Men of God in the City of Man, Part 9: Pathogenesis

Men of God in the City of Man is a ten-part essay series that tells the story of a powerful Narrative virus whose ultimate unintended target was nothing less than faith in American democracy as an institution. Part 1 introduced the idea of the narrative virus as a mechanism for astroturfing (fake grassroots) campaigns, and the idea that the danger may not come so much from forcing new Common Knowledge, but changing what some of the population needed to be true. Part 2 is the story of the carriers of its chief ultimate symptom: a rabid belief in rampant electoral fraud. Part 3 is the story of the creators of the narrative virus and the memetic building blocks they brought to bear. Part 4 is the story of the way in which the special environment into which those memetic building blocks were introduced changed the way that they expressed themselves on major social and cultural institutions. Part 5 is the story of how all of these pieces finally came together to create a narrative epidemic within one community. Part 6 is the story of how that epidemic went pandemic. Part 7 is the story of how mutations in the narrative fundamentally changed the path of that pandemic. Part 8 is the story of how those mutations became zoonotic, escaping the confines of a fringe species of charismatic Christian prophet into a persistent cultural phenomenon. Part 9 tells a new story that emerged in the telling of this one, a testament to the multifaceted way in which narrative viruses can cause several diseases in otherwise healthy social institutions.

I am deeply indebted to the work of James Beverley, Matthew Taylor and Paul Djupe in various areas of this essay series. I have attempted to source their work where possible, but if you see something unsourced that makes a clever observation about our subject matter, please do me the favor of assuming it is the work of their dutiful scholarship.

There is a frightening period in the emergence of any new virus, when we are learning so much but know so little.

Observing the symptoms of a virus is easy enough. Understanding its pathogenicity – the mechanisms by which the virus causes disease – is often more difficult. One of the challenges in our understanding of COVID-19, for example, was the wide range of pathogenic mechanisms through which the virus caused disease in human cells and systems. At various points, researchers had to grapple with a virus that appeared to be cytopathic (i.e. damaging or killing cells), especially in lung tissue and epithelial cells. And immunomodulating, most famously by triggering tissue-ravaging cytokine storms. And neurotropic. And both indirectly and directly cardiotoxic, in addition to its tendency toward vascular endothelial pathogenicity. It was renotropic, indirectly hepatotoxic and really seemed to have it out for the whole respiratory system.

In short, the virus that caused COVID-19 infected the human body in one way but could affect the body in several ways.

That is often true for powerful narrative viruses as well.

The eight essays in this series so far have told the story of how a narrative virus infected huge swaths of the charismatic-Pentecostal Christian church in America. They told how one pathogenic mechanism caused that niche of the church to all but merge with a movement built around conspiracy theories of a fraudulent election. So devastating was this one mechanism and so virulent was its spread to adjacent communities that despite the comparatively small social niche occupied by this community, there may not be a single more powerful predictor of whether a conservative American believes in a stolen election than whether that person also believes in modern-day Christian prophecy.

Our story so far has been of this one pathogenic mechanism. But make no mistake, this narrative virus is multifaceted. It possesses multiple ways to cause disease not in the human body, but in human societies.

Before we continue with our story as intended, exploring analogs to this narrative virus that have infected the worlds of elite academia, the sciences and finance, we must take a brief detour.

Because, my friends, we are witnessing another pathogenic mechanism from this virus unfold before us in real-time.

Source: YouTube, IHOPKC

You probably don’t recognize any of the men on this stage.

Earlier entries in this series, however, had a lot to say about them and the institution they represent. Before we revisit any of that, however, it seems worthwhile to spend a moment restating what our contention thus far in this series has been.

Over the course of eight essays, we argued that various apostles, prophets, ministers and others from the charismatic-Pentecostal Christian tradition, whom we refer to as narrative virologists, worked largely independently over the course of a few decades to promote variations on six core memes. You can think of memes in the same way you think of genes, except instead of acting as the instructional building blocks of an organism, they act as the building blocks of narratives. Narratives, in our parlance, are the recurring familiar stories that surround us and frame our interactions with our culture. From those memes, we argue that a very particular narrative emerged:

  • Meme 1: Keeping Ancient Covenants
    • That God has made covenants with man with promises for the end times, and calls the church to return to faithfulness to them.
  • Meme 2: Mountains to be Conquered
    • That “faithfulness” to those covenants requires the church to take dominion over all facets of society, establishing God’s kingdom on earth and ushering in Christ’s return.
  • Meme 3: Rediscovering the Old Ways
    • That God has reinvigorated the ancient offices of the Apostle and the Prophet in order to hear God’s direction and carry it out forcefully in order to bring this change about.
  • Meme 4: A Faithful Remnant Returns
    • That God will achieve this through an initially small but faithful praying “remnant” within the church.
  • Meme 5: Hope for Broken Vessels
    • That God’s Word to the prophets was the promised second term of a King Cyrus figure in Donald Trump who would put America back on this path.
  • Meme 6: Haman’s Gallows
    • That demonic forces would seduce evil men to thwart this by stealing the election, but that God would turn their evil attempts to good by revealing their fraud for all to see and reinstating President Trump.

What we will argue here is that this narrative virus, consisting of the very same memes, mutated only slightly in order to produce an entirely different pathogenic factor.

  • Meme 1: Keeping Ancient Covenants
    • That God has made covenants with man with promises for the end times, and calls the church to return to faithfulness to them.
  • Meme 2: Mountains to be Conquered
    • That “faithfulness” to those covenants requires the church to take dominion over all facets of society, establishing God’s kingdom on earth and ushering in Christ’s return. work and pray without ceasing to produce a victorious church that will provoke Israel to the beauty of Jesus and its salvation.
  • Meme 3: Rediscovering the Old Ways
    • That God has reinvigorated the ancient offices of the Apostle and the Prophet in order to hear God’s direction and carry it out forcefully in order to bring this change about.
  • Meme 4: A Faithful Remnant Returns
    • That God could achieve this through an initially small but faithful praying “remnant” within the church.
  • Meme 5: Hope for Broken Vessels
    • That God’s Word to the prophets was the promised second term of a King Cyrus figure in Donald Trump who would put America back on this path. that Satan’s weapon to oppose this would not be murder or depravity but accusation of the brethren, and that mercy toward these accused and broken vessels would be the means for overcoming Satan’s desperate gambit.
  • Meme 6: Haman’s Gallows
    • That demonic forces would seduce evil men to thwart this by stealing the election, but that God would turn their evil attempts to good by revealing their fraud for all to see and reinstating President Trump. exaggerating accusations against Christians, especially prophetic and apostolic generals leading the charge for Israel’s salvation, but by the church showing mercy in its discipline of the accused, God would turn the enemy’s evil plans to good by provoking Israel to the beauty of Jesus.

I know it’s a lot. But we’ve got a good foundation, and I promise this won’t take 8 essays.

Now that we’ve set the table, those four men in the photo above are (or at least, until recently, were) members of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) at the International House of Prayer. I’ve called it IHOP for two decades and can’t change my habits, but because of well-placed fear of pancake company executives, you will often see it stylized as IHOPKC these days. IHOP is at once a global movement, a local church and a network of church and para-church organizations organized around a single, powerful idea: 24/7 prayer.

If your initial response is to say, “Well, that doesn’t sound bad,” that’s because it isn’t bad. Or at least, I don’t think so. It was the brainchild (or prophetic urging, if you’re inclined toward their perspective) of a group of people who wanted to keep the fires of prayer burning at all hours. A place where those who really wanted to be in the community of other people of similar faith at 2AM on a Thursday could do so. A place where people could embrace the bowl and harp, the unceasing musical, poetic utterance of David’s tabernacle. A place where an impulse toward communal thought and spiritual response to the brutality and horrors of a broken world never had to be put off until Sunday, especially if waiting until Sunday meant missing the Chiefs kickoff.

