Photo by Thomas Schütze on Unsplash

GOP Leaders Battle to Place Christianity in Charge of Government

Phil Garber
8 min readMar 1, 2024

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House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., second in line for the presidency, has an innocuous-looking flag hanging outside of his district office in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The flag is white with a simple evergreen tree in the center below the phrase “An Appeal to Heaven.” The quote is from John Locke, a 17th Century English philosopher and physician widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “father of liberalism.”

The flag is no longer a symbol of liberalism as it has been hijacked in recent years by various groups, including the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), an extremist, far right Christian nationalist movement whose goal is to instill Christianity in every facet of American society. There is no way to estimate the number of followers but the NAR movement has found its way to the pinnacle of power in the U.S. government

In 2021, the flag, a symbol of aggressive spiritual warfare, was flown by trump supporters during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Among those at the insurrection was Douglas Mastriano, an unsuccessful Pennsylvania candidate for governor, prominent Christian nationalist, conspiracist and strong trump supporter. In the days after Jan 6. Mastriano posted the NAR symbol on Twitter.

More than a dozen NAR apostles and prophets also strategized with the administration a week before the Capitol insurrection. NAR leaders endorsed trump’s 2016 candidacy and the Appeal to Heaven flag and the NAR’s vision of a Christian-dominated America became a covert symbol for trump.

In 2015, the NAR and its “Appeal to Heaven” was raised over the state capitol of Little Rock, Ark. The flag-raising was advertised as an homage to George Washington but its religious , Christian nationalism connotations were hard to ignore.

The Tree Flag or the Appeal to Heaven Flag has its roots during the American Revolution when it was flown by a squadron of six frigates that were commissioned under George Washington’s authority as Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in October 1775.

Locke created the phrase, “An Appeal to Heaven,” in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government,” published in 1690. The treatise refuted the theory of the divine right of kings and helped cement Locke as a major figure in the development of the American form of government.

“And where the body of the people, or any single man, is deprived of their right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to heaven, whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment,” Locke wrote.

In the 2010s, the flag was appropriated as a religious and political symbol by some conservative and nationalist activists. In 2013, the flag was seen at a “Million Vet March” where it flew behind former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

The NAR is a set of networks of Christian leaders that was formed in the 1990s by evangelical seminar professor C. Peter Wagner. The networks are part of the nondenominational charismatic branch of Christianity, which is built around so-called miraculous manifestations with the aim of recreating the supernatural environment of the early Christian church.

Indicative of Wagner’s extreme theology, he believed that the emperor of Japan had fornicated with the sun goddess — an embodiment of the shape-shifting Satan. This unholy union, Wagner maintained, disgusted (the one, true Christian) God, who then removed his protection from the island, precipitating the 2011 nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima.

NAR adherents, including Johnson, believe there should be no separation between church and state. They affirm that abortion is wrong, without exception; that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that should not have legal protections against discrimination; a belief in Young Earth Creationism that the Earth and its lifeforms were created by the God of Judaism or Christianity in six, literal days. Believers also blame school shootings on the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Johnson was deeply involved in trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. He collected signatures for a brief supporting a Texas lawsuit alleging, without evidence, irregularities in election results. Johnson touted trump’s conspiracy theories about election fraud and played a key role in the GOP’s attempts to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election.

Hundreds of religious leaders have joined Wagner’s movement, calling themselves apostles or prophets who hear directly from God. In the mid-2000s, the networks embraced “dominionism,” a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians and based on their understandings of biblical law. Included in the belief is the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a prophecy that divides society into seven arenas: Religion, family, government, education, arts and entertainment, media, and business. The groups believe their mandate is given by God for Christians to “take dominion” and “conquer” the tops of all seven of these sectors and have Christian influence flow down into the rest of society.

Followers say the movement began in 1975 with a message from God delivered to evangelicals Loren Cunningham, Bill Bright, and Francis Schaeffer ordering them to invade the “seven spheres” of society. The movement was later supportive of trump’s candidacy and one member, Paula White, became trump’s spiritual advisor. White claimed that trump “will play a critical role in Armageddon as the United States stands alongside Israel in the battle against Islam.”

Prominent proselytizers of the Seven Mountain Mandate include Speaker Johnson; Rafael Cruz, pastor and father of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Paula White; Andrew Wommack, evangelical leader; Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; and Tom Parker, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

One of the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation was the apostle-prophet William “Dutch” Sheets. A week before the assault on the Capitol, Sheets told his estimated 300,000 followers on YouTube that a friend had a dream in which a “huge hand … from the sky” — which he also called “the hand of God” — “flicked the dome open” on top of the Capitol.

