After an embarrassing number of wrong prophecies and bungled predictions about the 2020 election, a group of charismatic Christian leaders have released a four-page statement of “prophetic standards” to help correct abuses in the movement.
The statement, released April 29 on the newly created propheticstandards.com, is the work of 85 Christian ministry heads, preachers, academics, denominational officials, authors, revivalists, evangelists and other participants in what’s been called the prophetic movement, a subset of Pentecostal Christianity. Their signatures are attached.
The movement came into much disrepute in recent months after scores of prophets incorrectly prophesied that former President Donald Trump would win a second term, while failing to prophesy major events such as COVID-19 and the storming of the U.S. Capitol. A handful that later apologized for the false prophecies said they received thousands of angry emails, and in the case of North Carolina prophet Jeremiah Johnson, death threats.
“It’s a good document and I support everything included in it,” wrote the Rev. Loren Sandford, a Denver pastor who last year prophesied a 2020 Trump victory, then apologized when he got it wrong. After that, “I was called vile and hateful names and was accused of being faithless and a traitor,” he added.
Views on his YouTube channel dropped by 70% and 200 subscribers (out of about 15,700) abandoned him. It’s been common knowledge, he said, that the movement needed reforming and several years ago, he was part of a prophetic group that crafted a similar document.
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“We saw the imbalances coming and wanted to head them off,” he said.
At the heart of the statement is a call for all who’ve made false prophecies to publicly apologize.
If someone issues a public prophecy with specific details and dates that can be easily proved or disproved, “and that word does not come to pass as prophesied, the one who delivered the word must be willing to take full responsibility, demonstrating genuine contrition before God and people,” the statement says.
“If the word was delivered publicly, then a public apology (and/or explanation/clarification) should be presented,” it continues. “This is not meant to be a punishment but rather a mature act of love to protect the honor of the Lord, the integrity of prophetic ministry and the faith of those to whom the word was given.” The statement also calls for prophets to have their prophecies evaluated by peers in the movement, adding, “Those refusing such accountability should not be welcomed for ministry.”
James Beverly, a Toronto-based researcher of the movement, noted that the statement “chose the diplomatic path” in not naming some of the most egregious groups and individuals.
“While this is commendable since it provides an opportunity for various prophets to improve without being named, it runs the risk of not bringing to light those prophets who bring dishonor to the Christian world through reckless statements and false prophecies,” he said in a statement.
Beverley, author of “God’s Man in the White House” (a collection of 500 prophecies about Trump), noted that “these important standards will probably have the least impact among so-called prophets who continue to venerate Trump without limit and show no regret for false prophecies and ridiculous claims about January 6 (the Capitol raid), January 20 (President Joe Biden’s inauguration) and the future of Trump.”
The statement has been in the works since early February, when Michael Brown, president of AskDrBrown Ministries and Bishop Joseph Mattera, convenor of the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, began drafting it. The statement was then reviewed by more than a dozen people during subsequent Zoom meetings.
“It seems to have sparked greater interest and momentum than we expected,” Brown said last week during an interview at his Charlotte, N.C., headquarters. “We’ve a real hope that it’ll be a corrective to error and an encouragement to positive expression.”
The theologically diverse prophetic movement includes Christians from many denominations and groups. Brown said pastors and individuals were asking for guidance and outsiders were raking the movement across the coals for theological sloppiness.
“We’ve heard from many pastors saying ‘How do we clean up this mess?’” he said. “It also gives guidelines for all believers to test what they’re hearing on the internet and TV. Hopefully, if the body of Christ can be more discerning, there can be less of a market for error.”
Craig Keener, an Asbury Seminary professor who has written on the false Trump prophecies for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today and who signed the document, said it was important for charismatics to reform abuses in the movement.
“I believe that the biblical gifts of the Spirit are for today but that they are often abused,” he said. “The recent fiasco of political prophecies was a case in point.”
He added, “I signed the document because I agree with its demand for greater accountability to Scripture and to reality and because it is important for charismatics (and not just anti-charismatics) to call for such reform.”
As the document has been tweaked and revised many times by those who saw its preliminary drafts, an early concern, Brown said, was the document could be used to stifle prophecies. This was dealt with in subsequent revisions.
There are more than 200 prophetic networks in the U.S. and Canada, most of them encompassing less than a dozen prophets, according to J. Gordon Melton, professor of American religious history at Baylor University and a longtime observer of the movement. Allowing for overlap, the total number of prophets numbers in the thousands, many of whom live in the Lone Star State.
“A lot of the new [prophetic] movements are based here in Texas,” he said in an interview. “We have a whole set of prominent national leaders here, way out of proportion to the population.”
Many of those leaders: Chuck Pierce of Global Spheres, Inc., Cindy Jacobs of Generals International, televangelist Ken Copeland and evangelists Lance Wallnau and Dutch Sheets all live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. None signed the document.
In fact, the majority of movement prophets declined to sign. Some, Brown said, were part of ministry networks that would not allow them to sign; others did not give reasons although, he added wryly, “I did tell them the ABSENCE of their names would speak loudly as well.”
Some of the holdouts include people who still insist the Trump will be reinstalled as president this year, including Florida prophetess Kat Kerr, California evangelist Johnny Enlow and Jeff Jansen of the Nashville-based Global Fire Ministries. Steve Schultz of the Albany, Ore.-based Elijah List, who hosts many pro-Trump prophets on his Elijah Streams YouTube channel, also didn’t sign.
When asked about this, Brown waxed philosophical.
“If the chief offenders have not publicly repented,” he asked, “why would they sign something like this?”
What’s often ignored, said Steven Strang, founder of Charisma Media in Lake Mary, Fla., and one of the signers, is that several of these same prophets correctly predicted Trump’s unlikely 2016 victory, but when they stumbled in 2020, “the knives came out by critics of the prophetic.”
He added, “As a former secular journalist, I wonder how this statement will play in the secular community. I doubt it will satisfy most of the critics–some of whom have made a small industry of blasting not only the gift of prophecy but all spiritual gifts and often all Pentecostal doctrine.”
This is not the first effort to rein in the excesses of the movement. Nashville prophet James Goll, who signed the prophetic standards document, said there were efforts in the 1990s to establish guidelines for prophecy, and in 1999, the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders was formed. But many of the younger prophets who emerged later saw no need to affiliate with that group.
Another problem, he added, is there’s no doctrinal authority like what exists among Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Latter Day Saints and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
“There is no such thing as a one central hierarchy,” he said. “That’d be like forcing all Pentecostal and charismatic and non-denominational Spirit-filled churches to be put together in one giant pot, which is an enormous sector of the body of Christ.”
He attributes the movement’s growth in the past 20 years to social media and TV and YouTube channels that promoted almost anyone who claimed to be a prophet. A board of directors made up of sympathetic family members and friends could be assembled quickly.
“The entire prophetic and prayer movement expanded with the digital age,” he said. “So, where’s the accountability then on the platforms? Everybody needs to learn self-responsibility, how to pray, how to walk in better wisdom. I have a board of directors. Do others? You can have three [board members] and get away with it, but is it functional?
Additionally, there are words from God that prophets should keep to themselves.
“I don’t put in social media three-quarters of what I receive,” Goll said. “A lot of people who do that are just getting a big mailing list. God wants us to be trustworthy and hold onto secrets and not shout them from the housetop. I wonder if what we have now is a result of saying too much on the wrong platforms.”
This article originally appeared in Religion Unplugged and is reprinted with permission.
Julia Duin is a Seattle-based journalist who has worked as a full-time reporter or editor for numerous publications, including the Houston Chronicle, Washington Times, and the Washington Post Sunday Magazine.