Ah, yeah. So 24/7 prayer is a global movement, but IHOP is absolutely a Kansas City thing. That’s because it can trace its lineage to the early 1980s Kansas City Prophets. And that’s where we reconnect with our original story. You may recall that in Part 4, we related the indispensable role this organization played in the evolution of the apostolic-prophetic movement. Before the Kansas City Prophets, there were those who claimed (and were acclaimed as having) the mantle of prophet and apostle. There were apostolic networks and alliances, and certainly there were conventions and conferences at which charismatics and Pentecostals did the stuff, as Vineyard founder John Wimber often put it. But at any other time, in this pre-internet, pre-email, pre-social media world, there was no global, national or even regional common knowledge about what “God was telling the prophets.” You see, Christian prophecy is a thing which operates and thrives in an environment of confirmation, where one prophet “hears” one thing and another’s word from the Lord rhymes, augments or confirms the first. In our parlance, there was no common knowledge – what everybody knows that everybody else knows.

The Kansas City Prophets changed that. A bit. Oh, there still wasn’t internet or social media or listservs or constant streaming options from everyone convinced they had a prophetic gift. What there was in Kansas City was a concentration of prophets, a gravity that would bring frequent visitors, people coming for training, people who would go back to loosely affiliated ministries and connect frequently about “what God was telling the prophets.” It was a preamble, if you will, to the later chapters in our story in which the charismatic-Pentecostal church rapidly embraced common knowledge-accelerating social networks to establish what everyone knew that everyone else would know about the words of the prophets and the decrees of the apostles.

That essay also discusses IHOP’s founder Mike Bickle.

Bickle doesn’t get much ink in those early essays, mostly because there is little evidence that Bickle did much publicly to promote claims of a stolen election in 2020, the particular pathogenesis that has been the focus of our series. That doesn’t mean he was indifferent to the question. For example, he happily joined Charisma Magazine’s Stephen Strang to put his support behind the Trump-as-Cyrus memes of Hope for Broken Vessels. But as we highlighted in our strike-through version of the memetic mutations necessary to produce the pathogenesis we will explore in short order, there are a couple differences in the way Bickle and IHOP see the world relative to much of the rest of the apostolic-prophetic movement.

Probably the most significant difference stems from Eschatology; that is, beliefs about what happens at the end of the world. On this topic, Bickle differs somewhat from most of the narrative virologists that have been highlighted throughout the series. First, he differs in that absolutely nobody we reference in our series places more emphasis on end times doctrine as Bickle. It is not all disagreement, to be sure. All of them believe, as Bickle has put it, that the “apostolic view of the end times calls the church to victory.” In Bickle’s less common take on historical premillennial eschatology, however, the victorious church is not one that rules and institutes the Kingdom of God before Christ’s return.

It is one that stands by Israel in the midst of great tribulations, and is blessed for it with increasing unity, power and a prophesied Billion Soul Harvest.

Bickle’s victorious church suffers but grows in unity and power to prepare the world for Christ’s return.

As we observed in prior essays, most of the rest of the apostolic-prophetic movement, on the other hand, has left the traditional Pentecostal territory of Pre-Millennial eschatology in favor of amillennialism, post-millennialism or a hand-waving indifference to the whole question. The most forceful proponents of dominion theology were susceptible to the Mountains to be Conquered meme in part because they became convinced that a figurative millennium of Christian dominion was a prerequisite for the return of Christ. Or maybe the attractiveness of dominion theology and cultural influence made an implicit embrace of Post-Millennial eschatology a fait accompli. Chicken meet egg. In this model, the victorious church looks much more like what most of us would call victory: a church literally defeating its enemies and instituting God’s laws, values and will on Earth before Christ’s return. Bickle himself acknowledged in his 2014 teaching Historic Premillennialism and the Victorious Church that the “cultural mandate” and “dominion theology” aren’t really a natural feature of his eschatology. He notes, however, that it is a perfect fit for the implicitly post-millennial eschatology of his prophetic and apostolic peers.

There is a second difference of only slightly lesser importance: Bickle, unlike nearly all of our other narrative virologists (and probably >90% of all Christians) utterly rejects replacement theology. That is, most of the church operates from the basis that Biblical references to Israel, especially end times references, largely now refer either to the Christian church alone OR to the Christian church and Israel together. Bickle calls this a “dangerous false teaching” that Satan “zealously promotes.” You would not do very wrong to suggest that much of IHOP’s 24/7 prayer mission, especially in recent years and months, has become defined by Bickle’s literalist view of Biblical Israel, especially in context of its role in his historical pre-millennial eschatology.

The consequence of these differences is that for the non-IHOP charismatic streams, much more is invested in prophetic beliefs regarding influence on, say, American culture and elections, and for IHOP streams, much more is invested in prophetic beliefs regarding the path for the nation of Israel in the final days. Don’t mistake me. Bickle and IHOP leaders are absolutely invested in Christian cultural influence and leadership, just not necessarily as part of a vision that it will be the fulfillment of a covenant to unlock the Third Great Awakening, or to hasten Christ’s return. They aren’t Left Behind pre-millennial fatalists, to be sure. No, IHOP’s eschatology holds that the institutions built by the church through the tribulation will survive into the Christ-ruled millennium to follow. They believe the work matters. Likewise, our team of charismatic narrative virologists are deeply involved in intercession and concern for the nation of Israel. That intercession and concern just fall well short of the “Litmus Test” that Bickle has often used to describe IHOP’s often single-minded focus on the subject.

In turn, the variants of our narrative viruses necessarily differ in their expressions of the Hope for Broken Vessels and Haman’s Gallows memes as well. Because the principal pre-condition for this Great Awakening among the non-IHOP charismatics is America’s fulfilled covenant with God, both of these memes ended up lending themselves toward King Cyrus figures in American politics and the results of elections. Because the principal precondition for delivering a victorious apostolic church among the IHOP charismatics is Israel’s salvation, both of these memes are oriented toward those who intercede 24/7 for that salvation and those who serve the accuser who would assail them. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. We’ll come back to this.

In many ways, then, you could argue (and we do) that IHOP and much of the independent charismatic movement are susceptible to the same memes and sundered by a materially different focus for their intercession and “spiritual warfare” as part of their explicit (Bickle) or implicit (everyone else) eschatology. Oh, they’re generally friendly, they play nice at conferences, they have overlapping “networks” and they believe many similar things, but they’re different. Still, you can’t tell the story of the charismatic-Pentecostal movement in the United States without the Kansas City Prophets, IHOP and Mike Bickle. And you absolutely can’t tell the story of the evolution of the apostolic-prophetic movement as it emerged into a full-fledged apostolic reformation in the early 2000s without understanding the story of IHOP and its predecessor entities in the 1990s.

Mike Bickle with Bethel Church lead pastor Bill Johnson

The story of the charismatic-Pentecostal movement in the 1990s in the United States was largely the story of different streams, as they were often called at the time, joining battles over where to take this new “prophetic revolution” they all agreed was taking place. As it happened, Bickle and the predecessor churches and parachurch organizations to IHOP were at the center of most of them. There were a lot of reasons for these battles, but most boil down to concerns put forward by a lot of charismatic church leaders about (1) the emphasis Bickle’s stream placed on prophetic revelation alone and (2) the Bickle stream’s resistance to any oversight or accountability.

As the prophetic and apostolic moved from the fringe not just of evangelicalism but of the charismatic-Pentecostal movement itself toward greater mainstream acceptance, the Kansas City Fellowship remained on the bleeding edge. To borrow the expression often attributed to Bethel Church Lead Pastor Bill Johnson we referenced back in Part 6, they were content to spit out a lot more bones than most in search of meat. Not least among their contributions was the embrace of the idea that “prophecy” had changed between the Old Testament and New Testament. In the former, prophets were expected to be accurate, or else scripture advised dealing with them, shall we say, rather firmly. In the latter, under the interpretation promulgated by the Kansas City Prophets and many who would follow, the 1 Corinthians 13:9 description of “prophesying in part” meant that New Testament prophets would not just be incomplete but wrong. A lot. And that was a feature, not a bug, apparently.

