The Truth That Will Blow Your Mind

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Waco, The Unfortunate Legacy, Part 1

 

“If anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” Matthew 24:25. NIV

 

Prologue

At the beginning of the 51-day long siege, orchestrated by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Texas state law enforcement, the Branch Davidian compound, otherwise known as Mount Carmel in Waco Texas, was the home to about 120 followers of a self-declared prophet and messiah David Koresh, whose real name was Vernon Howell.

At the violent end of the longest siege of the kind in the US, on April 19, 1993, 76 Koresh’s followers were burned to death in the fiery inferno, including David Koresh and more than 20 children. Debate still goes on if the deadly fire was caused by the Branch Davidians or the FBI action, was it a tragic accident or deliberately set?

According to Wikipedia, in addition to 76 Davidians burned to death, “five others were killed in the initial ATF raid. One was killed by the ATF after the raid, and 35 left the compound during the FBI siege.” Nine Branch Davidians survived the fire. Eight Branch Davidians were charged for the possession and use of firearms during the siege and sentenced to up to 40 years each. By July 2007 all of them were released from prison.

Most of the survivors continue to be loyal followers of David Koresh. They believe that one day they will see him victoriously coming back in the clouds of Heaven to reign in Jerusalem over the entire world as the new King David.

Background Reflection

I write this article with malice towards no one. However, the more I read about David Koresh, believed by his followers to be a prophet and the Son of God, the more I am disgusted by his manipulative, controlling, deceiving and toxic personality. One wonders how was it possible for him to build a following of fanatically loyal people, willing to go as far as to surrendering their own wives and daughters to him, eventually their lives too? Considering the perverse character of his teachings and lifestyle, one wonders indeed how was it possible for him to bring into his brainwashing machinery a number of people with sophisticated levels of education? Some of them were teachers, nurses, business people, retired military men, theology students, professors, musicians, artists.

On the other hand, however abhorrent David Koresh and his tactics of deception were, I find almost equally unacceptable the methods the US government used against David Koresh and his followers during the days of a long siege, and especially on the final hell-like day of the siege. Their use of psychological warfare, and the excessive deadly force against a community of people, looked more as if the siege was taking place in some far-removed jungles of Vietnam, rather than on the American soil. I believe that something needed to be done. However, even now, 25 years later am not really convinced that it was really necessary for ATF to attack the compound, and FBI to exercise brutal militarized force which ultimately led to perishing of 82 people, many of whom were children?

I write this article not because I consider myself an expert in the circumstances surrounding the Waco tragedy, but because I knew some people personally who lost their lives in the raging inferno of Waco on Monday, April 19, 1993. Five years earlier we studied together at Newbold College, England, a leading Seventh-day Adventist educational institution in Europe.

 A Deadly Conversion

The first time I heard about David Koresh was in the summer of 1988. At that time David was still called by his real name, Vernon Howell. Steve Schneider, the Koresh’s right-hand man and his liaison officer, visited Binfield, a tranquil English village close to Bracknell, Berkshire.  He was on the recruiting mission to England, and his plan for the summer was to bring the “new truth” about “the prophetic and messianic call” of Vernon Howell (David Koresh) to the students of Newbold College. Since those were the summer months, free from any academic activities, only a small group of unsuspected students, professors and staff members remained at the college facilities. I was there too, working several summer jobs in the anticipation of securing some income that would help me move on with my education.

Steve Schneider used to study at Newbold College too, fifteen years earlier, but was expelled from the college due to some behavioral issues. When the college administration realized that Steve did not come back to Newbold for a brief nostalgic visit, a common practice among many former students, but that he was on the weird recruiting mission, they denied him the privilege of staying and “evangelizing” within the college boundaries. Steve was then welcome into the home of a sympathizing staff member. The home of a college cook became his teaching sanctuary for a few weeks, and the base for all his outreach activities on behalf of David Koresh.

For several weeks a group of curious students, some staff members and a few locals gathered together every day, in the late after-the-work afternoon hours, to listen to Steve Schneider. His teaching sessions went on for many long hours, reaching into the early morning hours of the following day. While initially most were attending the meetings out of sheer curiosity, some were undergoing a steady and visible process of conversion.

The rumor about the weird visitor from Waco spread quickly. The fact that the overnight meetings lasted for many long hours every night, and that almost all attending had to go every night without adequate sleep, although each one of them had to work early the following morning, was a good enough warning for me that a cultic brainwashing was in progress every night in our neighborhood. One day we heard that the prophet Vernon himself had arrived, with his guitar, to harvest the fruit of Steve’s labor.

The Lesser Light

Although I did not have any desire to join the group, I remember having several conversations with a few who could not hide that the conversion of their hearts and minds was very much in progress at that time. I was the most directly aware of a serious belief shift in the life of my friend Cliff Sellors, recent convert to Adventism and a good friend of mine. A video production project that both of us shared as the Communication Class requirement brought us closer a few months earlier.

Even before Cliff met Steve Schneider and David Koresh, I knew that he had the exaggerated passion for the writings of the 19th century Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White. In the formative years of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the mid 19thcentury in America, her dreams and visions had a crucial role in shaping the identity of the emerging church. Since then in the Adventist circles she has been called by several attributive titles, including – “the Inspired Pen”, “the faithful servant of the Lord”, “the Lord’s Messenger”, “the lesser light leading to the greater light”, and the most often “The Spirit of Prophecy”.

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Cliff Sellors was a good, modest and humble young man.

On several occasion Cliff and I discussed various topics related to the inspiration of the message and writings of Ellen G. White. We were good friends who did not share the same conviction about the importance of the Adventist prophetess. Cliff was a very good, modest and humble young man, who in the writings of Ellen G. White constantly sought to find “more truth” and “more light.” He read her writings more than he read the Bible.

Cliff Sellors was a genuinely gifted artist. In those days he was painting a beautiful mural named “Genesis”, depicting the seven creation days on the front wall of the college Science Room. Any time he worked on the painting he would listen to the audio recordings of her prophetic messages. He was deeply dissatisfied with his spiritual condition and imperfections. In the writings of Ellen G. White he was seeking to find the truths that would elevate his obedience to the Law of God, ever closer to the perfection that had been eluding him all the time. In his eyes the truth of God was progressive, and there was always a room for the new light, only granted to “His faithful Remnant” – those who “keep God’s commandments, hold to the testimony of Jesus,” and believe in “the Spirit of Prophecy” (Ellen G. White). (Revelation 14:12; 19:10.)

On the other hand, I was satisfied that all truth and light that mattered for my salvation was contained to the fullest in the person of Jesus, and that no relevant truth existed outside Him. I wanted Cliff to see too that the beauty and simplicity of the Gospel of Christ did not require any kind of doctrinal or prophetic gymnastics in order to be appreciated and understood. I did not believe that the role of the New Testament prophets was to be the revealers or upgraders of any God given truth, let alone the saving truth since all of it had already been reveled once and for all, and to the fullest, in the person of Jesus Christ. I shared with Cliff that I believed that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus gave the complete meaning to the whole prophetic ministry of the Old Testament, and there existed no other truth that would ever go beyond or outside Jesus.

