In the growing community of charismatic Christian prophecy, faith in Donald Trump’s imminent return to the White House is a new dividing line.
By JULIA DUIN(Julia Duin is a reporter in Seattle who specializes in religion.)
Perched on a cream-colored armchair,Johnny Enlow, a 61-year-old, California-based Pentecostal pastor with short-cropped gray hair, a trim beard and Tom Selleck-style mustache, looked into the camera and prophesied that Donald Trump would become president again.
Not in 2024. In 2021.
“The January 20 inauguration date doesn’t really mean anything,” Enlow said in the January 29 video, which has gotten north of 100,000 views on YouTube. According to Enlow, more than 100 other “credible” Christian prophets around the world had likewise declared that Trump, somehow, would be restored to power soon.
Indeed, Enlow was not alone out on that limb. Greg Locke, a Nashville pastor with a massive social media following, said after Trump’s loss that he would “100 percent remain president of the United States for another term.” Kat Kerr, a pink-haired preacher from Jacksonville, Florida, declared repeatedly last month that Trump had won the election “by a landslide” and that God had told her he would serve for eight years. In his video, Enlow went further. “There’s not going to be just Trump coming back,” he said. “There’s going to be at least two more Trumps that will be in office in some way.” Donald Trump, he proclaimed elsewhere, was “the primary government leader on Planet Earth.”
Enlow, Locke and Kerr are among dozens of Christian prophets in America—religious leaders with followings among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians who claimthe ability to predict the future based on dreams, visions and other supernatural phenomena. Some prophets are church leaders, while others operate independently. There are no official requirements for prophet status, though followers generally expect prophets toget at least a few prophecies right.
But, lately, that standard has come under duress—particularly when it comes to Donald Trump.
In 2015, spurred by the lengthy prophecy of a 27-year-old wunderkind named Jeremiah Johnson, many Pentecostals and charismatics embraced the idea that God had chosen Trump to restore America’s Christian moorings. Trump’s surprise win in 2016 offered a dramatic validation, and in 2020 dozens of prophets declared that he would win election again. This time, they were wrong. Yet, in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory, instead of apologizing or backtracking, a number of prophets continue to assert that it is God’s will for Trump to be in the White House and that a miraculous reversal is nigh. Enlow, who did not respond toa request for comment for this article, has said Trump’s victory will be made clear by March.
With only two-thirds of voters—and one-third of Republicans—expressing confidence that Biden won a free and fair election, many observers worry that these prophets are sowing more confusion, blurring the line between misinformation and religious proclamation. They are spreading their message to wide audiences—some preachers who amplify these prophecies have followings in the millions—thatincreasingly exist in an echo chamber of like-minded religious YouTube channels, Instagram feeds and websites such as ElijahList, host of the YouTube channel ElijahStreams, where Enlow’s video aired.
It’s well known that Trump received strong support from white evangelicals in the 2020 election; estimates hover around 80 percent. But the role that prophecy plays in that support might be underexplored. In a survey conducted last year, two political scientists found that nearly half of America’s church-attending white Protestants believed Trump was anointed by God to be president—a portion of the population that other scholars have dubbed “prophecy voters.”The share is likely higher among charismatic Christians, who skew more politically and theologically conservative than evangelicals as a whole. And although this population is only a subset of American Christianity, it’s a large one: Some estimates hold that as many as 65 million Americans could be counted as Pentecostals or charismatics.
Not all prophets have doubled down on their Trump prophecies since the election, however. And as some have backed away from Trump,a schism has emerged. At least six recognized prophets who initially predicted a Trump reelection have acknowledged those prophecies were wrong. They now say they are deeply troubled by their peers’ refusal to acknowledge the same—and worry that allegiance to Trump could threaten the prophetic tradition itself.
In a December 15 article, Michael Brown, a longtime charismatic revivalist and scholar in Charlotte, North Carolina, had sharp words, warning co-religionists: “There is no reality in which Trump actually did win but in fact didn’t win. … To entertain possibilities like this is to mock the integrity of prophecy and to make us charismatics look like total fools.” After apologizing on January 7 for his own prophecy that Trump would be reelected, Jeremiah Johnson called parts of the prophetic movement “deeply sick.” In early February, he released a new YouTube series called “I Was Wrong: Donald Trump and the Prophetic Controversy.”
“I believe that this election cycle has revealed how desperately we need reformation in the prophetic movement,” Johnson said in a February 8 video. “I have serious concerns for the charismatic-prophetic world that if we do not wake up, if we do not humble ourselves, there is greater judgment to come.”
The emerging rift mirrors the one in the GOP, with one faction trying to move on from Trump in the name of democratic principles, and the other redoubling their commitment to him, spurred by the grassroots and in defiance of facts. Johnson and other prophets in his camp have received fervent pushback from their followers. But Brown and his ilk believe a reckoning is in order—that false prophets must be held accountable and that reforms are needed if the prophecy movement is to retain any spiritual integrity. He has begun convening monthly Zoom calls with prophetic leaders to discuss a way forward.