Not everyone agreed.

The first major attempt to slow Kansas City’s roll came in 1989 and 1990 from a noted area charismatic minister named Ernie Gruens. He famously distributed an audio recording and later published a thorough written document critical of various features of the Kansas City Prophets’ teaching, theology and practices. The conflict cooled somewhat, however, when the Vineyard church movement absorbed Bickle’s, incorporating the Kansas City Fellowship into what would become the Metro Vineyard Fellowship of Kansas City. John Wimber, the head and founder of the Vineyard Church that featured briefly in Part 1, was able to calm calls for trials concerning Gruens’s claims, received agreement from Bickle to acknowledge and rein in certain practices, and instituted what at first looked like a pattern of direct oversight and leadership.

For the Vineyard, it was an opportunity to be at the forefront of what Wimber saw as an exciting new thing God was doing in the church. For the broader apostolic-prophetic movement and for those who had concerns about how fast and loose Kansas City was getting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, it was an opportunity for a leading proponent of a greater role for modern-day prophecy to achieve stability and credibility through the accountability and structure of one of the largest church affiliations within the charismatic movement – even if it was still considered well outside the evangelical mainstream.

It didn’t last.

Ultimately, Kansas City overstayed their welcome. Wimber became disillusioned with a series of prophecies from the group that failed to materialize, and Bob Jones, the old school prophet who lent his imprimatur to Bickle’s emerging movement and whose prophecies were an important part of what would become IHOP’s narrative, got caught up in a scandal. In short, Jones used his reputation as a prophet to compel women in the church to engage in sexual activities with him. For these and other reasons, Wimber was keen to move on from the partnership for some time, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the Metro Vineyard Fellowship of Kansas City extricated itself. That’s when Bickle sent a long, meandering letter expressing concerns about moving too slowly in its embrace of the apostolic reformation and the prophetic revolution out of “fear of man.” It also included references to dreams from Paul Cain that had apparently convinced Bickle it was time to set out on their own once again.

There’s some important context to bear in mind here. You may recall from Part 1 that Wimber’s Vineyard had emerged from the Jesus People movement and Calvary Chapel. That itself was a split that took place not least because Wimber was eager to place more emphasis on signs, wonders, spiritual gifts and the like than Chuck Smith and the others at the center of the charismatic movement that took new shape in the 1970s. In other words, Bickle and the Kansas City crew were Rediscovering the Old Ways so hard and so quickly that it gave pause to even the most iconoclastic and performative charismatics and Pentecostals.

At this point in the 1990s, I was a teenager attending Vineyard churches and playing drums (badly) on contemporary worship teams with my family in Chicagoland. I didn’t know John Wimber and Mike Bickle, obviously. Hell, I was just a kid. But there in Joliet, we were right in the common knowledge crossfire of Kansas City, Toronto and our locally accessible offshoot in Valparaiso, Indiana. I remember hearing the traveling prophets, attending the conferences, learning about the drama with Kansas City. As a youth group kid convinced and terrified that Jesus was going to come before I ever got to kiss a girl, I still knew that a fault line in my church had formed, and that Bickle’s stream was the epicenter.

On the one side of that fault line were charismatic churches and streams that believed that God could act however he wanted to. He’s God, after all. But these streams also felt that seeking out signs and wonders ought not to be a primary focus of the church. Certainly not if doing so came at the expense of governance, accountability, discipleship or evangelism. On the other side were those who felt the charismatic church ought to fully embrace and prioritize its role as a Joel’s Army, a final-days army of dreamers, prophesiers and doers of miracles, often with an emphasis on young people performing those roles and even more often with a willingness to adopt governance models with practically no oversight or outside accountability. Every young woman an Esther, born for such a time as this. Every young man a David, a man after God’s own heart. I mean that literally, not figuratively. If you were a teenager in an independent charismatic church in the 1990s or early 2000s, you were absolutely told at least once that you were a David or an Esther.

While the actors and narrative virologists described throughout this series came from many different streams, each of those streams were of the second variety described above. Soldiers in Joel’s Army. Again. it would not be an exaggeration to say that Bickle’s movement was the fulcrum for this division of the streams. Bob Jones’s “Billion Soul Harvest” prophecy that formed so many of IHOP’s practices and structures was predicated on successive generations of young believers embracing their apostolic and prophetic gifting to lead the church to its end times victory. Neither would it be an exaggeration to say that all this made Bickle himself an indispensable figure in the rapid evolution of the movement for an apostolic reformation that would accelerate in the early 2000s.

All of this is true, even if over the years the differences in Eschatological focus led the IHOP stream to drift away somewhat from the rest of the charismatic world.

So why isn’t Mike Bickle on his own stage in the photograph we used to open this section?

Because he is the topic being discussed.

On October 24th, 2023, a group presented a letter to the IHOP executive leadership team alleging that as many as eight women may have been victims of clergy sexual abuse or spiritual abuse at the hands of Mr. Bickle, or else that they might have evidence of such abuse. This group was initially framed as the Complaint Group by the ELT, an obvious pejorative that was later pared down to Advocate Group (AG). At least one of the claims was serious, specific and credible enough that Bickle was first placed on suspension from his ministerial duties and subsequently terminated from any association with IHOP. Now, to be fair, this is how IHOP described it in public statements. In reality, Bickle was already supposed to have transitioned away (except for occasional preaching) previously, and there’s no indication that the October “termination” involved resolving the many points of financial and real estate entanglements between and among Bickle, his separate ministries and the various associated ministries of IHOP.

None of this has come before a court, and I’m not a good enough investigator to tell you if Bickle is guilty of any crime. I’m certainly nowhere near righteous enough to tell you if or how he ought to be judged, or which of the alleged things he actually did. Certainly some, although Bickle’s impossibly vague half-apology on the matter provides precious little clarity.

These questions and the victims, should the allegations prove out, are more important than anything we will discuss. These questions desperately deserve answers. But they won’t come from us. They can’t come from us.

We will not argue that the narrative virus from our story led to any clergy sexual abuse. That’s because I don’t think it did. And because you don’t need narrative to explain every bad thing that happens in the world. It’s also because I have no way of knowing if the allegations are true and less than zero interest in doing anyone involved the harm that would be caused by guessing. But mostly it’s because we can do a much better job explaining what the narrative virus DID do.

The very same powerful memes which produced a disease in huge swaths of the charismatic-Pentecostal movement that began to embrace conspiracy theory politics also produced a new disease: the single worst response to allegations of clergy abuse from any religious institution of size since the Catholic church’s pederastic priest-shuffling parade of 2004.

The principal allegation was essentially this: that over the course of several years, a 40-something Mike Bickle repeatedly issued private prophecies to a 19-year old intern in his church (“Jane Doe”), that pressured her to engage in a sexual relationship. That the nature of those prophecies was that God had identified Doe to Bickle as an Esther figure (see Part 7) who would lead “thousands of Esthers” to assist Bickle’s own “King David” anointing. And, perhaps most disturbingly, that God told Bickle was that his wife would die, after which he would marry Doe.

The allegations against Bickle first came to light formally not on the 24th of October when the Advocate Group presented a report to the ELC, but on the 9th. That is when the husband of Doe, one of the most extensive and credible claimants of clergy sexual abuse, asked Bickle to meet privately about something personal. According to former IHOPKC executive leadership team member Dwayne Roberts and as reported by investigative journalist Julie Roys, key members of the ELT were informed of the allegations that same day. Executive Director Stuart Greaves, per Roberts, brought the full ELT brought under the umbrella on October 10th.