When Steve Schneider begun his UK indoctrinating mission in the summer of 1988 Cliff became hooked by his message almost instantly. He would share with me the fragments of what was happening at the meetings. I thought for a moment that his commitment to Ellen G. White would keep him away from the prophetic claims of anyone else. But this was not to be. He, and a few other Newbold students, were impressed with the apparent ease by which Steve was “interpreting” the Old and New Testament Bible prophecies, including the writings of Ellen G. White. For Steve’s Newbold audience, mostly made of traditional Adventists who revered their prophetess, Steve prepared a familiar platform. He quoted Amos 3:7. “The Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”

“They believe in Ellen G. White!” – these were some of the very first remarks Cliff shared with me after one of the first Steve’s classes that he attended. To Cliff it mattered that this “new message”, or “the new truth” he was hearing from Steve affirmed the prophetic authority of Ellen G. White. And Steve worked hard to impress the emerging disciples that Ellen G. White was very much revered by both, Vernon Howell (David Koresh) and himself.

For Steve however, setting a common ground was only a means of moving forward from a familiar ground into a new territory. He argued that if “God hand-picked” Ellen G. White to fulfill a special prophetic mission in the 19thcentury, he certainly did not stop there. Steve reasoned that just as much as God appointed Ellen G. White as his “special messenger”, God had now chosen another inspired vehicle to upgrade his “last message”. And, sure enough, the name of the prophet was Vernon Howell, soon to be revered by his followers as David Koresh. It did not take too long for Cliff, and a group of other converts, to feel reassured that believing in the prophetic mission of a new prophet would not contradict their faith in the prophetic gift of Ellen G. White.

The Mind Blowing New Truth

But their arrival at the new light only meant the beginning of a journey that would thereafter become filled with one surprise after another.

Steve proceeded to teach that David Koresh was actually much more than a prophet. He was soon to be received by the new converts, one step at the time, as the “antitypical David”, “the antitypical Cyrus”, “the Lamb of God”, and “the Son of God” – the only one to whom it was given to open the mysteries of “the seven seals” of the Book of Revelation. Moreover, he was to be received as “the new Messiah of the House of David”, “God’s anointed”, “God in sinful human flesh” sent into the world to complete the saving work of Jesus by becoming the “Sinful Messiah”. Since the first Jesus was the spotless and sinless Lamb of God – the reasoning followed – Jesus could not have completely identified with the human race. To complete his saving work, God had to send another Messiah, the second Jesus, David Koresh, to complete the work of redemption by radically indulging into the sins of the world. Salvation now required that one would not believe only in Jesus Christ, but even more in David Koresh.

Each time Steve was stepping onto a new, more preposterous ground, he would enthusiastically declare: “This truth will blow your mind!” Whenever anyone in the attending group would dare ask a critical or disagreeing question, Steve would respond: “You are not ready to receive this new light yet!”

Consequently, one of the “mind blowing truths” Steve delivered to the new converts was that David Koresh would have to marry many virgins, in order to bring into the world a new race of perfect God’s children, who will together with him reign in Jerusalem over the new world. Actually, he would need 144 virgins, the number that went beyond any reasonable expectancy even in the circles of the most unrestrained polygamists.

Another “mind blowing truth” was that David Koresh, as the new messiah, was going to be killed in 1993 by the wicked people, and like the first Jesus 2000 years earlier he would be raised from the dead.

As the 1988 summer weeks were advancing I remember that several of us, who were concerned for the wellbeing of our friends caught up with David Koresh, were warning them that their newly discovered prophet and messiah was a charlatan, and one of those false Christs whom the real Christ warned us against when He said: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, and will deceive many’” Matthew 24:4. Although all of us knew next to nothing about Branch Davidians at the time, what we heard about the character of Steve’s “Bible studies” was enough to make us see the gravity of deception that was claiming the hearts and minds of our friends.

We wanted to help them see that this “new truth” was so preposterous by challenging them with questions like: “What if David Koresh, unable to find for himself so many virgins decides “under the inspiration” to make advances on your own wives?” (Although David Koresh already had several unofficial wives by that time, the “revelation” by which God “authorized” him to claim the wives and daughters of his followers came one year later, in 1989).

We also asked: “What if on the day the wicked decide to take David’s life, your “messiah” decides that all of you, his followers, would have to share in his sacrifice, by giving up your lives too?” We were completely oblivious at the time that our cynical questions, designed to wake-up the new converts out of their intoxicating dreams, were actually unintentional prophetic statements.

But no question, criticism or a joke could make sense to our friends anymore, who were sinking ever deeper in justifying the new teachings they were receiving from Steve Schneider, the ambassador of David Koresh. Their responses were: “Who said that we’ve received all the light, and that no more is coming? We need to be open to receiving new truths! Why should we believe that Ellen G. White was the only one entrusted with ‘the Present Truth’”? In the summer of 1988 they came to believe that the time had come for the children of God to receive the “new light”, and God had decided to use David Koresh to deliver it to his faithful.

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Epilogue

Five years later their new light will turn into the hellish darkness.

On April 19, 1993 my friend Cliff Sellors was consumed by the fiery inferno that totally destroyed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. John McBean, another person I knew from my student days, was burned to death too. Livingstone Fagan, another Newbold student who joined the Branch Davidians in Waco survived the siege. Of the small surviving group of Branch Davidians, he remains until now the most vocal advocate for the cause of David Koresh. The family that hosted Steven Schneider in their home never reached the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. Their lives were spared because the US authorities were slow in issuing them the visa documents they needed to enter and stay in the US. The casualty toll directly linked to their conversion multiplied several times over since all of them actively recruited others, their family members, cousins, friends. In total 24 Britons died in the Waco fire as the result of their recruitment activities.

All of those people were actually good people, in many ways not unlike many of us. Most certainly they did not have criminal minds. None of them joined the Branch Davidians because they were desperately seeking to kill and die in the pursuit of some apocalyptic armed adventure. Yet they all paid a heavy price for their gullibility and falling for a deadly deception.

But more than for anyone else who died in Waco 25 years ago I mourn for my friend Cliff Sellors. I believe he was sincerely seeking “more truth and more light”, which tragically he decided to quench from a broken cistern. From the day he left Newbold College and the time he joined the Koresh’s cult in Waco, until the fatal Monday on April 19, 1993 I did not hear anything about my friend. It was only a number of years later that I started picking scarce bits of information here and there.

With the same passion he used to paint the big Genesis mural in the Science Lab of Newbold College, in the years that followed he used his talent in service to his new messiah Koresh. According to the David Thibodeau’s book “Waco – A Survivor’s Story” Cliff was the official artist at the Branch Davidian’s compound. He artistically customized Koresh’s guitars with his explicit apocalyptic themes. Cliff also painted murals, posters and other illustrations depicting Koresh’s vision of the Apocalypse.

I read recently in the book “Preacher of Death,” co-authored by Marc Brault, who in the initial years of the Koresh’s prophetic advancements served as his right-hand man (Marc left Branch Davidians in 1989), that Robyn Bunds, one of the Koresh’s many wives married Cliff Sellors in a phony marriage arranged by David Koresh. This became a common practice within the Branch Davidian cult living in Waco, intended at creating a cover-up for Koresh’s polygamist practices, and for the children born out of the Koresh’s polygamist unions. In 1990 Robin abandoned the cult.

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I read somewhere also that Cliff too, either left the cult for a period of time, or intended to leave because the promiscuity of David bothered him. While he studied at Newbold College several years earlier, Cliff was known as a person of “high personal morals”. Albert A.C. Waite, a professor in Physics and Sciences at Newbold College, who was also a good friend of Cliff (who tried hard to discourage him from joining Davidians) wrote about Cliff: “He was more interested in showing a young lady the beauty of nature than in holding her hand”.

