In the January issue of Church & State, I wrote a cover story about the “prophets” movement in conservative evangelicalism. These self-proclaimed seers, who have become popular in evangelical circles, don’t limit themselves to theological prognostications; increasingly, their prophecies are political in nature. Many fed Donald Trump’s false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen, and even now, a year after Joe Biden was sworn in, some still insist Trump will regain the White House.
I speculated that the prophets might be pushing Christian nationalists to new extremes. Now comes some scholarly evidence that backs up this claim. Writing for the “Religion in Public” blog, Paul A. Djupe of Denison University in Granville, Ohio, finds that Christian nationalists who embrace prophetic beliefs are also much more likely to adopt extreme views.
Analyzing the results of a survey conducted last year, Djupe and other researchers sought to gauge how members of a certain “in group” would react to hypothetical threats to that group and their willingness to adopt extreme measures to protect the group. The study found that Christian nationalists who believe in prophecy were much more likely to support group extremism.
Speaking of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, Djupe writes, “Though there is additional research left to perform, it seems obvious that belief in prophetic religion, which is widespread in American religion, bestows a level of certainty and righteousness that can propel projects forward with no guardrails. It just so happens that prophetic Christian nationalists are common and are likely to rally behind extreme groups on their side. It is no surprise that they have much greater support for the Insurrection and groups like those involved on that day – this is not going away any time soon.”
As Djupe notes, Public Religion Research Institute reported in November that 18 percent of Americans said they agree with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” That may sound like a low number, but as Djupe points, it is much higher among Republicans and viewers of Fox News. Ominously, he writes, “[T]hese numbers appear to be climbing from early in 2021.”
The prophets, who claim to speak for God, have likely fueled this trend. Their followers are convinced that what they are hearing is unshakeable truth from on high. If a prophet’s godly vision conflicts with reality, his or her followers won’t hesitate to try to change reality.
On Jan. 6, 2021, the nation saw a horrifying example of this sort of thinking in action. The Christian nationalists in the crowd hoisted crosses and “Jesus Saves” signs even as they overran barricades and mauled police officers. If Djupe and his fellow scholars are right, we could be in for a repeat of that disturbing day, with the disciples of self-proclaimed prophets leading the way.