The evening of October 9th, Bickle himself wrote a post-meeting email to Jane Doe’s husband.

The email is, in a word, astonishing.

In it, Bickle reminds Doe’s husband that God has visited him many times admonishing him to follow David’s practice from 1 Samuel 24:12, in which David refuses to respond to Saul with direct violence, trusting vengeance to God’s hand instead.

May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.

1 Samuel 24:12 (CSB)

In case your Old Testament is a bit rusty, that’s precisely what happens.

So the Lord put [Saul] to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

1 Chronicles 10:14 (CSB)

And look, if we’re being charitable, maybe the only part of this he meant was the part about choosing not to respond vindictively, and not the whole “hey, who knows, maybe God will KILL your wife if she goes public and becomes a betrayer” implication in the analogy. That would be far more believable if the rest of the email were not so rich with similarly thinly veiled threats. It is page after page of Fat Tony telling Marge Simpson “Nice little business you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

For example, Bickle tells the husband to “urge” Doe not to pursue the “false heroic paradigm of what some [may] encourage her to do.” He reminds the husband of a prophecy in which Bickle is described as “the most righteous man” with whom “God has made a covenant.” That Bickle is “David.” He reminds the husband that he “would not be able to keep [his] commitment to send monthly support”, not out of anger but because people might think he was bribing Doe. He assures Doe’s husband that he would “always be an advocate” for Doe, “even in the midst of the 5-10 scenarios [that] would surely rise up to trouble [Doe] and [her] family,” adding in bold-faced text that he could assure Doe and her husband that they “did not have all the info on these.” He tells Doe’s husband that the Lord “made it 100% clear to [him] that [he] was again going to the east” and that “the Black Horse would strike [him] again with the rage of Satan.”

Black horse? Going to the east again? What on earth?

I’m glad you asked.

As we noted previously, the executive leadership team ultimately judged this Jane Doe’s claim in particular to be credible enough to justify Bickle’s effective suspension from teaching and direct involvement with IHOP and its affiliated churches, training groups and other parachurch ministries until a complete investigation could take place. But remember, that took place on October 29th. In the meantime, despite the reports delivered to the ELC, Bickle was allowed two more shots at the pulpit.

Let me say that again.

Weeks after having been informed of credible charges of clergy sexual abuse with several alleged witnesses, IHOP’s Executive Leadership Team allowed Mike Bickle to preach at IHOP churches twice.

Bickle used these opportunities to chart out a clear expression of his and IHOP’s beliefs about the nature of his church’s most sacred end times mission (“going to the east”), to identify how Satan would seek to thwart that mission through the accusation of Christians (the “Black Horse”), and to make clear how the church and the hundreds of thousands watching over streaming services needed to respond to such cases (with pre-emptive strikes praying against accusations within the church and mercy to the accused, if it should be necessary).

Mike Bickle, from an October 21, 2023 message to the School of Messengers at IHOP

If the email Bickle sent to Doe’s husband was astonishing, the sermons themselves he delivered to thousands, perhaps millions, on October 20th and 21st were almost inconceivable.

The sermons are rich with the deeply memetic imagery of our narrative virus, composed of the very same stuff as the one we have discussed at length over the course of eight essays.

IHOP is built on the foundations of the idea of 24/7 prayer, yes. Of David’s tabernacle. But it is also built on the foundations of a series of prophecies that accumulated over time. It is furthermore built on a deep theological belief in the primacy of the church’s responsibility to intercede for the salvation of Israel. That intercession is critical to the entire mechanism whereby Bickle posits the delivery of a victorious church to Jesus on the day of the Second Coming. As far as the emphasis IHOP places on this doctrine, it would not be a great exaggeration to describe it as only subordinate to salvation and the cross. In fact, Bickle himself goes so far as to describe end times doctrine as being a part of the Gospel.

I know that many readers – especially many of our Jewish friends – will see in this language and mission a great deal of condescension. I have no interest and probably no capacity to convince you otherwise, but for what it’s worth, I think most people at IHOP have a genuine, abiding, non-instrumental love for Israel and its people. This is not a “let’s get them to rebuild the temple so we can get Armageddon started already” people. I realize that vague reassurance may not be worth much, but it’s the only one I can really offer.

Covenantal imagery, the basis of the “City on a Hill” concepts so rich in the variant of the virus that produced election denialism pathogenesis, played an even richer role in Bickle’s October 20th and 21st sermons. The only difference in the RNA of Keeping Ancient Covenants and Mountains to be Conquered in this case is that Bickle’s opposition to replacement theology transforms the language to describe God’s covenants with both Israel and his bride (i.e. the Christian church), rather than America’s roots. Everything in the sermons is geared toward reinforcing the role the church must play in completing the cycle of God’s covenant with Israel.

When the Gentiles do it, Israel gets touched. When Israel gets touched, it comes back on the Gentiles, it’s critical to the entire harvest.

Mike Bickle, in a since-deleted video of a sermon to the School of Messengers on Saturday, October 21, 2023

In other words, what Bickle is saying here is that all of the things associated with the victorious church, the delivery of the Bride of Christ at the end of the world and the Billion Soul Harvest depend on a self-reinforcing cycle of the Church blessing Israel and being blessed in return. Affirmations that it would be the actions of a Holy Remnant Returning that would achieve this had to make an appearance, too. If we didn’t do this, the rest of the church certainly wouldn’t.

And the front line of defense in the spirit is the believing prophetic church. Praying and acting, it’s not even governments, governments are going to get seduced by darkness…The problem is, the majority of that billion are stuck in spiritual dullness…I mean, they’re still saved. They care, but their lifestyle is not engaged in the way it’s got to be if they’re going to be this prepared vessel to stand with Israel.

Mike Bickle, in a since-deleted video of a sermon to the School of Messengers on Saturday, October 21, 2023

Perhaps even more than with the Trump-as-Cyrus prophecies that formed the core of the election denialism narrative, this narrative also relies on Hope for Broken Vessels. In his Friday sermon, Bickle argues that the mechanism through which Satan would attempt to interrupt the church’s intervention on behalf of Israel’s salvation is accusation. But not accusation alone. No. You see, the way that Israel will be “provoked to the beauty of Jesus” in his narrative is by witnessing the church acting as vessels of mercy to those among them who have been stung by accusations. In other words, this was a sermon whose principal message was that those who cared about Israel, those who cared about a victorious church, those who cared about God getting his way needed to be interceding in prayer against those accusations AND preparing their hearts to lavish mercy on its targets.

The Lord is saying that Satan’s plan is to accuse the global body of Christ…He wants to hinder the body of Christ from being vessels of mercy, and glory, that provoke Israel to salvation… vessels of mercy meant by God to provoke Israel to the beauty of Jesus. But if the body of Christ gets embroiled in accusation, they will turn on each other. And then Israel will not be provoked. It’s not going to work. But that’s what he wants.

Mike Bickle, in a since-deleted video of a sermon to Forerunner Church on Friday, October 20, 2023

This force behind these accusations is the aforementioned Black Horse.

Recall that IHOP is built at least in part on the foundation of an accumulated prophetic history. That’s even the term they use for it. Within that prophetic history is a series of prophecies commonly referred to as the “Black Horse” prophecies. The first purportedly came to Bickle on September 13, 1984. He recounts this initial prophecy and relevant subsequent points in the more recent prophetic history of the church in the study notes for the Friday, October 20th message.

On September 13, 1984, I was kicked by a demonic black horse. Michael the archangel said that when I “went to the east,” I would be attacked with demonic rage by the black horse.

In 2021, I had two dreams highlighting Psalm 55 with the message that millions in the global body of Christ will experience an increase of betrayal [that] would be demonically inspired to destroy their families and relationships. Psalm 55 was written about both David and Jesus being betrayed.