How I wish I was more diligent in trying to persuade Cliff not to join the cult. But at that time, five years before the tragic end of the Waco siege, we (his friends) were all oblivious about the true deadly potential of the Koresh’s “messianic” cult. To us who watched from a distance the whole summer episode of 1988 looked ridiculous and insane. We saw our friends turning into some weird, but harmless fanatics. Until, five years later, when we all watched the CNN’s live reporting on the blazing Waco fire on April 19, 1993.

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Cliff (second left) and I shared a video project at Newbold College

How I wish Cliff Sellors was strong enough to break away from David Koresh completely. Unfortunately, a small plaque that bears his name, next to the plaques of other inferno victims, forming a modest monument at the Mount Carmel property near Waco, reminds us today that this amazingly gifted artist died too soon, in the fires of Waco “with his music still in him” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr).

 

Next Week: Waco 25 Years Later Part 2 – The Unconfortable Legacy

There was much more to the conversion story of Koresh’s followers than their fragile social and emotional makeup. David Koresh and his key evangelist Steve Schneider knew how to use a familiar, prophetic language and imageries, which they shared with the traditional Adventists. Most of his new followers did not see their ideological transition as if it were a radical change in their spiritual makeup and loyalties. They thought that they were only advancing forward, spiritually maturing and upgrading their faith journey. They believed that they were only receiving “more light,” and “digging deeper into the Present Truth”. Joining David Koresh, in their view, only meant arriving at the final destination in their restless search for the truth.

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Some Insightful Comments in Response to This Article:

I would like to share several insightful comments shared on several Facebook pages by friends who too knew some people who died in Waco, or had some close encounters with David Koresh or Steve Schneider:

Analisa Torkeisen Kleven:

David Koresh visited the church my Dad was pastoring in Hawaii when I was young. I remember being terrified as a kid of him and sitting through church fearing for and praying for my Dad through each sermon. My Dad spent hours at meetings with Koresh and a group of young adults he eventually lured away. I remember finding my Dad at home on his knees sobbing pleading prayers.

Amelia Han Riegert:

I attended the “Bible study group” that Steve Schneider led at assistant cook John’s home that summer of 1988. I even met Vernon Howell in person. I’m so thankful I was impressed to leave the group study after an experience I had one night after a study, and also after Vernon showed up. Long story, but It wasn’t without much fervent prayer. Sad about Cliff and John McBean’s demise.

Niina Greggas:

I remember Cliff as a very kind and friendly person. So sad all this could happen.

Gavin Anthony:

I took the assistant dean job John McBean had before he left for Waco. I remember standing in Keough house watching the buildings burn knowing that he and Cliff were inside. Deception has terrible consequences.

Roger Flalokken (Jakobsen):

I came to Newbold College in 1987 and Cliff and I quickly became friends in the autumn that year as the academic year started in September. He was such a friendly and good hearted man, always looking out for what good he could do for others, caring for his friends and those around him.

He was eager to know and follow the truth, to live according to what he thought to be right. He was one of the most genuine and selfless friends I had, always thinking about the needs of others before his own, greeting people with a smile and a word of encouragement.

It is now long ago, and it is not totally clear to me when and where it took place. It might have been in a dormitory room at the college. I was invited to listen to Steve Schneider, whom Cliff had met and was enthusiastic about having his friends meet and listen to. It happened in the late evening, going on for hours. 

Schneider said he had new light on important biblical truths. He introduced himself as a messenger, a prophetic voice, preparing a group to meet the leader of the movement at a later stage. He would start by quoting from the Old Testament, often from the Minor Prophets or the Book of Isaiah, as I recall, often texts about promises made to Israel. It was impressive to hear how he knew so many Bible verses by heart. 

He would talk and talk, intensely, painting his picture of this important new light on the true followers, the Remnant of Christ, always quoting the Scripture to validate his claims. Questions from the listeners were not answered, but he said he would come back to them, telling us we needed the whole picture to understand his message. For me it was frustrating that questions were not answered, and I think it must have been after two or three gatherings I stopped attending. I also questioned the fact that we had to meet so late at night, going on till well after midnight.

I had several talks with Cliff, one-on-one, while he painted the creation-painting. I was worried about him. I also asked one of the lecturers in Theology to talk with him. And so he did. He spent hours with Cliff trying to convince him of the faulty teachings of Schneider.

After Cliff left for the USA to engage more fully in the work of the movement Schneider was a messenger for, we heard nothing or very little from the group. The name David Koresh surfaced at times, a name Vernon Howell had taken as he assumed the messianic role in the movement, Branch Davidian of Seventh-day Adventists. I never met him myself.

As the tragedy of the confrontation between the FBI and the cult happened in April of 1993, I had many questions as to how it was at all possible for my friends (John McBean and Cliff Sellors) to have become part of such an extreme cult. The connection between the cult and the SDA Church was downplayed by the SDA Church. It seemed important for the leadership of the church to distance themselves from the cult, claiming Vernon Howell had been disfellowshipped from the church years before. 

The fact that only one of the cult members came from a non-SDA background, virtually all were Adventists, (88 people died in the siege) should be a wake up call and give a reason to reflect and investigate how Adventists theology could make people prone to join a cult like this.

In retrospect it is easy to say more should have been done to convince our friends not to join the cult. But the extreme tendencies developed little by little over time. And it is also easy to claim that the FBI underestimated the commitment of the cult members to their leader David Koresh and did not understand the underlying theology of the Remnant and the eschatology Koresh built his cult on.

Bjorn Eivind Holm:

Thank you Tihomir and Roger for your refelctions. And also for your sensitive and respectful description of Cliff. Cliff and I ran a bible group together for a while both before and after he became involved with the Branch Davidians. I also knew Cliff as a very honest and well-meaning friend. Unfortunately a victim of a twisted theology in the end.

I met with Steve Schneider one-to-one a couple of times during the summer for 1988, but I left to go home to Norway before David Koresh came himself. Steve’s reluctance to answer critical questions was also one of the things that turned me off. Of course in addition to some theology that sounded rather unbiblical to me. However, I must say that the full extent of Koresh’ theology became clear to me first when I returned to Newbold that same autumn, and Cliff tried to explain to me what “new light” he had found in this teaching. Unfortunately my objections did not convince him. Neither the objections from many others, as you have mentioned.

I have very fond memories of Cliff. I wish his kindness and talents had been used for a better cause, and for so many more years.

Veli Albert Kallio: 

I did know Steve Schneider too, and advised him to go after other churches as well, rather than hanging around SDA’s if it were real gospel. He did tell me quite a bit about himself and he was the brains of the group. David Koresh was a former drug addict that also explains his weird ideas. Steve had a degree, MA or BA on Group Psychology from the University of Hawaii. He had previously tried to set up his own independent church before “discovering” Vernon’s group and then joining and becoming their brain. He was their Judas who managed their funds, and was one who sold properties of the converts to pay the bills for the cult to go on as they did. I thought him as evil afterwards. He also had a liberal view on women’s ordination to my surprise, or may be he said so because he was just “everything to everyone” to make them interested in his group. Women’s ordination was a big thing in the SDA theology circles and heavily debated at that time at Newbold.

 

 

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Linda Quist, Balkan Memories – Audio Interview

Linda Quist from Seattle, US remembers the years in the 60s and 70s when she and the group of American singers, dancers and musicians, all of them in their twenties and thirties at the time – loved to visit Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina (former Yugoslavia at that time), and other neighboring countries. They would bring with them American folk music, and while visiting learn the folk music, dances and customs of their hosting countries.

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Soon their repertoire was enlarged by the Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Greek and Turkish folk music and dances. Linda is especially fond of her singing and dancing group’s performances at the Croatian festivals of traditional folk music in Zagreb and Đakovo, known as Međunarodna smotra folklora (International Folklore Festival) and Đakovački vezovi.

In 1975 the group released its first LP album with their interpretation of a number of Croatian traditional folk songs.

Today Linda continues to visit the region, especially Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, as the director of the Seattle based Balkan Task Force that supports several faith-based initiatives in those countries. She is also an adviser to the Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation, a Seattle based leadership and reconciliation organization with the international work focused on leadership development, peace building and reconciliation. I interviewed Linda two weeks ago in her home in Everett near Seattle. Take 15 minutes and listen to Linda’s story.

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One Can Only Imagine What “the Lord” Might be Telling Them Next?

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“Once you believe someone has a direct phone line to God, you’re in trouble.” Marc Breault, David Koresh’s second-in command, who left the cult in 1989.

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 7:22.23.

 

Today all kinds of false prophets are mushrooming everywhere. They claim they are receiving dreams and visions from the Lord. They want us to believe that the Lord communicates with them directly, through audible messages and pictures impregnated with meaning. You know them by their signature claims: “The Lord told me!” They like to say also: “Last night the Lord gave me a dream”. Some of them even believe that God gave them the authority to decree future events and circumstances into actual existence. Unlike the prophets of old, who were often rejected and persecuted, the modern-day prophets are superstars, even celebrities.

One does not need to go far beyond YouTube or some familiar Christian TV networks and channels to become aware of their relentless activities. They could also be easily found in your next-door “word of faith, signs and wonders” church, prophesying about “enlarging your tent”, or “receiving a favor from the Lord”. In their eyes God uniquely favors America, above all nations in the world, and it is their duty to help God create favorable circumstances to bring about the biggest revival America has ever witnessed, as well as to usher in the Kingdom of God with power.

Often, their dreams are not much different from the dreams of the rest of us, shaped by all kinds of stressful and anxious situations in life. The difference, however is in that they love to give the nonsensical and surreal images they see in their dreams and other moments of special inspiration the extravagant prophetic meanings. The weirder their dreams, visions or pictures are, the more convinced they are that God is directly revealing something of crucial importance to them.

But do not assume that those numerous “prophets” are agreeing with each other most of the time. Most of them are continuously upgrading and reinterpreting their dreams and visions. And when things do not happen exactly the way they’ve prophesied, they just move on as if nothing has happened. In the worst case they would simply delate the incriminating video from YouTube and replace it with another one with new dates and new charts. In any case it seems their followers do not mind the plasticity of their prophecies as long as their prophetic zeal continues to flourish.

I know of several “prophets” who have, over the past five years announced that the Earth would be hit by a huge celestial object, but their prophetically announced dates have already come and gone multiple times. One cannot even remember how many times they have changed the dates prophesied for the appearance of the Antichrist, signing of the Middle East peace treaty, beginning of the Armageddon, rapture or tribulation, or return of the Nephilim. Visit the YouTube search engine today and you will find a number of prophetically punctuated dates, spread across the calendar between now and the end of this year.

We need, however, to pay a special attention to a growing number of the militant “intercessors”, “spiritual warriors”, “God’s generals” and “prophets” who believe that their divinely appointed place is to be embedded with the current American administration. They are declaring peace, safety, spiritual and material prosperity to all who line up behind the “Lord’s Anointed”, and promising wrath to all those who dare challenge his leadership. Again, one only needs to google the following themes: “Trump Prophecies”, “Chosen by God to Stop America’s Destruction”, “President Trump Will Clean Up America”, “Amazing Revelation of President Trump in the Bible”, “God’s Trumpet”. These and many other similar videos speak volumes.

Mark Taylor, also known as “the fireman prophet”, is only one among many rising stars in the world of contemporary prophets who loves to prophetically elevate the President Trump. Jerry Falwell Jr. is at this time facing a strong opposition of the embarrassed Liberty University students, who are petitioning the university leadership to have the production of the new movie to feature Mark Taylor and his Trump prophecies stopped. Mark Taylor is known for his “prophetic” utterances by which he calls Donald Trump “God’s miracle to America”. He claims that God calls Donald Trump “My President.”. He said also that it was according to God’s plan that Barack Obama “was in the office for eight years”. According to him “America needed to build a righteous anger necessary to elect Trump and thereby save the world.” Apparently, Mark Taylor prophesied in 2011 that Donald Trump would become the next US President, and that “despite his many enemies, God would protect him”. “They will say things about this man, the enemy, but it will not affect him. For even as the feathers of a duck protect it (a duck), so shall my feathers protect this (next) president”, predicted Mark Taylor before the 2016 presidential elections.

A somewhat spooky gathering of prophetic minds, named “Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering” was held only a few weeks ago in the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. Over one thousand in attendance prayed for the “unleashing angel armies against his (Trump’s) enemies”. The organizers claimed that the event will launch a worldwide spiritual revival, and spiritual breakthrough at home. All who dare stand in opposition to the current President were portrayed as “the Antichrist forces.” They declared that “now that the church woke up” it needed to “move from pleading with God to ruling with him and Trump”. They decreed also that God is now “authorizing the church to destroy all God’s enemies and all the enemies of America, in the name of Jesus Christ”.

Dutch Sheets, the main engine behind the event, “decreed” that Trump “will accomplish everything Almighty God sent him into that house to do, regardless of who likes it or who doesn’t”. He prayed defiantly, as if casting some kind of Christian curse, against every shadowy political and “deep state” entity, and everyone else who dared challenge or disagreed with the current president: “You will fail! The (Church) will take you out. The outpouring of Holy spirit will take you out. Angels will take you out. You are no match for any of the above. You are no match for his prophetic decrees. So, we push you back. Your finest hour has come and gone. And the church now raises to the place that he has called us to walk in. We now rise up and I call that new order into the earth.” (Watch the video at the end of the article.)

The most ironic twist in the current “prophetic” storm is that many “prophets” of the day are now busy hijacking the legacy of Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, by claiming the mantle of his leadership. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) leader Lou Engle has been voicing such claims even before the departure of Billy Graham. Identifying himself with the prophet Elisha he marked the margin of his Bible with the following statement: “I will not let you go Billy Graham until you let a double portion of your spirit be upon me and a new generation of evangelists.” Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, John Hagee and numerous other “prosperity-filled” evangelists dream too of being seen as new Billy Grahams of America. In fact, it seems that the most vocal pretenders to his mantle are coming from the hyper-prophetic circles.

Let it be known that by all Biblical standards those “prophets”, even when fragments of their prophesying assume the appearance of truth, are not speaking for God. Their shaking and jittering, mumbles and shrieks are not the movements of the Holy Spirit. Their “kingly intercessions”, prophetic declarations and decrees, as well as their blessings and curses amount to nothing. Such prophets are charlatans and counterfeits, offering “a strange fire” to the Lord. Leviticus 10:1. They are the deceitful and presumptuous influences that fit the words of Paul, an attested apostle and prophet: “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  2.Tim. 4:3. NIV

And this is why?

Modern day super prophets are doing everything opposite to what the prophets of old, appointed by God, ever did. Foremost, they are lacking the basic gift all true prophets must have – discernment. They are uncritically laying their hands on the man who is a habitual liar, a deceiver by profession, and lacking any moral compass. They are calling him “the God’s anointed”, and “a president after God’s heart” although everything we know about him points in the opposite direction.

Moreover, they are ideologically driven prophets who, unlike the prophets of old, do not care about “the poor and the widow, the fatherless and the immigrant” (Zechariah 7:9.10. Amos 8:4. Micah 6:8.). “The word” they are receiving, and their revelations and divine biddings are informed by their political allegiance and not from the Throne of God. Their god loves Donald Trump and his vices; and continues to hate just as passionately both Clintons and Barack Obama. Under the anointing of their god many of those prophets are continuing to expect, any day now, to see Obama transforming into the Antichrist. Accordingly, their god must love the policies that segregate people, build walls, excite racial prejudices and hatred; and will have nothing to do with the immigrants, social outcasts, homeless and otherwise abused. Consequently, concern for righteousness, justice, kindness and protection of the weak is far from the lips of the modern-day super-prophets. They are in the family of the ancient apostate prophets, hired by the corrupt kings of Israel and Judah, to endorse their unrighteous, corrupt, often evil policies and practices. Such prophets, unlike the ancient prophets of God, never dare prophetically speak truth to power.

By placing their laying utterances in the mouth of the Lord they are insulting the God of truth. There is a world of difference between making untrue statements in ignorance, or giving credit to God for one’s lies and wistful claims. Against such prophets Jeremiah the prophet warned with the unmistaken clarity: “Thus, says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you.’ Jeremiah 23:16.17. ‘I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? Therefore, declares the Lord, I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes – declares the Lord – I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘They lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:25-32.

America today is at important political, social and spiritual junction. We need God’s wisdom and discernment. I pray too that America will go back to God. We must ask “the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:38. NIV. But we had better be careful who we follow lest we be deceived the way the followers of David Koresh were deceived 25 years ago.

May the Lord help us reject the hijacking voices and utterances of the lying prophets who are at this time presumptuously and arrogantly prophesying their visions of the political and spiritual revival of America. If those loud “prophets” would have their way, the officially sanctioned brand of Christianity in the US might not look much different than the aggressive religious jihadism of the Middle East. Indeed, one can only wonder what is in store if the unchecked power is granted to the choruses of prophetic zealots, intercessors and warriors who, emboldened by the current political climate, are alrady, “in the name of Jesus,” claiming dominion over “God’s and American enemies?” Maybe the Administrator for the “Prophets for Trump” website and Facebook page is giving us a possible hint as to the ambitions of their prophetic zeal: “We still have some uprooting or overthrowing to do. (But) Kingdom overthrow is upon us!”

It is a historically proven fact that when religious fanatics are given a free ride, in the times of social and political upheaval and confusion, the heads roll. Should any major war break out soon on our doorstep, those “holy” prophetic warriors, intercessors and “God’s generals” will, no doubt get around the President to prophesy his victory and dominion, and all of it “in the name of Jesus”.

One can only imagine what “the Lord” might be telling them next?

Recommended link: Craig Greenfield: Modern Day Prophets. They are not Who You Might Think.

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The Way to Reconciliation Leads Through Empathy

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Photo: ROM – Renewing Our Minds group prays in Vukovar, Croatia. Picture taken in 2006.

A new report argues that using the word ‘reconciliation’ does not help families of Kosovo Albanian and Serb war victims to deal with the past because it suggests that crimes should be pardoned or forgotten”, quotes the Balkan Transitional Justice news portal, as it reports on the research released recently by the Pristina based Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication.

I do not agree with the report. It assumes that reconciliation is only possible when all the facts and truths about atrocities committed by the other side in the conflict are agreed to, confessed and admitted. Otherwise, as Nora Ahmetaj, a cofounder of the Center for Research, Documentation and Publication said: “The word ‘reconciliation’ simply causes irritation to victims”. She was also reported to say that the word “reconciliation” should be replaced with “living in solidarity with each other.”

Considering that in almost all modern conflicts no side wants to take responsibility for any atrocity or wrongdoing, should we ban the word “reconciliation” from use in every post-war situation, and discourage any attempt at reconciliation until we all agree somehow that the blame is solely and publically to be placed on one or the other side?

According to this kind of reasoning, for example, there should be no attempt at reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats in the US because at any given time someone will be hurt, thinking that he or she is wronged through an “unfair” process. Nor should ever a process of reconciliation start in the Middle East, because so much hurt has been caused across the region in the past decades by various sides involved, that any idea of reconciliation would certainly feel insulting to many in the region. And all attempts at reconciliation through the “Truth and Reconciliation” movements in Africa were simply wrong because some war criminals were forgiven for their atrocities.

Of course, a separate work needs to be done in regard to any conflict in order to deliver facts, truth and justice as much as possible. Of course, the global community of the powerful should take upon itself, too, part of the responsibility and blame for manipulating a number of international conflicts to their advantage, or engaging in proxy wars, thus causing even more damage and suffering to the lives of people caught up in the violence. Of course, not all war crimes are simply the work of some crazy unknown individuals for which no general or government wants to assume responsibility. Of course, it is true that some governments, country leaderships and military commanders are more responsible for the calamites of war than others. Nothing in the war situation happens in a vacuum, and seldom are war atrocities the result of some spontaneous, coincidental circumstances.

But if the work of reconciliation solely depends on those being set right first, we will only have more conflicts, more war crimes, and more never-ending cycles of retribution, and more obstacles in the way of reaching any meaningful reconciliation. And, in the countries of the Balkans reconciliation is already long overdue.

Balkan countries need to consistently work on reconciliation at many levels because even though more than twenty years have passed since the last round of wars blame-shifting continues to flourish abundantly across all ethnic lines. Across the territories of what used to be a unified former Yugoslavia each side continues to blame the other, while itself ‘innocently’ continues to play the role of the sole victim. If in the Balkans we take the inconvenient word “reconciliation” out of use, we will have even less of a chance to move forward towards meaningful acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and mutual ‘life of solidarity’.

Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative, that was born in post-war Croatia almost two decades ago, and remains very much alive today, desires to make its contribution to the reconciliation processes in the Balkans. Over the years ROM has been suggesting a different approach to the challenges of reconciliation in the region and elsewhere – one we have learned from Jesus of Nazareth, who, while innocently suffering on the cross prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

We believe that given the opportunity people across the lines of conflict would find a way to reconcile sooner than their governments. There is a power in grass-root initiatives that bring together individuals, groups of people, especially young people hurt by recent and old conflicts into the intentional and relational learning communities in which sincere friendships are forged and empathy practiced. Under those conditions of togetherness, people hurt by recent or more distant conflicts are helped to interact with other victims of war, irrespective of their ethnic or religious identity.

All involved soon realize that war crimes across all lines of division look alike, and that the suffering of all victims, regardless of which side of the conflict they find themselves on, hurt the same. A mother whose family was slaughtered in the heat of war, whether she is a Kosovar, Serb, Croat or Bosniak, suffered at the hands of the same kind of evildoers. There is healing in the process that helps victims of any war empathize with the sufferings war victims on the other side. It is only when we are brave enough to place ourselves in the life story of the raped, tortured, brutality murdered and otherwise abused “enemy” mother, father, grandfather, son or daughter, whose suffering was caused by brutality of our own people, that we become ready to embrace genuine reconciliation, and reject retribution.

