­fer­ent way of be­liev­ing,” said Anne.

They pulled up to where I was stay­ing. I got out and thanked them for the lift.

“God bless you. We’ll pray for you,” they said.

In the early 2000s, Ta­gak Cur­ley wanted to re­tire. Af­ter decades of ne­go­ti­at­ing land claims, he was tired of ter­ri­to­rial pol­i­tics, and his fa­ther-in-law was sick. But Arm­bruster pressed him to re­con­sider, telling him God wanted him back in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. For two years, he re­sisted. Then one night — when Cur­ley was in prayer — God ques­tioned him. God said, Why are you keep­ing all these doors shut?

A lot was at stake. Nu­navut’s leg­is­la­ture, just four years old, had passed leg­is­la­tion ban­ning dis­crim­i­na­tion against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, out­rag­ing Cur­ley and the ter­ri­tory’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of born-again be­liev­ers, among them NAR sym­pa­thiz­ers. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, they ar­gued, was not a part of tra­di­tional Inuit cul­ture. On a promise to amend the leg­is­la­tion and op­pose same-sex mar­riage, Cur­ley de­cided to run for of­fice. For Cur­ley and his sup­port­ers, the is­sue was grafted with larger is­sues of iden­tity and in­de­pen­dence: ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, they felt, was an im­port from the south, and the south­ern-ed­u­cated pre­mier, Paul Oka­lik, had no busi­ness nor­mal­iz­ing it. The elec­tion was in­creas­ingly framed as a fight be­tween Cur­ley, a true Inuk, and Oka­lik, a man whose in­tegrity had been com­pro­mised by his time in Ot­tawa.

In an act of de­fi­ance, Cur­ley briefly stopped grant­ing in­ter­views in English. He ran as the can­di­date who would pre­serve tra­di­tional Inuit val­ues. “We’re giv­ing a spe­cial cat­e­gory, ap­par­ently, of cer­tain rights that are not de­fined,” he said early on in his cam­paign. “But if you be­lieve in your Cre­ator, in your God, what does he say about those things? Is that ac­cept­able to God?” He won his lo­cal seat of Rankin In­let North.

Un­der Nu­navut’s con­sen­sus-based gov­ern­ment sys­tem, which does not in­volve po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in­di­vid­ual MLA s from around the ter­ri­tory choose the pre­mier. Many of the mem­bers had also cam­paigned on re­peal­ing pro­tec­tion for gays and les­bians un­der the new Hu­man Rights Act. Al­most three tense weeks passed be­fore a se­cret bal­lot was held to de­ter­mine the fu­ture leader. Fi­nally, af­ter a se­ries of deal-mak­ing ses­sions, Oka­lik was re-elected. The leg­is­la­tion re­mained in place.

At many NAR -af­fil­i­ated con­fer­ences over the years, Arm­bruster has of­ten spo­ken in grandiose terms about how church has merged with state in Canada’s North.

But ac­cord­ing to Jim Bell, the long-time edi­tor of Nu­natsiaq News, Arm­bruster’s in­flu­ence needs to be put in con­text. When I reached Bell by phone, he chuck­led a bit, think­ing about the gap be­tween Arm­bruster’s claims and re­al­ity. Nu­navut, he said flatly, is no theoc­racy. The ter­ri­tory has gone on to defy con­ser­va­tives on hot­but­ton is­sues, in­clud­ing same-sex mar­riage, bring­ing the leg­is­la­tion in line with the rest of Canada.

Bell also had a the­ory: fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian­ity has be­come cen­tral to the recre­ation of Indige­nous iden­tity for many Inuit. Cur­ley and oth­ers don’t draw a dis­tinc­tion be­tween evan­gel­i­cal and Inuit val­ues, said Bell. “Now you could ar­gue that they have rein­vented Inuit cul­ture in their own im­age. But they don’t see it that way. They be­lieve this church is not just the ex­pres­sion of re­li­gious iden­tity, it’s also an ex­pres­sion of a re­ally im­por­tant cul­tural iden­tity.”

And that, he sug­gested, is why the 2004 elec­tion got so in­ter­twined with messy ques­tions about iden­tity and tra­di­tion. Inuit Chris­tians were as­sert­ing their cul­ture and re­sist­ing what they per­ceived as a colo­nial over­reach. “They were not say­ing we op­pose pro­tect­ing the rights of gay peo­ple be­cause gay peo­ple are sin­ful — they were say­ing that we op­pose this be­cause it is not con­sis­tent with Inuit cul­ture.”

There may also be other cul­tural rea­sons for the NAR ’s suc­cess. Arm­bruster’s min­istry caught the at­ten­tion of French an­thro­pol­o­gist Frédéric Lau­grand, who has writ­ten about the Heal­ing the Land Cer­e­mony. He be­lieves that the cer­e­mony mir­rors el­e­ments of Inuit shaman­ism, such as con­nect­ing present con­di­tions to past events and us­ing public dis­clo­sures to bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether. And, like shaman­ism, it is highly emo­tional in na­ture. Lau­grand also feels that the pop­u­lar­ity of the cer­e­mony — which was prac­tised in more than twenty com­mu­ni­ties, some­times mul­ti­ple times — owes much to po­lit­i­cal forces. At the time of the Inuit re­vival, Indige­nous groups were frus­trated with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the pro­tec­tion­ist agenda of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. In con­trast, Arm­bruster and mis­sion­ar­ies work­ing in the re­gion came with a very dif­fer­ent mes­sage: that God gave Inuit do­min­ion over the land, and it should be theirs to use.

Over the past ten years, Arm­bruster has scaled back his trips to the North. But he re­cently vis­ited Kangiq­su­juaq, Nu­navik, one of the com­mu­ni­ties fea­tured in Trans­for­ma­tions II. In a post-trip blog post, he cel­e­brates the Lord’s con­tin­ued pres­ence: six of the seven mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors are “born again” be­liev­ers, and the church “is the most in­flu­en­tial agency in the com­mu­nity.” He also praises the lo­cal coun­cil for green-light­ing a ma­jor nickel mine. The coun­cil, writes Arm­bruster, “un­der­stands that the en­vi­ron­ment is to be man­aged and stew­arded re­spon­si­bly, not wor­shipped and re­main un­de­vel­oped while the peo­ple stay in poverty.”

The blog post, though, also re­flects on the past. He ac­knowl­edges that a lot of the is­sues the com­mu­nity grap­pled with in the early 2000s per­sist. Trans­for­ma­tion — yes. But of a far lesser mag­ni­tude than what was pre­sented. When I asked if he feels the re­vival was mis­rep­re­sented in the film, Arm­bruster — who pep­pers his con­ver­sa­tion with bib­li­cal ref­er­ences — had a well-re­hearsed an­swer.

“If you look at the nar­ra­tor’s com­ment at the be­gin­ning, he said trans­for­ma­tion is both an event and a process. But I think some­times, the way he pre­sented it, it made it sound like these com­mu­ni­ties

are com­pletely trans­formed — al­most as if they al­ready have heaven on earth. And that is not true. And if peo­ple think that way, they got it wrong,” ex­plained Arm­bruster. “Ev­ery­thing in that video is true — it re­ally hap­pened. But it’s an on­go­ing process; it’s not com­plete.”

Last Fe­bru­ary, fol­low­ing a ser­vice, I joined Mclean and his wife, Jean, for a bite to eat. As I in­ter­viewed Ray­mond, Jean sat across from us in the booth, de­liv­er­ing the punch­lines of the para­bles he was shar­ing. I asked if she had an of­fi­cial role in the church, and a mis­chievous look crept into Ray­mond’s eyes. “She’s the neck that turns the head!” he said. Laugh­ing, his face scrunched up as he rocked back and forth on his seat.

They travel all the time — over the past four­teen years they’ve been to twen­tythree coun­tries. They re­cently re­turned from Texas, where they vis­ited Chuck Pierce’s Global Sphere Cen­ter, a sprawl­ing 200,000-square-foot com­pound that boasts a gym, restau­rant, and win­ery. Pierce is a high-rank­ing prophet whose word is con­sid­ered par­tic­u­larly sa­cred. Ser­vices be­gan at 6 a.m. and stretched late into the night. There were dozens of dif­fer­ent speak­ers, and the anoint­ing was so strong that peo­ple jumped out of their seats to give their of­fer­ing. And they gave a lot: the dea­cons, re­called Mclean, would “haul money out with garbage bags.” The trips in­spire Mclean, and he’s con­stantly pick­ing up wis­dom — “nuggets,” he calls them — that he in­te­grates into his own min­istry.

I hadn’t spo­ken to him for sev­eral months, and I was cu­ri­ous about what had tran­spired. The last time we talked, he was on fire, hop­ing his min­istry would re­act like Caron’s, which — ac­cord­ing to Caron — grew dra­mat­i­cally.

Mclean seemed a bit mel­lower. Join­ing the move­ment had caused some prob­lems. In the weeks fol­low­ing Awak­en­ing Man­i­toba, the con­gre­ga­tion be­gan work­ing through Caron’s book, Apos­tolic Cen­ters: Shift­ing the Church, Trans­form­ing the World, which out­lines God’s will for churches — that they ditch their gov­er­nance sys­tems, sub­mit to apos­tles, and be­come “launch pads” for saints, who will pu­rify the sec­u­lar world. The book ad­vo­cates both the NAR ’s con­tro­ver­sial church struc­ture and the­ol­ogy, and some mem­bers weren’t into ei­ther. A dea­con who went to the first meet­ing hadn’t been seen since. Mclean called her. “I said, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing? You’re one of the lead­ers of the church and you are not com­ing?’”

She told him bluntly, “I don’t want to go that way.”

“I couldn’t stop her,” shrugged Mclean. There have been oth­ers too. But he ac­cepts the losses. “God will bring in more peo­ple. And those are the ones who are meant to be there.”

Maybe, I sug­gested, the idea of liv­ing apos­tles and prophets is mak­ing peo­ple un­com­fort­able?

He agreed: ev­ery “new move­ment of God” makes peo­ple ner­vous. But it’s an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment. The bi­ble talks about the five sta­tions of the church: teacher, evan­ge­list, pas­tor, apos­tle, and prophet. So why would the church ex­ist with­out the apos­tle and prophet? “That’s like op­er­at­ing with an engine with only three spark plugs work­ing when you could have five,” said Mclean. “If we say the bi­ble is truth, why would we break away from its roots?”

What if a prophet mis­guides the church? I asked.

Grin­ning, he looked at me. “Then he’ll be a false prophet,” he said.

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