On September 6, 2021, I saw an open vision of a demonic attack of accusation that did not prevail.

I expect Satan’s rage to strike in increasing ferocity in the years to come after “going to the east” in context to 5 million Gentiles being mobilized to pray for Israel in the Isaiah 62 Fast (May 2023).

Study Notes to An Urgent Prophetic Call to Engage in a 3-fold Preemptive Strike (Ps. 18; Rev. 12) Part 1, IHOPKC

In case you need a translation of this language into our memetic building blocks, Bickle told his October 20th audience that God revealed to the Prophets that any time he and his movement “went to the east”, by taking action to fulfill the church’s responsibilities to the partner of God’s Ancient Covenant – Israel – the Black Horse (Satan) would stir up a spirit of accusation among a Holy Remnant that would create Broken Vessels, stung by accusation. Through the mercy of the church, God would use those vessels and those events to provoke Israel to salvation. In the meantime, Bickle reminds the listener that God told him that the destructive power of the Black Horse could and would be a mountain that could be Conquered, but that it would become increasingly important given the 24/7 Prayer movement’s initiative to create a growing remnant within the church to intercede on behalf of Israel during the present war in Gaza.

The references to Psalm 18 and Psalm 55, however? Those are are both Haman’s Gallows memes; that is, both are explicitly about betrayal or attack on God’s chosen, followed by supplication that God would be their justice. Psalm 18 is David’s prayer for the events in 1 Samuel (remember the email to Doe’s husband?) in which God acts as his vengeance and kills Saul. It is described in the text as God hurling bolts of lightning. Psalm 55 is more explicitly about betrayal at the hand of a close friend. It concludes on a very chipper note, consigning that betrayer to burn alive in the fires of hell.

12Now it is not an enemy who insults me—
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me—
otherwise I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
14 We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.

15 Let death take them by surprise;
let them go down to Sheol alive,
because evil is in their homes and within them.

Psalm 55 (CSB)

But in case you needed a more explicit Haman’s Gallows line, the Friday message gives you that as well.

He says what you meant for evil, God meant for good to save Israel.

Mike Bickle, in a since-deleted video of a sermon to Forerunner Church on Friday, October 20, 2023

Later in the sermon, of course, Bickle introduces the idea that the broken vessel that would be targeted by the Black Horse, the one through which God might work to produce vessels of mercy to provoke Israel to salvation might be…well, it just might be Bickle himself.

In 2021, I have two powerful dreams I shared with a few people… Psalm 55…some of you will know at verse 12. It’s David saying, I’m betrayed…not by an enemy but a familiar friend…the Lord says this is going to happen. But not I’m not thinking of me. I’m thinking of the global body of Christ. This is going to start happening because it happened to David, and it happened to Jesus. And I’m thinking the global body, I mean, I’m part of it.

So yeah, me too.

Mike Bickle, in a since-deleted video of a sermon to Forerunner Church on Friday, October 20, 2023

Having raised the specter in the minds of the audience that this betrayal might come very soon, that it just might target Bickle himself, and that God had put verses on his heart in which God just so happened to strike down those who betrayed his chosen, the sermon’s crescendo builds into “An Urgent Prophetic Call to Engage in a 3-fold Preemptive Strike.” The sermon notes outline this call to action, a streamed message that would have typically been seen as many as, per Advocate Group member Allen Hood, hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

A. Call on the Lord to release more tokens of His “heavenly storm glory” into situations (Ps. 18:6-15).

B. Resist Satan’s activity that operates through people against God’s kingdom purposes. Do not revile Satan, but speak against demonic attacks as Michael did (Jude 9)—simply saying, “The Lord rebuke you,” when people spread accusations against Israel, your life, loved ones, city, etc.

C. Invoke God’s activity and bless those who curse you but only if you are walking in a Matthew 5:44 level of obedience that blesses them as you “call on God to decide” as in 1 Samuel 24:12-15.

Study Notes to An Urgent Prophetic Call to Engage in a 3-fold Preemptive Strike (Ps. 18; Rev. 12) Part 1, IHOPKC

What is the first prong of the 3-fold pre-emptive strike Bickle orders? That’s the heavenly storm glory, an unusual turn of phrase even for someone who grew up hearing curious expressions like this. Per the scripture provided in the notes, that prong is praying for God to ride down on the wings of angels and the wind, flames coming from his nostrils, hailstones and lightning from storm clouds surrounding him, routing the chosen’s enemies with those bolts.

What is the second prong of the 3-fold pre-emptive strike? That prong advises the audience to treat accusations against Israel, their lives and loved ones as demonic attacks and to rebuke Satan.

What is the third prong of the 3-fold pre-emptive strike Bickle orders? That prong advises the audience to “bless” those who accuse them, but to invoke God as David did in 1 Samuel 24. You know, the one where God kills David’s enemy?


You’re welcome to your opinion. For my part, I don’t think Bickle is suggesting that the hundreds of thousands watching IHOP streams like these pray that God cause his accusers to impale themselves on swords or that He rout them with lightning bolts. Earlier essays made clear how much this language of spiritual warfare can tend toward this violent language, and there’s no way to know – even though the examples are of real human beings – if the calls are simply supplications for God’s intervention in the spirit world. Based on years of seeing this language used, that would be my default assumption. You are, once again, entitled to your own opinion.

But the language IS powerful.

That’s the thing about memetic language. It connects with the stories we have been telling each other for centuries. They comprise the cultural water in which we swim. Calling the story built from them a narrative, at least in our parlance, doesn’t mean that the words attached to them are inauthentic or false. To the contrary, I think Mike Bickle honestly and earnestly believes these things, and many of them are perfectly fine beliefs to have, even if they aren’t mine. I think the hundreds of thousands of people who heard these sermons include many very intelligent, lovely people who arrived at their conclusions honestly, with due thought, consideration and prayer.

But a narrative was expertly woven around the threads of those beliefs, transforming and abstracting it into something new. When a new event is conflated with something that is deeply important to us, like the salvation of Israel or our conviction that Israel has never had greater need than right now for the church to do whatever it must to ensure that salvation, we cannot help but to be affected. None of us is immune to narrative.

And Mike Bickle is absolutely among the most gifted narrative virologists in our story. Maybe the most gifted. Delivered in perfect isolation, these sermons might strike you as odd (me too), and they might not fit with many or any of your beliefs (me three), but they wouldn’t necessarily be scandalous or abusive. Mercy IS beautiful, and it absolutely provokes mercy in turn. Accusation and gracelessness and acrimony and disunity ARE destructive to any collective aim. Once justice for any victims and for any who have been wrongly accused has been done, whatever that ends up looking like, I hope that all involved will be in a place where they can choose mercy.

But it wasn’t delivered in isolation. Bickle knew an accusation about him might surface, and he set out to deliver two sermons weaving in decades of prophetic history to which he knew his audience would have deep attachment. Those sermons, in turn, expertly told his entire faith community that the accusations would come from Satan, that they must be resisted, and that that resistance must come now in a pre-emptive strike, because those accusations would directly target God’s will for the role of the 24/7 prayer movement in the salvation of Israel.

It was spiritual abuse.

Not of Jane Doe – that’s another, more important story – but of the hundreds of thousands of people who consider him a hero of this faith community, who heard those messages, whose hearts were being prepared for an event they didn’t know was on its way. Even if investigations discover that he did nothing at all, even if they discover as many have claimed that the Advocate Group exaggerated its case, or that it dredged up scandals that had already been resolved years ago simply to amplify their case, it wouldn’t change this fact.

Rick Joyner of Morningstar Ministries, from a since-deleted video posted on November 2, 2023

Nor could it change another fact: that the strategy worked.

After the emails and the sermons, as the allegations and reports emerged into public channels, and after Bickle was placed on suspension, comments from figures from the apostolic-prophetic community and the wider charismatic-Pentecostal church began to trickle in. It is worth observing, I think, that every single narrative virologist mentioned in this series (with one exception) was either silent or immediately jumped to Bickle’s defense, often using the very same memetic language present in those “pre-emptive strikes.”

Morningstar’s Rick Joyner, for example, had a long association with IHOP through his early affiliation with the Kansas City Prophets. On November 2nd, Joyner published a video that said the allegations had come from Satan. He compared Bickle to David and Jane Doe to Absalom, part of the betrayed-by-his-sons story arc often speculated to be the inspiration for Bickle’s Psalm 55 reference. He also predicted the claims would be called “a nothingburger”, and claimed that the accusations themselves were worse than anything Bickle did. Joyner closed his self-described rant by saying it would be better for Doe “not to even be born.” It was not the first time that Joyner presented criticisms leveled against IHOP and Bickle as persecution, nor as attacks clearly coming from the “Accuser.”

“The attacks on [Kansas City Fellowship] have already helped them possibly more than anything else in their history…it is obvious that such a bold attack of the enemy would not be made unless something of God with significance was being born there…the onslaught of the accuser is meant to snuff out this new movement.”

Rick Joyner, in his The Morning Star newsletter published in July 1990

For what it’s worth, Joyner later deleted the video and conjured a half-hearted apology. Again, after his own followers had heard his ‘prophetic voice’ chime in on the topic. Other founder-level personalities from the Kansas City Prophets spoke up, too. James Goll, an early Kansas City Prophet, used his voice to let his followers know it was “none of [their] business.”

I have something that is so alive on the inside of me. Do not align with the accuser of the Brethren. You don’t know, and sometimes I just want to tell people it’s none of your business.

James Goll, in a November 6, 2023 video posted to YouTube

The once-serious Eric Metaxas chimed in, asserting on Twitter with no evidence whatsoever that Doe’s allegations were “deeply vile lies.”

Narrative virologist and familiar friend of the series Dutch Sheets revived an old video that could only have been directed at those accusing Bickle of misconduct. The accusers were overtaken by a “jezebel spirit,” you see, and God will deal with them.

The wife of the late Bob Jones, another Kansas City prophet who, as we observed earlier, was sent packing after similar allegations of using the prophetic to entice members of his church into sexual activity – made much plainer what awaited these Jezebels than the “God will deal with them” prophecy from Dutch Sheets’s video. Bonnie Jones wanted them to know that looking back on mistakes of the past could bring death.

I believe I have a word from the Lord and I believe it’s a warning to the body of Christ…I heard Don’t Look Back…of course you know if you try to cross a busy, uh, you know, like an interstate, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to have success, okay, you’re going to get killed. So looking back could bring death. Also I heard let not this incident – and I’m talking about Kansas City – let not this incident be a setback but let it be a set up by God to go forward…

I’m just trying to say that we as a body of Believers we must be prayerful and we must be wise in our speech because this is the warning lest the accuser of the Brethren become the accused.

Bonnie Jones, in a November prophecy posted to the Bob Jones channel on YouTube

With almost every update in the story, Stephen Strang – whom you might remember as the founder and head of Charisma Media, one of the broadest distributors of the content of our narrative virologists – came to Bickle’s defense and cast doubt on the claims of Doe and other alleged victims. In a series of videos, he boldly charted out a path for Bickle from “Accusation to Victory!” We’ll see more of him in a moment, too.

Activist Sean Feucht, a familiar actor in the series thus far, has been a long-time friend of Bickle and IHOP. Some of his first ministry experience came through The Call, founded by IHOP-affiliated minister Lou Engle, embracing the “multi-generational youth movement” that the prophetic history established as the mechanism for both the Billion Souls and the main thrust of the vision to deliver a victorious church. Feucht reframed the allegations on secular political dimensions. In Feucht’s world, Jane Doe was the one in the wrong because of how she went about presenting the claims.


There are two dimensions to this defense of Bickle worth exploring. The first is that it references reports made by Julie Roys, a Christian investigative journalist. Roys published various updates on the emerging information coming out of Kansas City, for most of October simply reporting what came out of official channels. On November 30, she published an interview with Jane Doe in which she lays out in detail what had not yet been made public about her allegations. This report is what Feucht is referencing.

Now, Feucht’s claim here is that Roys is a “leftist”, “low integrity” and of “bad character” who “hate[s] the spirit-filled church.” In case you’re wondering, there’s literally zero evidence of…any of this. Quite the opposite, in fact. Roys became an independent journalist after being fired by Moody Bible Institute. Why was she fired? Because she insisted on publishing reports that another Chicago-area evangelical stalwart institution – Wheaton College – was beginning to drift in a decidedly liberal direction.

The evangelical church is facing a major crisis of orthodoxy. Increasingly, we’re succumbing to all sorts of liberal errors — from embracing the LGBTQ agenda and a leftist-inspired form of social justice to abandoning the inerrancy of Scripture and what it teaches about origins, the fall, and redemption.

Julie Roys, as quoted in Julie Roys Explains Why She Spoke Out Against Moody Bible, Decries Evangelical ‘Machine’, Christian Post, March 22, 2018

So, uh, not a leftist. And given that I’m not aware of any report that Roys had to retract or any other lapse in integrity or character, it seems pretty clear that Feucht was among those for whom the narrative virus produced both pathogenic factors in abundance. If anyone is accusing Bickle, it can only be because they hate his mission and want it to fail! They must be a leftist! It is the response of someone in thrall to the operative memes of our narrative virus in all of its forms, someone who has invested so much that they need it to be true. Precisely the response that the sermons of the 20th and 21st were designed to elicit.

Feucht’s second embedded observation regards whether Jane Doe and the Advocate Group followed Biblical requirements for how accusations against fellow Christians must be made. There are two principal scriptures and associated processes to which he might be alluding. The first, commonly referred to as the Matthew 18 process, is based on a conversation between Jesus and the disciples. In it, Jesus advises the disciples to confront one another directly, one on one. If that doesn’t work, Matthew 18 requires the brother to bring one or two others, and to establish the facts with a few witnesses. After that, you take it to the church as a whole. The other process is the 1 Timothy process. It pertains to elders – which would include those like Mike Bickle – and requires that accusations against them have the testimony of more than one witness to begin a confrontation.

I understand that to most who will read this, all of this may seem oppressive, outdated and wrong. I get it. But unity in the church is a real thing in scripture, and most Christians across denominations and doctrinal differences do their best to adhere to these requirements. There are a lot of people who aren’t Feucht who have raised questions about whether the Advocate Group and others proceeded correctly, or in a reckless, ‘worldly’ way.

I think it is still instructive, however, to consider that Feucht made these accusations without having any information that would allow him to do so. On this date, the public knew precious little about what had or had not yet happened behind the scenes. It was a knee-jerk defense of the same kind as above, and one which, after revelations made by the Advocate Group in a series of subsequent videos, seems to be similarly mistaken.

Based on information that would emerge later, Jane Doe’s husband met with Mike Bickle privately. He and members of the Advocate Group attempted to meet with him in progressively larger groups multiple times thereafter and were rebuffed. Unless the implication is that Jesus meant that Jane Doe herself needed to meet directly with her alleged abuser to satisfy the Matthew 18 standard (which I don’t mind editorializing to you as a very stupid opinion), the standard was fulfilled, and then some. As for the 1 Timothy standard, it is, if Hood and his peers are to be trusted at their retelling of events, precisely what slowed the Advocate Group in its infancy. They had only the word of Jane Doe, and while they were empathetic, they felt 1 Timothy did not allow them to confront Bickle yet; that is, until Michael Sullivant identified a woman who had previously claimed that Bickle had used the “his wife is going to die, and then he can marry me” line on her. The Advocate Group deemed this an adequate second witness and proceeded.

Bearing in mind that the other requirement of 1 Timothy is public rebuke of the elder’s behavior in the absence of repentance, it is hard to imagine what fact it is that Feucht has a problem with in how this “controversy” was handled. I think that’s because it wasn’t a fact he took issue with, but the result its public revelation would have on the attachment he himself had to Bickle’s core narratives.

If only that were the end of it.

Dr. Michael Brown, to whom I referred earlier in this series as among the more sensible of a group of admittedly unusual people (a view I maintain with increasingly gnawing self-doubt), was among the first to speak to IHOP’s Forerunner Church after the high-level allegations came to light. “You may have an opinion right now,” he told the congregation. “Keep it to yourself. It does no good.”

They did not keep it to themselves. And that did a lot of good.

People came forward with dozens of similar stories of spiritual abuse, harassment and clergy sexual abuse experienced within IHOP and its various predecessor ministries. Some stories quickly surfaced of a noted prayer leader and major financial supporter of IHOP by the name of Bob Hartley. Among the stories were allegations that he propositioned, manipulatively prophesied over members of the church in order to solicit “intimacy“, and even raped members of the community. Coincidentally, according to his own son, Hartley was among those who attempted to lead a “restoration” group to bring Bickle quickly back to ministry only weeks after his dismissal, apparently aided by Bickle’s own son living at Hartley’s house. Hartley had been prominently involved with a variety of other ministries, including those of Bethel Church and Johnny Enlow, and in both cases was apparently removed from ministry because of his behavior. If the argument is that Bickle wasn’t told or couldn’t have known about any of this, you are once again just so darned welcome to believe that.

You might remember Enlow from earlier essays. His was the prophecy that Trump was God’s President of Earth delivered half-way through the Biden administration. And yet, practically alone among the noteworthy figures of this movement, he was neither silent nor a narrative-massaging knee-jerk defender. How Hartley still ended up so frequently leading prayers on IHOP’s stage after what Enlow saw and presumably shared with Bickle is less clear.

In the meantime, IHOP itself stonewalled. Months after the initial claims, its teachers continued to preach sermons about surviving “persecution,” their leaders refused to negotiate in good faith with the advocate’s group to identify a neutral third party to examine the claims, they appointed a PR czar to spin and “like” any criticism of the Advocate Group, and they did everything they could to keep the scope of the examination focused on the narrow, provable claims that took place in the years in which IHOP and Forerunner Church (the primary traditional church expression of the movement) were duly formed legal entities.

After months of refusing to realize that law firms they hired without the Advocate Group’s consent were not “independent investigators”, what remained of IHOP leadership released this statement only days ago, in late January. I would rarely recommend listening to an entire video of this type, but this is an exception. It is, perhaps, the single most wrong-headed, preposterous, fully realized manifestation of a response so fully deluded by narrative that it no longer bears any resemblance to reality.

The crux of the video is church leadership’s ‘exhaustion’ doing the work to arrive at a mutually agreeable third party investigator, and deciding they were just going to take their ball and go home. What are the “lies” this unfamiliar speaker to most long-time IHOP loyalists, a former general elevated to its chairperson role felt inclined to call out? That the Advocate Group said they weren’t making a “documentary” before releasing a small set of video responses to claims from IHOP-affiliated individuals that the AG had planned to bring Bickle and IHOP down from the beginning.

Just ludicrous stuff, here. Anyone who has worked in negotiations of any kind knows and has seen this one – you know, where you manufacture some arbitrary point of offense to justify reneging on a key term – and has squarely marked it in the Bad Faith column of their ledger.

General Fuller’s subsequent interview with Charisma media’s Stephen Strang on January 26th, however, makes the strident statement look positively measured by comparison. It encompasses nearly every one of the mafia-esque warnings from Bickle’s pre-emptive strike sermons, every one of the memes of the narrative virus.

There are some people who almost want to burn the ministry to the ground and I believe that it’s a spiritual attack…so um on October 7th the same day that Hamas attacked Israel, these charges were leveled against Mike…you know, the enemy of our souls who we call Satan does not want 24-hour prayer… it’s almost like a cancel culture type of mentality.

I just like to encourage my viewers and listeners to speak up on social media and defend righteousness, tell people to pray for the leadership there…I mean their motives their actions their attitudes not cooperating like General Fuller said, releasing these videos and so forth. That’s just wrong, and they need to be confronted. We need to do it in Christian love. We need to not be guilty of worse than they are.

Stephen Strang, from a January 26th interview with IHOP’s General Fuller on the Strang Report

And look, it’s not as if IHOP is unique here. Plenty of organizations, religious, secular and otherwise, have experienced similar internal rot. The utterly depressing point isn’t so much that the rot was unusual or exceptional, except inasmuch as some of us still cling to faint hope that maybe churches might be different. The point is the nature of the defenses put forth.

And it’s not as if there aren’t legitimate questions. I still don’t know what Mike Bickle actually did. There are claims that the Advocate Group exaggerated the nature of certain other Jane Does, claims that they created circumstances which subjected prospective Jane Does (who denied any clergy abuse) to repeated questions that they found deeply harmful, and claims that the Advocate Group have been unnecessarily obstinate in their resistance to IHOP-proposed independent investigators. I don’t have special visibility into these claims, and independent from the thrust of these issues as they are, they warrant the attention of others, just as the core claims of Jane Doe remain the single most important issue in question.

But for our purposes, from the framing of the allegations by church leaders as persecution, to permitting an already-accused Bickle to frame them from the pulpit as part of his oft-prophesied Satanic plan to thwart God’s aims for Earth’s final days, to setting loose an army of True Believers and sock puppet social media accounts to anonymously spin every revelation, the institution seemed almost single-minded in its purpose to reframe what the allegations were really about.

In the minds of those affected most severely by the designed narrative virus, this situation wasn’t about anything that Mike Bickle did or didn’t do so very, very long ago.

This wasn’t about whether or not IHOP might have created an environment that allegedly let Bob Hartley do whatever he wanted with no accountability or repercussions.

This was about Marxism. It was about far-left, anti-God forces marshaled by the Accuser to bring down the mission God had given IHOP! It was about evil liberals who’ve always wanted to bring down God’s holy purposes in this place, who finally found their opening.

It was about disrupting what IHOP was called to do, to facilitate the salvation of Israel, to be blessed in turn with a Billion Souls, right now at the most pivotal moment in Israel’s history!

Indeed, one of the longest-tenured and perhaps IHOP’s second most famous personality after Mike Bickle, worship leader Misty Edwards, felt inclined to say the quiet part out loud.

This statement is in reference to what seems to have been a place that was put in place behind closed doors in order to bring down Mike Bickle and IHOPKC. It seems to have been a plan BEFORE there were multiple “alleged” Jane Does. In my opinion, there was a plan and then the search for “victims” to fill in that 40 year time line began.

Long-time IHOP worship leader Misty Edwards, in a since-deleted Facebook post

Don’t you see? It was never about mean tweets some minor moral peccadilloes.

It’s about THEM wanting to destroy our MISSION at any cost. They had planned it all along. They don’t care about Israel. They don’t care about the victorious church or the harvest. They’re doing Satan’s work.

Precisely the narrative table that Bickle had so painstakingly set.

It was a nightmare, a final triumph of a poisonous narrative virus.

Former IHOP ELT and Board Member Dean Briggs speaking out during the October 27th meeting at Forerunner Church in which more members of the community were informed about the allegations

Except it wasn’t.

No one in this story was immune to narrative. No leader, former leader or member of the congregation did not feel the pull of the stories establishing how this would affect what they saw as their sacred mission. It would not be possible to be unmoved by the language waters in which this story was swimming – the years of prophetic history, the awareness of the present Israel-Gaza war, to say nothing of Bickle’s own comments.

And yet, there were those whose intellectual immune systems rejected the narrative virus.

The picture above is of a man named Dean Briggs. He was a former ELT and Board member at IHOP, and deeply invested in its core mission and narratives. As he recalled later, he was a tireless advocate for a firmer mission statement that would be even more evocative about IHOP’s role in leading the church toward its core mission, leveraging many of the core memes we’ve discussed throughout: “IHOPKC is a necessary, fundamental, provoking agent—with unavoidable leadership dimensions for which it alone is responsible—for 24/7 prayer, worship and end-time messaging unto global harvest.” In his current ministry, he fully embraces the ekklesia concept so heavily popularized by Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets that we identified in early essays as being a fundamental transformer of the Ecclesiocratic vision necessary for the election denial pathogenesis. He and I would agree on much. We might disagree on more.

And yet, on October 27th, when ELT members and pastors from IHOP’s Forerunner Church stood up to update the congregation on the allegations, leaving out a variety of important details he knew to be relevant, Dean Briggs stood up and interrupted the closing remarks.

In a room full of faithful witnesses, I am being a faithful witness to my brothers. There is more to be said, and what they just shared is well-intended, righteous bullshit.

Dean Briggs, in videos capturing remarks from Forerunner Church leadership on October 27, 2023

Dean Briggs stood athwart narrative and shouted “bullshit.”

And he kept shouting “bullshit.”

The predefined outcome has clearly been revealed, which is NOT to shepherd, to give account, or to cleanse, but to minimize exposure, manage information, and somehow, however improbably, leverage a certain measure of incredulity and good will among the remaining faithful to win a twisted PR war. The desired outcome: a prayer room that won’t stop, regardless of the blood on the battlefield, or the casualties of war.

Dean Briggs, former IHOPKC ELT member and part of the Advocate Group in a January 21 Facebook post

He wasn’t alone.

Allen Hood, among the most respected ministers with any kind of past affiliation with IHOP, had everything to lose and nothing to gain from contributing to the Advocate Group, did it. So did Dwayne and Jennifer Roberts, Sam Storms, John Chisholm, Elizabeth Herder, Murray Hiebert and Wes Martin. There were anonymous and IHOP-affiliated public figures on the internet like Joel Richardson who did so, too. As did worship leaders Ryan Kondo and Aaron Beck.

There are two things every one of these men and women had in common.

  1. The character to say, “I care more about truth than any narrative into which I have invested my identity.”
  2. Real Human Connection

I’m not saying we ought to be crowning them. There are claims into which the public has zero visibility that some of these people and groups acted rashly, wrongly or unfairly at various points. If Michael Brown can convince the General to recommit to an actual third-party investigation, that should and will be explored. Indeed, Allen Hood has invited precisely that.

What I’m saying is that each of them knew that telling the truth could very well cause harm to something they felt as deeply about as any of us feels deeply about anything in our lives. They overcame that knowledge and the pull of its language. More importantly, however, they knew and talked and listened to the actual people involved. I don’t mean in the sense that they were able to embrace someone’s “truth” or that they became biased by having relationship skin in the game. I mean that they had an opportunity to encounter the events, the people and the facts in a context not governed by the language of narrative.

Narrative is inherently an abstraction of what it means to be human, and what it means to be human is inherently the reification of narrative.

Not one of us is immune to narrative. To stories. We may not always have the opportunity to truly encounter reality world. But on those rare chances, maybe a couple times in our lives, even when it runs counter to our interests, even when it calls into question our life’s work, when it would invalidate the narratives to which we have attached ourselves, we will have an opportunity to cut off an avenue for the virus to cause a new disease, a new path of pathogenesis:

We can stand up. We can raise our hand. We can shout “bullshit.”

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  1. Nine parts. I can only imagine how many hours of discussion went into this. Looking forward to all of it.

    @rguinn I was wondering: did you use the narrative machine retrospectively, whether wholly or in part, to identify the sources here?

  2. OK, I feel like I’m doing a crap job explaining this, so forget everything I just said and use this rule of thumb: if an American Christian willingly says “Yes, absolutely!” to the question “Are you a born-again Christian?” then they’re evangelical. If they cringe and grudgingly say, “Yeah, I mean, I guess so, but can you clarify what you mean?” they’re probably a non-evangelical, mainline Protestant. If they say, “OK, what are you selling?” they’re Catholic.

    As someone raised Catholic and currently attending an evangelical Baptist church I audibly guffawed at this paragraph. Absolute perfection.

  3. As a socially liberal and fiscally conservative Presbyterian who is probably more agnostic now and (yes a run-on sentence) am fully ingrained with the fact that our country’s laws are based on Presbyterian polity, I too laughed out loud at this statement.

    Levity, a good carrier for important considerations.

  4. Rusty,
    Curious to see what attention, if any, the doctrine of biblical innerancy will get in this series.

    As a teenager, I was baptized in and eventually pastored at a wonderful Foursquare church in Oregon. Additionally, for several years during that time, I lived with 4 Calivinist buddies of mine.
    During my years-long exposure to both charismatic Pentecostalism and Calvinism, I found over and over again how fundamentally problematic the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and literalism is for all churches, regardless of whether it’s the reformed Eric Metaxas/Wayne Grudem/John Piper type or the charismatic Pentecostal Benny Hinn type.

    In my experience, the “charismatic norms” (like prophesy), can be a really beautiful thing. But it’s when the charismatic norms (like prophesy) are connected to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy/literalism that things can go super sideways and do anything but “edify”. As I see it, inerrancy is the core virus that has been wreaking havoc in the churches (you name the tradition) and the world for centuries.

    Anyway, really looking forward to reading these notes.

  5. Three of the mentioned fellows will make at least a cameo appearance, but it isn’t necessarily a focus of the series. I agree that it would also be fascinating to see how that narrative - the soul of American evangelicalism, really - emerged and became common knowledge, but that would be a different series.

  6. In part, although as I think you’ll discover as we go along, our aim was to be thorough enough not to have to be stingy in our source selection.

  7. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Man, fascinating stuff. Can’t wait to read the rest.

    I was raised mainline Protestant in NY in the 80s. Never even heard of Charismatics until I moved to TX as an adult.

    I think I understand why it is the fastest-growing branch of Christianity. Vs the stuff I was raised with, my first impression as an outsider is the level of passion and… hmm… immediacy.

    I’m assuming that this is the basic story we’re discussing, I had not heard it yet. It explains what some prophets need(ed?) to be true and why.

  8. This was a great and insightful read, @rguinn.

    “Like the Widening Gyre, the most effective vectors for effective astroturfing campaigns may focus not so much on changing common knowledge but on changing What We Need to Be True.”

    Inoculation against direct responsibilities is one of the fundamental traits of human beings’ proto-centralized religions. In a context of apparent lack of control, agency was projected outward.

    Witchcraft was the reason for pain without feeling guilty and gods’ (God) wrath for pain when feeling guilty in ancient cultures.

    In this context of apparent lack of control (post 2008), changing what we need to be true is an escape from direct responsibilities when focusing on the excuses that explain the individual or collective failure as an out-of-control external factor (spiritual: evil-witchcraft- the devil or kind of real threats: immigrants - woke - deep state), that apparently has agency and goes directly against you as a cosmic good vs. evil fight. So, it’s the perfect context for this phenomenon to emerge in the American-style, spirit-filled charismatic Christianity.

    Low locus of control (direct control over outcomes) + belief in miracles (indirect control over outcomes) + best in class already system of memes (Christianity).

  9. You’ve got it nailed. Only I think that we will discover that there are many more areas of our society and culture which exhibit very similar traits in very different wrappers.

  10. Really interesting start…as someone who has walked among the movements you reference, I’m looking forward to your reflections and observations.

    I’ll just observe here that the role of discernment has always been the weak link when it comes to Pentacostal/Charismatic movements.

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