Indeed, there needs to be place for repentance and truth telling in any process of reconciliation. But those can only take place when we become vulnerable enough to deal with our own demons of injustice and hatred first. When one’s heart becomes broken through empathy for this and that man, woman or child who suffered at the hands of my own people, one is only then ready to move forward into whatever else is needed to achieve honest, truthful and long-lasting reconciliation. When I realize that appeasing my thirst for justice needs to be refined through the acknowledgment of the hurts of others, my enemies included, a true process of reconciliation will be well under way towards genuine peace and reconciliation between nations, neighbors, families and individuals.

There exists a world of difference between the retributive reconciliation (retributive justice) and restorative reconciliation (restorative justice). The first one believes that all wrongs done to me, my family or my country must be paid in full and made right first, without much consideration for the hurts of others. The second moves forward towards redemptive rebuilding of human relationships through empathy, recognizing that “no one is without sin” and humbly admitting that others suffered too.

As soon as we are ready to realize that “eye for an eye” will not bring about peace, justice and reconciliation, but only more black eyes and more heads chopped off, our eyes and hearts will become open for new ways of seeking justice. The ways to reconciliation lead through empathy. When we learn to identify with the hurts of others – our enemies included – it will become increasingly more difficult for us to become the source of abuse of others in the future. It would certainly help the Balkan countries to relax somewhat, break the vicious cycle of blame-shifting and start “living in solidarity with each other”.

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Guns For All and the Culture of Death

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The first step ought to be to make the access to weapons of the kind that was used to kill 17 students more than a week ago impossible, certainly illegal. Apparently, in most recent mass shootings killers used the guns designed to kill many, in the shortest possible time, leaving no survivors. AR-15 is a high-powered military weapon designed for war, and not for the civilian use, or for hunting purposes. It releases bullets with the force of 2182 miles per hour, which causes a deadly shock and damage to the body of a victim.

I would not trust anyone with this kind of gun, even if they have all necessary clearances that they are mentally sound. I would not trust myself with a possession of such deadly force either. I would certainly not entrust our children with those high-powered rifles. A responsible government should follow the Australian example and issue a legislation that would make those guns illegal. If, however, we continue finding excuses that would, in the name of the reverence to the Second Amendment, keep on justifying free use of the high-powered assault weapons, we can just as well be honest enough and admit that we are simply obsessed with guns. In which case why stop at the assault weapons? Why not legalize buying military tanks, provided the proud owners have their driving licenses in order?

A more recent statistics states that  “on average there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the US”, and that  “for every person killed with guns, two more are injured.” According to Vox, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, “where a gunman killed 20 children, six adults, and himself in 2012, there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings, killing more than 1,800 people and wounding more than 6,400”. However one wishes to interpret the statistics, more people are killed by guns in the US within one year than in some countries with the ongoing active war situation. Military style weapons should never be in the possession of the civilian population living in a democratic country.

But we must also do more than ban the extreme lethal weapons. We must look for some honest answers to the questions – Why are too many, especially young people, turning into mass murderers today? What are the ingredients that lead to their radicalization? Why are there more mass shootings of different kinds taking place today within a single year than there are days in a calendar year? Where does the urge to kill others, or take one’s own life in such large numbers come from?

So, this is the deeper truth which only a few dare to touch.

We are living in a social framework that, in every possible way advances and monetizes the culture of nihilism, dehumanization, abuse, aggression and fear of uncertainty. In other words, we are living in a culture of death, enhanced by the education anchored in atheism, pop-science based on fiction rather than facts, spiritual and moral darkness and confusion, political hopelessness, and tons of meaningless media and entertainment content. They all are working in unison to effectively kill all sense of decency, hope and purpose in the lives of the young people today. Unbeknown to them, and often unaware of the causes, the minds of young people are steadily becoming addicted to the nihilistic worldviews that advocate meaninglessness of life. Just as much as we are being changed for better “by beholding Jesus”, according to the words of Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18.), or any good and decent example, so it is equally true that “by beholding” we are changed into whatever we behold, even quicker if we behold darkness and evil.

Especially lethal for human mind today is the aggressive visual and audio entertainment industry and market, that ‘evangelize’ effectively through the use of TV networks, internet, smart phones and other gadgets, and especially through electronic and video games. All of them are indoctrinating today’s generation, the youth and children especially, with the mega-tons of brutal, sexually explicit, occult, highly suggestive, idiotizing, mean and addicting content – intent at formatting a generation of brainless human zombies, quickly bored by any decent, community loving and socially responsible interaction or activity. Through it all we are witnessing the evolution of a disturbed, disorientated, lonely, angry and desensitized generation of young people, utterly confused as to the purpose and meaning of their existence.

Most of it has to do very much with a gradual change of generations, increasingly untrained to know the Living God. With our fallen natures being constantly fed with moral and spiritual garbage we are losing the sight of the only remedy, which is Jesus Christ. Apostle Paul very graphically explains what happens when a generation loses its touch with its only legitimate source of life and meaning. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor they gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy”. (Romans 1:21.28-30.)

Is it then surprising that some people, in the state of utter darkness, desperation and deep-seated anger, not knowing who to punish for their hopeless estate, are turning against the most innocent, vulnerable and available victims? Or against their own lives? Of course, most of them will never become mass murderers. But those who will are more than enough to terrorize the whole nation.

My point is this: when a free access to guns is granted to all, in the climate where all kinds of pulpits declare the meaninglessness of life, accompanied with no sense of accountability to anyone, nothing short of disaster and perpetual tragedy will follow.

Yes, the easy access to guns, especially the assault weapons, needs to be radically reduced. But, by God’s grace and with His help, we must do much more than that. We must be brave enough to identify the substances and sources that are poisoning the minds and hearts of the young people of today. We must raise our voices in opposition to the centers of power that not only promote a free access to weapons of any kind, but also in the opposition to the centers that manufacture and profit from the ever-growing culture of death and hopelessness.

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Jesus is Never About the National Prosperity Gospel

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Tihomir Kukolja reflects on the President’s remarks delivered at the 66th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. Note that the author is not calling into question the purpose and the organization of NPB, nor the hard work and dedication of many men and women who labor hard to make this beautiful gathering of leaders possible.

Overall it was a very good, diverse and encouraging National Prayer Breakfast (Washington DC, February 6th – 9th), and in tune with its historic purpose: to lift up the name of Jesus in the presence of the world leaders.

This was the 66th National Prayer Breakfast (NPB), and no doubt many good people, committed to the cause have spent many laborious months putting this annual mega-event together for the enjoyment of the hundreds of international guests and about 3000 American participants.

To understand the intentions and workings of the National Prayer Breakfast one needs to taste more than just the big Thursday morning event at which the President speaks. Every time NPB takes place, it is surrounded by a number of international, regionally organized breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and other meetings in-between that start on Tuesday and finish on Friday during the NPB week.

The themes this time covered reconciliation, forgiveness, leadership of service, following Jesus, and praying across political divides. A number of international guests were invited to speak, share or lead a prayer. Among them were Jeannette Kagame, the wife of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame; David Beasley, Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Program; Yulia Timoshenko, former Prime Minister of Ukraine; Grace Nelson, wife of the Senator Bill Nelson; Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagels quarterback; Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe from Uganda; Eran Duran, the producer of the movie A New Spirit – to mention but a few whose messages captured my attention. (Keep in mind that there are number of various events taking place simultaneously, so I have missed some of the good content too.)