“A very thick black smoke began rising up out of the building. The smoke was so thick it was almost solid, and actually it resembled a living thing … the darkness is an alliance with evil spirits,” Sheets said. “We then heard a cavalry bugle playing the signal to charge, and we began moving toward the Capitol, not at a full gallop, but at a steady determined fast trot. As we started, on the ground in front of us, written in white letters, were the words ‘Don’t Stop.’ God is coming to clean our government. Many in our Congress need to go.”

Sheets has written more than 18 evangelical books that have sold more than a million copies. In 2015, Sheets published a book titled “An Appeal to Heaven” which called for a systematic campaign to propagate the tree symbol in right-wing Christian circles. That same year Sarah Palin wrote an opinion piece endorsing the “A”ppeal to Heaven” campaign and thanking her “[s]pecial friends, Pastor Dutch and Ceci Sheets,” who had given her the flag.

Sheets was twice bestowed a Kentucky Colonel by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The first time came from Gov. Ernie Fletcher in April 2004 and later by Gov. Steven Beshear in February 2011. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed Sheets as Arkansas Traveler, or goodwill ambassador, in February 2021.

Another prominent follower of NAR is the Rev. Jim Garlow, the former Senior Pastor of Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif. Garlow was on trump’s National Faith Advisory Board and campaigned for trump in 2016. In an interview on the WallBuilders Live radio program Garlow said that “any Christian who has prayed and decided that they cannot vote for Donald Trump needs to ‘pray some more’ because by refusing to vote for him, they are helping to elect ‘Jezebel 2.0,’ Hillary Clinton.”

Garlow also said that Christians who don’t support trump are comparable to those who failed to resist Nazism in Germany.

Speaker Johnson has sought the counsel and the friendship of the Rev. Timothy Carscadden, a New Apostolic Reformation pastor from Johnson’s home district in Shreveport. Carscadden also is an associate of Sheets. Carscadden’s Facebook profile page shows him holding an “Appeal to Heaven” flag. Carscadden, who identifies as an apostle, posted his support for the protesters on Jan. 6, 2021, writing: “We will be live in person and online as we stand with the million plus in Washington DC today. We Appeal To The Courts of Heaven today!!!!”

Last December, Johnson was the keynote speaker for the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, a group working to infuse conservative Christianity at every level of government, reflective of the New Apostolic Reformation and dominion theology. At the meeting, Johnson spoke strongly about his Christian nationalism and his election a s House Speaker.

“The Lord impressed upon my heart a few weeks before this happened that something was going to occur. And the Lord very specifically told me in my prayers to prepare but to wait. I had this sense that we were going to come to a Red Sea moment in our Republican conference and the country at large,” Johnson said. “Look, I’m a Southern Baptist. I don’t want to get too spooky on you, OK? But the Lord speaks to your heart. And he had been speaking to me about this. And the Lord told me very clearly to prepare. OK, prepare for what? I don’t know. We’re coming to a Red Sea moment. What does that mean, Lord?”

The association awarded Johnson the American Patriot Award for Christian Honor and Courage. It was founded in 2020 by Jason Rapert, a former Arkansas Republican state senator, and counts among its GOP leaders former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

While Speaker Johnson is steeped in Christian nationalism, trump has continued to claim that if he is reelected, he will increase right wing Christians political involvement.

“Today I come before you as a friend and an ally and a fellow believer to ask for your help and your support and your prayers for this country,” Trump said at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 22. “I make you a simple promise: In my first term I fought for Christians harder than any president has ever done before, and I will fight even harder for Christians with four more years in the White House.”

“We did things the likes of which nobody has ever done for Christians in this country, and I’m very proud of that and honored by it,” trump added. “Just think of what with God’s help we already achieved in our historic first term under my leadership and working with you.”

“For four years, we went through a great period [where] you were able to speak, and we’re going to make that on a permanent basis,” Trump continued. “Because you’re the people we want to hear from: the pastors and the ministers and the rabbis. The people in this room are the people we want to hear from and they have to have a political voice.”

“You have such power, but you really weren’t allowed to use that power,” Trump told the audience. “You’re now allowed to use it. If I get in [to the White House], you’re going to be using that power at a level that you’ve never used it before.”

Trump also spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. Jack Posobiec, a far right conspiracists, white supremacist and trump supporter, spoke before trump. Posobiec called for the overthrow of American democracy and held up a cross, making clear that his goal is to replace democracy with a Christo-fascist regime.

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Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer