The Other IHOP

If, as I am, you are an aficionado of the Christian Right in its many mutations, and are curious about its religious as well as its political dimensions, then the appearance of a big new Sarah Posner investigative report is a wonderful thing. She’s produced another one for TPM (unfortunately parts of it are behind the “Premium” paywall), focusing on the Missouri-based International House of Prayer, a charismatic (or if you prefer, pentecostal) group that’s had remarkable success recruiting young people as “prayer warriors,” and has remained important in the world of Christian Zionists focused on the End Times.

This other IHOP, led by “prophet” Mike Bickle, has already made its mark on Republican politics:

Bickle and his IHOP co-founder, the evangelist and anti-abortion crusader Lou Engle, have captured the attention of politicians eager reach a religious base increasingly influenced by these movements. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer rally, The Response, held just before he announced his presidential bid, was bankrolled by the American Family Association, directed by IHOP staffer Luis Cataldo, and featured Bickle in a prominent role as a speaker. Misty Edwards, who leads musical worship at IHOP and is hugely popular in the Christian music world, also led musical interludes at The Response.

It wasn’t a one-off. Last year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback—who once shared a Washington, DC apartment with Engle—welcomed IHOP’s annual One Thing conference, which takes place in Kansas City every December and draws tens of thousands of young people to “encounter Jesus, so that we might go forth to do His works and change the world, until the fame of Jesus fills the earth.”

And on the National Mall in 2008 Bickle shared a stage with one-time Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee. That day he preached that prayer and repentance, not politics, are the answer to America’s problems. Engle, too, has prayed with Republican members of Congress, including Reps. Michele Bachmann and Randy Forbes (co-chair of the 93-member bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus) and then-Sens. Brownback and Jim DeMint (now president of the Heritage Foundation), against passage of health care reform. IHOP was a “ministry partner,” along with the Family Research Council and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, for a 2012 “solemn assembly” for prayer and meeting with members of Congress.

Read the whole thing, if you can. One important thing I learned was something kinda hiding in plain sight:

The growth in the political influence of these movements has been gradual, but “2008 was a moment,” Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, told me recently. Butler points out that Sarah Palin, the first Pentecostal nominee on a presidential ticket, emerged from this world. The former governor of Alaska spoke its language and employed cues that resonated with her charismatic followers, even if those cues were lost on others. Palin’s nomination, Butler added, “really changed how 2012 worked, and will continue to change it,” citing, for example, Perry’s 2011 prayer rally. Butler cited a Palin speech to a church group, made while she was governor, casting Alaska as a “refuge in the last days,” and recalling how a Kenyan preacher, Thomas Muthee, had laid hands on her and prayed for the Lord to “make a way and let her do this next step,” referring to her run for governor.

The fact that Palin was “the first Pentecostal nominee on a presidential ticket” is not something often mentioned in the endless discussions over St. Joan of the Tundra. Sometimes even routine items in the news reflect a hidden landscape of culture and faith, and of love and hate.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.