But the central event, the actual National Prayer Breakfast held on Thursday morning (February 8, 2018), the occasion attended by the thousands, was somewhat weak, as if put together in haste. Something was lacking.

To his credit one has to say that the message of the President Trump was more subdued this time, than the one he delivered one year ago. This time there were no verbal excesses, nor abusive or bragging comments. In fact, this was probably his most “Christian” message delivered so far. The good thing was that he did not improvise too much. He kept following the script from the beginning to the end. Most likely this was the reason why his message was somewhat monotonous and impersonal, and maybe this was also the reason why we did not witness this time the outbursts of enthusiastic applauding or endless stand-up exercises. In other words, the response of the audience was not nearly as euphoric as it was one year ago.

Many were relieved that the President Trump did not go wild with his out of control, twit-like comments, and thus they considered his speech a success. However, they ignored the real content which was dry and inappropriate because it glorified the greatness of America through the use of spiritual, Christianized language and images. So, his speech was “good” only in so far that he did not make the organizers of the event sweat in the anticipation of his unpredictable, excessive, tweet-like remarks. However, the content of his message was a far cray from a message centered in Jesus.

When I shared the link to the video of the President’s address on my Facebook page, some of my friends who did not have a luxury of attending NPB 2018 captured well what was the problem with the President’s presentation. Sometimes watching and listening from a distance helps.

One of them wrote: “He didn’t say anything I would consider “uniquely American” – but he claimed it all proved how “blessed Americans are for being American.”  His remarks were a celebration of “America”. Not of prayer. Not of following Jesus. So, everyone else remains to be the second-class? But the Gospel is not about promoting “national identities” or “nations”. The examples Trump gave of goodness, faith and selflessness were good – but not unique to America alone. Followers of Jesus are not called to defend anyone’s flag. We are called to serve, protect, care for, and defend people. Not flags.”

Another friend commented: “In his speech there was not a single sentence about admitting or repenting of the national wrongs and sins. Yet those are the norms in Biblical narratives about kings, prophets and leaders. Consider Daniel, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar. Mr. Trump’s speech was a quasi-Christian speech, dominating in nationalism (America above everything else). His was not a Christian message, despite the fact that it repeatedly referred to God, and often quoted the Bible.”

While we may agree that the President’s message was free from his usual wild verbal excesses, from the beginning to the end it was a political pamphlet, a kind of mini State of the Union Address, in which he gloried in the God given American greatness, wrapped in the jargon of insincere “Christian” humility.

But one cannot preach nationalism, national greatness, and the greatness of the Gospel in one breath, and claim that through it all the name of Jesus is being lifted up. God will not accept our declarations of God’s power and glory when blended with preaching of the physical strength, toughness and exclusiveness of a nation, American or any other.

It was against this kind of idolatry that the President Abraham Lincoln spoke in his 2nd Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. He spoke powerfully against a nation treating God as if He were their own private mascot when he said: “Each invokes His (God’s) aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” And this is exactly what we do when we arrogantly act as if my nation, my party, my race above all other nations, parties or races enjoys some special favors in the sight of the Almighty God.

One more thing ought to be said at the end. The exclusivity of the American nation was not a prevailing theme of the 66 National Prayer Breakfast. In fact, I do not remember any other speaker I had opportunity to listen to between Tuesday and Friday even remotely suggesting the idea.

So, the remarks of the President were out of character with the rest of this worthy international gathering of leaders. And although he did his best to be less intimidating in the choice of his words, nevertheless The President could not run away from his agenda of “making America great again”. Only this time he thought the idea would be digested easier if packaged with God.

And, while to many Americans the idea of restoring the “greatness of America” with the help of God looks like a noble plan divinely approved, to many of us international followers of Jesus the idea looks heretical and preposterous, and certainly far removed from the mission of the National Prayer Breakfast – which is to provide an opportunity for the world leaders to come closer to the Person of Jesus. For we know that the message of Jesus has nothing to do with the “national prosperity gospel”.

Read and watch the entire President’s address at NPB 2018 here.

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Postscript Feb 20, 2018: I watched Donald Trump’s message delivered at the 66th National Prayer Breakfast again, couple of times, and read the script of his speech again. These are my postscript thoughts:

From the beginning to the end his speech was impregnated with the spiritualized version of a nation worship. His statements constantly shifted from giving praises to God to giving praises to the greatness of the nation, the flag, the military. His entire message assumes that America enjoys a place of unique favor in the eyes of God, as “the light unto all nations”.

A couple of statements reveal this subtle blend of the nation and God worship. One of them was: “We place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are one nation under God.” Another one was: “Today we praise God for how truly blessed we are to be American”. Although it is a blessing to be American in many ways, in the context of the current White House narrative this statement sounds more like the statement of an arrogant Pharisee recorded in the Gospels: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…, or even like this tax collector” Luke 18:11.

There are many good, truthful and benevolent things listed in the presentation of the President about America, its people, and about God’s kindness and providence. One of them is: “Across our land we see the splendor of God’s creation. Throughout our history, we see the story of God’s providence. And in every city and town we see the Lord’s grace all around us through a million acts of kindness, courage and generosity.” However those features are just as true for many other nations in the world, and not for America alone.

Considering that the President spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and not at a political or election rally, his presentation was lacking the features that have marked the prayers of all great Godly leaders throughout the history. The President’s message lacked in humility, repentance for the nation’s sins, and empathy for the oppressed and the otherwise disadvantaged.

For example, there was no room in his address for the refugees, immigrants, vulnerable people regularly separated from their families and deported just because they entered the US undocumented as children. Likewise, there was no word of empathy uttered for the homeless, jobless, the poor.

Moreover, it is a simply proven fact that there is more exhibited hatred and anger in the US today than two years ago. Unfortunately, all kinds of white supremacist and alt-right groups feel at home in the US today. In the light of those facts the President’s message was shallow, incomplete, one sided, and unconvincing.

On the other hand, considering the speaker this was probably the best speech he delivered to date. The President refrained from using his otherwise well known, tweet-like, wild and cynical comments, and other verbal excesses. At least he did not insult or humiliate anyone this time.

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Podcast: Developing Transformational Leaders in the Polarized Balkan Region

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In the latest The Peacemakers Podcast Randall Butler interviews Tihomir Kukolja about  his growing up in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Tihomir describes the shocking rise of ethnic nationalism after the death of Yugoslavia’s long time leader, Josip Broz Tito and the resulting devastating wars in the 1990s.  He also tells the story of the founding of the ROM – Renewing Our Minds leadership development and reconciliation project in the immediate aftermath and its transformative work for the past 19 years with young leaders in the polarized Balkan region. Time 81 min.

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Audio: Leading Jesus’ Way

Friends, take a moment to listen to the message I shared at the end of ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Gathering 2017, in Fuzine, Croatia. It is a relevent message to all of us who take Jesus seriously. In the message I invited everyone to follow the leadership example of Jesus. Jesus demonstrated that the only legitimate kind of leadership was the leadership of service administered through love and humility. This kind of leadership is offensive to many leaders today because they believe that humility is a weakness, and that the greatness in leadership is achieved by walking over the other people. But we are here because we want to become a different kind of leaders, leaders who will not create a graveyard of people. It is Jesus’ humility that made Him the greatest leader of all. To be big one needs to become small first. Time 16:34 min.

