The controversial evangelical movement targeting Indigenous communities in Canada
It’s late October 2015, and around 200 people are packed into Winnipeg’s First Nations Family Worship Centre. Facing a tall cross, believers sway in unison, arms outstretched. Some cry. Others flutter their wrists, as if an electrical current were running through them. Over the past three nights, a group of visiting religious leaders has inducted these largely Anishinaabe parishioners into their movement. The highly emotional services have built to this moment, a spiritual release called “Awakening Manitoba.” “I feel an anointing coming on!” shouts the centre’s Ojibwe pastor, Raymond Mclean, pumping his fist in the air onstage. He gestures for Alain Caron— a spectacled, scholarly preacher who has won over the congregation with a series of impassioned sermons—to join him. Mclean hooks a burly arm around Caron, who closes his eyes and dances to the blaring Christian rock.
Many of the worshippers make their way forward. As they reach Caron, he lays his hands on their heads and releases a torrent of inscrutable words. Some walk away. Others fall backwards into the arms of a deacon, who lays them flat and draws blue blankets over their motionless bodies.
They rest for a moment, faint smiles on their faces, invested with a radical new commission. As soldiers in God’s army, they will infiltrate government agencies, rid the world of idolatry, and urgently build God’s Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Under Mclean’s command, they will start here, at home: purifying Winnipeg’s troubled North End, then spreading
their message to other First Nations communities.
Since that October weekend, the Family Worship Centre has become part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR ), a growing religious movement quietly reshaping evangelical Christianity. While approximately three million Americans attend churches that outwardly identify with the NAR , the movement is thought to be much larger. By avoiding the trappings of organized religion, the NAR has stitched together non-denominational networks of believers, including Catholics. NAR leaders aim to create a united church — a church that, in preparation for the end times, will assimilate all Christians and dominate the world’s religious landscape.
The NAR is led by apostles and prophets. Apostles are God’s generals, charged with implementing his will on earth. They work hand in hand with prophets, who receive ongoing revelations that guide the movement. In 2014, Cindy Jacobs — an apostle who is also one of the nar’s most influential prophets — had a vision of a “prophetic mantle upon Manitoba” and claimed that God wanted to release a “spirit of reconciliation” among Indigenous and non-indigenous churches. One of the NAR leaders who have seized upon the decree is Caron, a prominent apostle from Gatineau, Quebec.
Apostles can be granted enormous powers. In some situations, they manage church finances — functions that fall to elected officials under traditional evangelical and Pentecostal systems. In certain networks, they can even hire and fire pastors. According to Rachel Tabachnick, an expert on the NAR , ignoring an apostle’s decrees is to invite demonic attack. “Submitting becomes a measure of one’s faith,” she explains.
Apostles can also garnish a portion of the tithes from the churches they oversee, with some top apostles being known to pocket millions per year. The NAR embraces elements of the prosperity gospel, which teaches that believers who give generously to their church are rewarded with material wealth and physical healing. “If you want to get out of poverty, you need to start tithing,” Caron told the congregants, who lined up to place bills in a colourful pile beside the altar. “Our tithes are going up, and our blessings are coming down!”
The NAR ’s meteoric rise has alarmed many within the evangelical world. Its critics feel that the movement’s authoritarian structure is regressive and warn that its leaders are pushing Christian teachings to disturbing extremes. In 2000, the Assemblies of God Church, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, released a statement critiquing the NAR ’s embrace of apostles and prophets and obsession with the demonic world. “To conclude that every sickness, injury, birth deformity and negative personality trait is caused by a demon is a misreading of Scripture,” it said. Chris Rosebrough, a Minnesota pastor and host of a Christian radio program dedicated to exposing what he believes to be false doctrines, doesn’t mince words: “It’s like a cancer within Christianity,” he tells me by phone. “What we are talking about is a formula for mass manipulation, the creation of cult leaders, and people who are absolutely unaccountable.” Others have compared it to ISIS or the Taliban.
The most high-profile example of the movement’s sway is a series of prayer and fasting rallies organized by Lou Engle, a prominent apostle and conservative activist. The events, which are known as Thecall and have been held around the world for almost twenty years, guide stadiums full of ecstatic worshippers into destroying demonic forces that Engle and other leading apostles claim cause societal ills (poverty and violence) and “ungodly” behaviour (abortion and homosexuality). The popularity of Thecall has drawn in Republican lawmakers such as Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee. Over the years, Engle has used the events to mobilize support for a host of far-right causes, including Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, and Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.
Much of the theology and structure of the NAR can be traced back to the late C. Peter Wagner, a prolific author widely referred to as the movement’s “intellectual godfather.” Wagner — who died last October at the age of eighty-six — was a