“This has opened the door to outright delusion,” Brown said in an interview. “As a full-blooded charismatic, I’ll say we’ve earned the world’s mockery for our foolishness.”
Although common in biblical times, Christian prophecy largely fell into disusefor almost two millennia. It has a scriptural tradition: In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes prophecy as one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts for believers. The contemporary version was revived, along with the better-known gifts of healing and speaking in tongues, at a Pentecostal prayer meeting in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901. Over time, the Pentecostal movement—joined in the 1960s by like-minded followers in mainline Protestant and Catholic circles known as “charismatics”—has become the world’s fastest-growing form of Christianity, with an estimated half a billion believers around the globe.
Pentecostal worship tends to be more decentralized than the more formal mainline denominations, and many charismatic churches are completely independent. In the late 1980s, when the “Kansas City prophets,” a group of Pentecostal-charismatic leaders based in the Missouri suburbs, came out with controversial claims of supernatural visions and prophecies of future events—like a billion people becoming Christian almost overnight and hospitals being emptied of their sick patients—there was no governing body to rein them in. Concerns about accountability led to the formation in 1999 of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders, a group of about 32 people tasked with quality control.
But many of the prophetic voices that emerged after the creation of the ACPE formed their own ministries and networks, and the council gradually lost influence. “The entire prophetic and prayer movement expanded with the digital age,” James Goll, a Nashville-based prophet who was part of the Kansas City group, said in an interview. “So, one might ask, is there accountability on these new platforms?”
Political prophecies are a relatively recent phenomenon. Televangelist Pat Robertson, who ran for president as a Republican in 1988, occasionally prophesied everything from wars to Earth-destroying asteroids, but it was Trump who gave the movement a political focal point. Trump is seen by some charismatic Christians aschosen by God in spite of his faults. Prophets have said as far back as 2007 that the then-real estate mogul would eventually land in the White House. In 2011, a retired Orlando firefighter-turned-prophet named Mark Taylor predicted Trump would be elected in 2012. (After Trump decided not to run, a few prophets predicted, incorrectly as it turned out, that Mitt Romney would win.)
Once Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, more prophets, led by Johnson, predicted his win. Published in Charisma magazine, Johnson’s July 2015, prophecy—that Trump would be a latter-day Cyrus, modeled after the 6th-century B.C. Persian king who allowed Babylonian Jews to return to their homeland—was heavily criticized by some evangelical leaders, who pointed out that Trump had never been known to be a serious Christian, and had a personal history of divorces and extramarital affairs. (Johnson himself wrote that Trump was “like a bull in a china shop” who would disturb some people’s “sense of peace and tranquility.”) Many evangelicals still preferred other Republican candidates. Yet Trump’s prophetic fan club did not budge. Taylor not only updated his original prophecy to say Trump would win in 2016, but also said Trump would appoint three Supreme Court justices, an outcome that seemed only a distant possibility back then.
After Trump’s unexpected victory against Hillary Clinton, the new president welcomed Christian leaders who had been early supporters into the halls of power. Kerr led a six-minute blessing over Trump during his inaugural prayer breakfast in 2017. (She later prophesied that not only would Trump have two consecutive terms—so would former Vice President Mike Pence.) Most notable was Paula White-Cain, Trump’s spiritual adviser for more than a decade who recruited several Pentecostal leaders for his evangelical advisory board.
Trump’s wooing of evangelicals and charismatics made for “a veritable flood” of favorable prophecies during his presidency, in Brown’s words. They ranged from Australian prophet Lana Vawser’s May 2017 vision of Jesus clothing Trump with a purple robe and crown, to Enlow’s February 2020 assertion that the victory by the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl that year had prophetic significance for, among other things, the fact that “Trump is God-sent” and is advancing “a Kingdom agenda.” (Enlow is one of several prophets who believe God speaks through major sports events.)
In a 2020 book, James Beverley, a research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto, tracked more than 500 prophecies about Trump by more than 100 prophets over a 15-year period, and found a low batting average for accuracy. “My research,” Beverley told me, “shows that the prophecies are usually vague, sometimes totally wrong, and, with rare exception, have failed to be properly critical of Trump.”
Nonetheless, Trump rewarded his Pentecostal supporters with photo ops in the Oval Office and visits to their churches, including one this past October in Las Vegas, where leaders prophesied, to a cheering crowd, that Trump would win a second term. “The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I am going to give your president a second wind,’” senior associate pastor Denise Goulet said as Trump, standing in the crowd, beamed and spread out his arms in an I-told-you-so gesture.
Some observers argue the prophecies at times were an attempt to curry favor with a powerful political figure and movement. “What were they getting in return?” asks Chris Rosebrough, a theologian and Lutheran pastor on the Minnesota-North Dakota state line who monitors prophets on his Pirate Christian Radio broadcasts. “They had direct access to him and ability to influence decisions Trump was making. The real story was in the power, influence and access.”
On November 7, the day Biden was declared the president-elect, one prophet, Kris Vallotton, of the mega-congregation Bethel Church in Redding, California, notably apologized. “I take full responsibility for being wrong,” he said on Instagram. “There was no excuse for it. I think it doesn’t make me a false prophet, but it does actually create a credibility gap.”
But dozens of Pentecostal prophets dug in, insisting, even after the Electoral College vote certifying Biden’s win, that Trump would still be inaugurated.
In addition to Kerr, Enlow and Locke, there was South Carolina prophet Dutch Sheets, who announced a seven-state “prayer tour” to sites where the votes were being contested. “We believe we can win this battle,” he said. Jeff Jansen, a Murfreesboro, Tennessee, prophet, appeared on ElijahStreams to echo Enlow’s prophecy of a Trump dynasty. “The last Trump will be Barron,” Jansen said. “He is going to be one of the greatest presidents of the United States.”
According to local media reports and social media feeds,a handful of prophets traveled to Washington for Trump’s speech on January 6. They included North Carolina evangelist Charlie Shamp, who tweeted a photo of himself just below the steps where crowds were storming the Capitol and produced a video about the experience. “Don’t let the media lie to you,” Shamp later wrote, from a Twitter account that has since been deleted. (He has moved to Parler.) “We peacefully assembled outside the building to voice our protest against this fraudulent election and pray for America!”
Within a day of the Capitol insurrection, a few other prophets who had prophesied a Trump win apologized: Johnson, as well as California pastor Shawn Bolz and Denver pastor Loren Sandford. Johnson published a long explanation, saying he had “misinterpreted” dreams and wished to “repent and ask your forgiveness.”
“I do not blame God’s people for insufficient prayer that resulted in Donald Trump’s losing the election, nor do I blame any kind of election fraud,” he wrote. “I am simply convinced God Himself removed him and there was nothing that any human being could have done about it.”
Blowback was swift. A few days later, Johnson wrote on Facebook that he had received “multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry.” He also said hewas losing financial support “every hour and counting.” (Johnson declinedan interview request made through Brown, a mentor.)
“He lost a lot of monthly support,” Brown told me. “He said people were unsubscribing from his email list at such a high rate, it crashed his server.”
A few more apologies followed. Vallotton, who had retracted his apology after hearing from “thousands” of angry followers, reinstated it on January 8. Talk show host Sid Roth, as well as Jennifer LeClaire, the former editor of Charisma magazine (whose publisher, Stephen Strang, predicted that Trump would top 400 electors), also apologized, with LeClaire writing: “I believe some prophets who prophesied a Trump win never heard God at all. They merely tapped into the popular prophetic opinion because it was what so many in the church wanted to hear.”
Comments like these have prompted discussions around the charismatic world on podcasts, email threads, Twitter and Facebook. The overriding emotion in reading them is anger at the prophets—in some cases, for making false declarations and, in other cases, for apologizing for those declarations. Brown told me pastors have reached out to him asking how to handle the fallout in their congregations. Goll used words like “toxic,” “mudslinging,” “disappointment” and “disillusion” to describe the flood of invective from Christians who feel duped by false prophecies. But a sizable share of believers, at least those active online, seem to be holding out for a Trump resurrection sometime this spring.
That has left prophets like Johnson and LeClaire calling on Pentecostal and charismatic Christians to rethink what prophecy should and should not be in the 21st century. So far, they and other movement leaders have opted to address false prophets privately. “Some people are spoken to and don’t respond. Some people respond quickly,” Goll says.
That’s not enough for Rosebrough, who doesn’t see the movement reforming itself unless it can call out false prophets by name. “There are never any efforts to validate any of the claims made,” he says. “The more outrageous the claims, the truer it has to be. And if you are critical of these things, God will curse you as opposing his prophets.” (On February 11, Enlow hit back, slamming the would-be reformers with a statement titled “An Apostolic Rebuke and Entreaty for Those Blaming the Prophets.”)
Beverley, the Tyndale University professor, worries the widespread fidelity to Trump prophecies is part of a broader embrace of conspiratorial thinking in America. In a new book, he links the prophetic movement to the far-right QAnon conspiracy: Leaders of both, he says, have said all along that Trump would win and continue to push the idea that this will happen in March. Beverly, however, believes the charismatic prophets are likely to move on if nothing happens at that point.
But Brown is not counting on it. On February 8, he and Brooklyn pastor Joseph Mattera began organizing secret monthly meetings over Zoom with a new confederation of 20 prophetic leaders, representing various streams of the movement across ethnic, racial and denominational lines. Their aim is to set up guidelines for public prophecies and requirements for accountability. One idea: The group could demand that anyone who wants its imprimatur needs to sign on to certain rules. Those who don’t “will be left out of our circles,” as Brown puts it.
Yet even Brown admits these measures will go only so far, given the extent to which the evangelical church has become entwined with Trump’s strain of politics. “How did we become so politicized?” he wonders. “How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader, compromise our ethics for a seat at the table and drape the Gospel in an American flag?”