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Prayer for 2018

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Dear Friends,

As we are crossing the bridge between 2017 and 2018 we are inheriting the world in distress, agonizing, and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). It looks as if a blanket of darkness is descending upon the earth.

But these are not the days to despair. God, who will not let his glory and throne be hijacked by anyone, is in control. Our future is not guaranteed either by the right-wing or by the left-wing ideologies, nor by charismatic leaders. Instead, these are the days when we are called to listen to the summons of Jesus:  “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28.

Today, courageously we must reject all ethnic, religious and political nationalism, racism and ideological euphoria, if we are to discern with clarity what is good, honorable and righteous in the sight of God. The times are too serious and perilous that we should toy with the notion that a sugarcoated or mediocre religiosity would do the trick.

In fact, we must decide now to give our undivided loyalty to Jesus, and Jesus alone, and let all our values and actions spring up from there. As we are about to cross into the New Year may we pray together:  ”Wake us up, Lord! Open our eyes, quicken our souls, renew our minds.“

In 2018 may we move forward with the determination of Jacob who, having wrestled with the Lord and people, declared: “Lord, I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Genesis 32:26. May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek Him with ever increasing urgency.

Wishing You and Your Families a rewarding and Christ-anchored New Year 2018!

Tihomir Kukolja

 

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By Courtesy of the President and His Faith Constituency

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It is embarrassing to read the multitudes of praises lavished by the choruses of overjoyed Evangelicals at this moment upon the yesterday’s decision of Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. For them the President’s decisions was a prophetic milestone. In their view Donald Trump had just proved himself to be the Cyrus of our age, a leader handpicked by God, and the defender of modern Israel. Dr. Michael Brown now asks rhetorically, subliminally jubilant: “Will God bless Trump for moving our embassy to Jerusalem?” No doubt Franklin Graham will bless the President’s move soon enough too.

Trump’s evangelical constituency believes that their prayers are being answered. The President’s status as the Lord’s anointed one is being verified. In their eyes, Donald Trump is a fulfillment of the last-day prophecies. He is giving a helping hand to God so that the coming of the Lord may be hastened. His yesterday’s announcement, they believe, presented a big leap forward towards the rapture. In their views, we may soon expect the final seven years to begin, ushered in by the Antichrist. Of course, his evangelical constituency does not see him as a valid candidate. How could they since his evangelical advisers, prophets, and associates helped set stage for the Trump’s decision?

Let me put this in a straightforward language. His evangelical constituency is overwhelmingly populated by people who firmly believe in the theology of the “Left Behind” apocalyptic fiction; a deceptive belief falsely taken for the Biblical truth. It is widely popular across many denominational lines, and heavily preached by too many popular preachers, evangelists, self-styled prophets, and leading evangelical TV networks, and based on the faulty theology of dispensationalism.  And when blended with the American international politics, it becomes explosive.

Dispensationalism is a religious fiction that misses to understand, in the words of St. Paul, the “mystery of Christ” – namely that “Gentiles and Israel are members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-12. NIV). It fails to understand that all messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were met in Jesus, and not in the geographical Israel of the 21st century. Its followers fall into the same trap the Jews of the days of Jesus fell two thousand years ago, who missed to see the true significance of Jesus because they expected a militant messiah, a heavily armed warrior who would lead their wars against the Roman oppressor. Mistakenly, they believe that the current Israel plays the leading and central role in God’s economy of salvation in the final days of human history. One day, so they believe, Jesus is going to fight the physical war for Israel, and they want to make sure they and America are fighting along the wining side. Thus, the Trump’s evangelicals believe that in order to be blessed one has to bless Israel. And, so they believe, this was exactly what their redeemer-president did yesterday.

And yet, we who read the Bible prophecies somewhat differently, know that a new pandora box has been opened. We will not need to wait for a long time to see the damaging consequences of the latest President’s decision upon the international affairs, knowing that the President is intimately and professionally surrounded by an army of advisers, counselors, prophets, and spiritual warriors – all of them firm believers in the “Left Behind” deceptive fiction. What a nightmarish prospect for misguided decisions and actions, when made to fit in the pre-made paradigm of the questionable prophetic interpretations?

Today we have witnessed only a beginning. More is coming. Indeed, the yesterday’s decision of the President might just as well have a prophetic meaning. If it does, it will be of a different kind from what the President’s evangelical friends believe. But there is a hope. Not all Christian leaders have fallen for deception.

One more thing. What we believe does have consequences. For, what Michelle Goldberg, the author of the article “Antichrist Politics” published sixteen years ago said, could be more than true today: “When people believe their politics are endorsed by God, today’s ally can be tomorrow’s Satan”.

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PS. I am adding some now points that I shared on Facebook in response to the comments shared by the readers of this article:

  • It is not the Gospel that does this to people but the twisted beliefs about the Gospel. I am not criticising the Christian faith, but its perversions. Dispensationalism is one of them, and at this moment many who surround DT believe in it. When you bring a twisted belief into the political arena, it becomes dangeorus. Our President craves a continuing support of 81% white evangelicals and he wanted to please them. Now he can do whatever he wants, and they would not mind because they are now reasured in their deceit that DT is a man sent by God to bring America and the world in order. I have an issue with them, not with the Gospel of Christ.
  • I am not sure I know what the Presdident believes. But I do know what his faith constituency believes. He would not have ever become the President if it were not for the 81% white evangelicals who brought him to the White House. Many of them believe in what I have described in the text. They have blended a perverted belief with politics, thus the issue has both – religious and political connotations. In their view Donald Trump has scored big with what he did yesterday. Now he can do whatever he wants, and his evangelical constituency will not mind. Who cares now that he groped who knows how many women, and that he lies and brags about himself habitually. He is now their champion appointed and annointed by God. And this is the only thing that matters to them.
  • I have no issue with Israel deciding about its capital. I have an issue with the way the President goes about his business, and the influence of a large segment of his evangelical friends who are definitely formatting the US international politics with their misguided beliefs.
  • Also, a clarification is needed. Not all Evangelicals support Donald Trump. The 81% (most likely less by now) who are behind him are still a minority, but a vocal, militant and restless minority. There are many evangelicals, and even more other Christians who see things differently. So we need to be careful, including myself, that we do not put all American Christians into the same box.
  • Dec 9, 2017: I feel tempeted to expand this earticle further because at this moment a number of statements and comments are growing at many places across social media that demonstrate that my article, urgently completed two days ago, was not an exaguration at all. Feel free to google and visit YouTube. For example, Senator Doug Broxson declared yesterday: “When I heard about Jerusalem, where the King of Kings, where our soon-coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel!…” It seems Senator Broxon and many like him cannot wait for the Armagedon to start, and they would be very proud if some credit for it would go to the Presdient Trump and his faitful followers. It almost seems that one day Jesus would have to say “Thank You” to Donald Trump. However, such an insane statement reminds me of the Bible warning given to many Christians today who are ready for some kind of Christian jihad to take place: “Because of you the name of God is being blasphemed among the people”. Romans 2:24. What we believe does have consequences, indeed. And what Michelle Goldberg, the autor of the article “Antichrist Politics”, published sixteen years ago said, might just as well come true today: “When people believe their politics are endorsed by God, today’s ally can be tomorrow’s Satan”. Read also this and this.

Recommended reading:

What President Trump’s Jerusalem Proclamation Means for Palestinians, Shadia Qubti

 

Posted in Current Issues, Faith, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments