Like millions of people in America and around the world, Jeremiah Johnson stayed up late on election night. From the TV screen in his living room, he watched as Donald Trump’s winning margin waned and sat stunned in disbelief.
Many assumed the former president would win reelection; Johnson was among the charismatic leaders in the US who had put God’s word behind it.
On the morning of November 4, as the country woke up to the news that Joe Biden was in the lead, Johnson sent out a “prophetic warning” to his mailing list, saying he and a “chorus of mature and tested prophets” were in agreement: Trump had won.
“Either a lying spirit has filled the mouths of numerous trusted prophetic voices in America or Donald J. Trump really has won the Presidency and we are witnessing a diabolical and evil plan unfold to steal the Election,” Johnson wrote to his followers. “I believe with all my heart that the latter is true.”
Today, Johnson cringes when he thinks back to that message.
Unlike those who continued to insist Trump won, by early 2021, Johnson had reversed course. Now he barely recognizes the person who wrote that email last year—and neither does his wife, staff, or close friends. Instead, he says, God graciously used the messy fallout over the failed Trump prophecies to begin a “catalytic, dramatic shift” in his life.
“I was as entrenched as anyone was,” Johnson told CT in one of his first media interviews since he publicly repented in January and shut down his namesake ministry in March. “I tell people I feel like I’ve been rescued—I feel the kindness of God; I feel his discipline. I’ve cried so many tears, just thanking the Lord for the wake-up call.”
Johnson is only 33, but there’s a soberness in his demeanor whenever he stands up to preach. Looking back now, Johnson sees how 2020’s Election Day will forever be part of his story and an impetus for refocusing his calling and ministry.
Johnson traces his spiritual origin to the womb. His mother had a dream when she was pregnant that guided her to name him Jeremiah. He was born dead, his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and was revived by hospital staff, who called him a “miracle baby.”
By age seven, Johnson was having prophetic dreams of his own, night after night.
The son of a charismatic pastor, Johnson grew up a continuationist—believing that the Holy Spirit is alive and active today, working through supernatural signs and wonders like those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 (healing and speaking in tongues) alongside roles like apostles and prophets. In circles like Johnson’s, prophets are believed to hear from the Lord accurately, frequently, and in inexplicable detail. They are expected to use that gift, per 1 Corinthians 14:3, to “speak to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.”
When Johnson preaches, pacing the stage in jeans, a button-up, and a blazer, he will sometimes pause to deliver a prophetic “word” he feels the Lord urging him to share with someone in the audience—a timely personal affirmation or Scripture passage, or a relevant reminder of a particular attribute of God.
The gift of prophecy is referred to throughout Scripture and is encouraged in most Pentecostal and charismatic traditions. But Johnson is part of a class of pastors, itinerant ministers, authors, and public speakers who embrace the vocational role of a prophet, like those in the Old Testament, and claim that God has given them a “spirit of revelation” about significant events on a national and global scale. Most focus less on predicting the future than on delivering opportune words of exhortation or encouragement to God’s people.
Johnson was a pastor and church planter at Heart of the Father Ministry in Florida when he prophesied in 2015 that Trump would win his first election the following year. When the Republican race was still crowded with candidates, Johnson said he heard from God in a dream that Trump had a “prophetic destiny” to become president and that he would be “like a bull in a China closet.” His vision captured the attention of a network of charismatic ministry leaders who were eager to preach and prophesy around American politics and lifted the young pastor to national prominence.
“Because I was pastoring, because I was involved in the lives of people, I just thought it was a random, ‘God speaks to me a word in my sanctuary, it goes viral, Trump gets elected, and that’s it,’ ” he said.
But starting in 2018, Johnson said God began to speak to him again about Trump. Some of his messages contained warnings for the church—that God was after the president’s heart, not his money and power, and supporters would begin to “see the error of his ways” and “cry out for his soul.” It wasn’t until last October that Johnson had a three-part dream—in which the Dodgers won the World Series, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in before the election, and Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
The first two parts came to pass, and Johnson felt emboldened to share the third as a prophecy from God.
But as he looks back now, Johnson sees the dangers of gaining a platform and an audience that was hungry to hear about the president.
“Nine out of ten messages I was preaching were about the Lord, nothing political or current, but because that one would go viral or grab so much attention, I think it became toxic, and it became dangerous over time.”
And to be candid, he says, “Whether you want to call it a temptation” or not, “that’s what sells.”
Shortly after it became clear that Trump had lost, Johnson said he heard another word from God: “You’re wrong, and I’m going to use this to humble you.”
It was a chastening rebuke. Johnson apologized to the world and took three months away from the public eye to fast and pray. Then he backed away from the ministry partnerships and followers who were still urging him to echo political prophecies and offer commentary. He shuttered Jeremiah Johnson Ministries and lost hundreds of high-dollar donors.
He felt a sense of freedom and lightness in leaving it all behind. He describes the experience as God taking him out of a room “full of traps,” where spiritual matters mixed with political ones. “There’s enough of Jesus in there to keep you in there, but there’s not enough of him to keep you focused,” he said.
One of Johnson’s longtime mentors, Denver pastor Loren Sandford, had also prophesied a second Trump term. The two reconnected around the election and released their apologies on the same day, just after the certification of votes was interrupted by an insurrection at the Capitol. Like Johnson, Sandford owned up to his false forecast and faced similar repercussions.
What shocked them both, however, was that they got more backlash for repenting than for getting it wrong.
As Johnson and Sandford were feeling contrite, other charismatic leaders were girding up for battle. Many who prophesied Trump’s reelection, along with many pastors, continued to cling to their stances after the election and insisted it was God’s will that Trump remain president. Several doubled down on their prophecies and raised the stakes.
Rick Joyner, an author and preacher who founded MorningStar Ministries, joined televangelist Jim Bakker in predicting that the country should prepare itself for a civil war between Republicans and Democrats. Revivalist Jeff Jansen proclaimed that Trump was still president and the military was in the process of removing Biden from power.
As Inauguration Day came and went, millions were left wondering why the promised takeover did not occur. The charismatic movement was cast further into “absolute chaos and conflict,” Sandford said.
“So many of God’s people are hurting, and the world is mocking us, thinking that our faith in Jesus is just as false as these failed Trump prophecies,” read a rebuke by Michael Brown, a well-respected charismatic leader since the Brownsville Revival movement in the mid-1990s and another of Johnson’s spiritual mentors. “After all, they wonder, how could all the prophets be wrong?”
Now, Brown, Sandford, and Johnson are eager to explain what led to the mistaken election predictions and for God to use the high-profile failures as an opportunity to revisit the guidelines for approaching prophecy and holding prophets accountable.
“I do believe God wants to do something right now in the charismatic movement, in the prophetic movement,” Johnson said in February. “I do believe God wants us to humble ourselves. I do believe God wants us to look inwardly. I do believe that God wants us to ask the hard questions.”
Seven Mountain ideology
This corner of the modern neocharismatic world, alternatively referred to as the Third Wave, New Apostolic Reformation, or Independent Network Charismatic Christianity, is one of the fastest-growing faith groups in America. One ideological feature of the movement is its focus on the Seven Mountain Mandate, where Christians are on a mission to occupy seven pivotal realms of culture—media, government, education, economy, family, religion, and entertainment—as a key way to win nations for the Lord’s return.
Seven Mountain ideology has been around for decades, originating with popular evangelical figures like Bill Bright, Loren Cunningham, and Francis Schaeffer. Initially, it was a response to the separatist mindset some believers had at the time, urging them to instead offer a gospel influence across areas of culture.
“The problem,” Brown said, “is when you couple it with a dominionist mentality, in which we spiritually take over” and further combine it with a postmillennial theology, wherein believers are not only called to serve God in every mountain of culture they inhabit, but to lead from positions of power in preparation for Christ’s earthly reign in the millennial kingdom.
Although the charge of dominionism has been leveled as a pejorative by opponents, the term originated within the movement itself. Former Fuller Theological Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner embraced a “dominion theology” in his 2010 book Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World—as did several of its earliest charismatic advocates, including apostolic leaders Lance Wallnau and Johnny Enlow.
These leaders suggested Trump’s success and influence made him the ideal candidate to help Christians reclaim their culture.
Even after Biden was sworn in, Enlow maintained Trump’s victory and declared that “if you can see what’s in heaven, who’s sitting in the throne—go up and look at the presidency seat in heaven, see who’s there. It ain’t Biden; it’s Trump.” Enlow said elsewhere that “from heaven, President Trump is recognized as the primary government leader on planet Earth.”
Enlow also linked Trump’s prophetic destiny to Seven Mountain dominionism and the QAnon conspiracy by claiming there are “child-sacrificing pedophiles in a worldwide network at the tops of the mountains,” and that God sent Trump in a divine “rescue operation.”
While such statements may sound extreme, Wallnau and Enlow have both been trusted voices in some of the movement’s largest charismatic networks, speaking alongside a host of other popular leaders, such as Steve Shultz of the prophecy website Elijah List, which has over a quarter of a million subscribers, and Bill and Beni Johnson of Bethel Church, the charismatic megachurch and ministry hub in Northern California.
Back in 2016, when only a handful of leaders had prophesied Trump would win the first election, some charismatics were hopeful, but many were skeptical. A couple years into his term, the prophetic predictions about his reelection continued to grow. A survey found that over half of white Pentecostals believed the president was divinely anointed, and these “prophecy voters” became a vocal segment of Trump’s evangelical base.
According to Brown, the number of prophetic figures who claimed a direct word from the Lord about Trump’s reelection was only a small fraction.
But this vocal minority, who “were all saying the same thing,” was effective in reaching the majority of the charismatic movement thanks to their strong online presence, he said.
For charismatic critics, the fact that modern-day prophets claimed to hear from God about a presidential election is not the problem. Nor is the fact that their forecast of Trump’s reelection turned out to be wrong. Rather, it’s that so many failed to own up when proven false.
“Unaccountable prophecy has been a problem for a long time,” said Brown, calling it “a bane on the modern Pentecostal-charismatic movement.”
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged followers to “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1), warning them, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:20–21)—for on this side of heaven, “we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:9–10).
“Every real prophetic word needs a reality check,” said Sandford, who still remembers Y2K, when “major prophets prophesied the whole world was going to come to an end, all the computers were going to crash.” To this day, he says, “I’ve not heard a single apology from anyone that prophesied that.”
“Then there were all the prophecies that came out around Passover a year ago,” he says. The prophecies—given months before those surrounding the election—claimed that the coronavirus would begin to disappear before ever reaching the American shore. “Well, that didn’t happen either,” he said.
And while Sandford and Brown remain pessimistic about some of the last holdouts who have yet to publicly repent for their failed Trump prophecies, they have begun to feel optimistic about the trajectory of the movement as a whole.
Sandford, who holds an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, returned to a set of biblical principles for public prophecy developed years ago—statements like, “While I treasure spiritual experiences from the Holy Spirit, I will not place subjective experiences and discernment above the Bible,” and a vow to issue a full confession, repentance, and apology for any errant prophecies. He belongs to another group planning to meet this fall to address prophetic reform.
Back in February, Brown revisited similar principles as he began hosting monthly Zoom meetings with Joseph Mattera, head of the US Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, and a diverse group of 20 to 30 global ministry figures, including Johnson, to establish guidelines for prophetic accountability in their communities.
The new statement, pointing to what it says is “a time when there are many questions in the Body concerning the gift of prophecy and the ministry of the prophet,” brought together dozens of sponsors, including Randy Clark, Daniel Kolenda, Craig Keener, R. T. Kendall, Mark Driscoll, and Wayne Grudem.
The author of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Grudem was a key figure in the 1980s making the case that this charismatic spiritual gift could square with a doctrinally sound evangelical understanding of faith—a position that has taken off globally in the 21st-century Reformed charismatic movement. He was also among the most prominent Reformed evangelicals to back Trump in 2016 (but pulled his endorsement following the release of tapes where Trump referenced groping women).
Another signatory was Bethel senior leader Kris Vallotton, who prophesied reelection and later apologized. Using word as a common shorthand for a prophetic message, Vallotton wrote that he “received the word about humility a year ago,” saying that “Every time I get lost or don’t know what to do in this crazy season God tells me ‘Humility is the way forward.’ ”
Steven Strang, editor of Charisma, also signed the statement, along with former editor Jennifer LeClaire. Strang was an early and vocal advocate of Trump’s reelection prophecies, highlighting many of them on his Strang Report. Shortly after the election, he continued urging his followers to contend for God to overturn the results.
LeClaire did not prophesy about the president’s second term but had joined the chorus about his first, describing the growing red map of states who voted for Trump in 2016 as “parabolic of the blood of Jesus.”
Now she too is sounding the alarm. “We must begin to unify under the banner of Jesus, even if we cannot unite under the platform of a politician,” she said.
Repentance and humility
One year after being thrust into the Fox News spotlight for prophesying Trump’s reelection, California ministry leader Shawn Bolz looks back and sees a “messiah complex” among some of the former president’s Christian followers.
“They attached their faith to that so much that when I repented, I became like an AWOL soldier who was no longer on the team,” said Bolz, who faced death threats for apologizing for his prophecy. One handwritten letter warned that “when Trump’s reelected again,” Bolz would be “strung up in front of the White House, killed as a false prophet.”
“No matter what people tell you—I mean, what we watched, and the fruit of people’s behavior—their hope was not in God, their hope was in Trump, period,” said Jennifer Toledo, who cofounded a charismatic church in Los Angeles called Expression 58 with her husband and Bolz.
Whether or not Trump will be back in the race in 2024, leaders like Bolz and Toledo are praying that their local church and larger movement will facilitate conversations to address their spiritual blind spots and renew their focus on Christ.
The top verse associated with Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 was 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” A popular passage among Pentecostals and frequently cited in charismatic circles, it eventually became a prophetic call to prayer and fasting for his election and reelection.
And while many charismatic leaders compared Trump to Cyrus, the Persian king who returned God’s people from exile and brought them back into the Promised Land, Toledo’s congregation is guided by Isaiah 58, where God rebukes Israel for failing to see that real revival and restoration do not arise merely from a pursuit of righteous reformation, but out of a holistic vision for repentance and reconciliation.
Throughout the Scriptures, the prophets preached this message to God’s people on his behalf. Prophets have a “unique dependence on the Holy Spirit—for guidance, revelation, insight, and inspiration—in order for them to speak and minister,” Brown says. They are meant to maintain focus and stay on track, “to keep the main thing and make sure things don’t get off on tangents.”
But as Jeremiah Johnson witnessed, many prophets grew distracted with other things and “became a stumbling block” to God’s people, because “when prophets are distracted, people become distracted.”
“We’ve talked about idolatry in politics, [but] there’s idolatry to prophets,” Johnson says. “Nobody talks about that.” He says he believes “prophets became an idol in the body of Christ,” and while “they obviously have been humbled, the people themselves need to repent of worshiping prophets.”
Johnson also worries many believers have lost sight of the primary role prophetic ministry is meant to have: not to predict the future or forecast elections, but to point people to Christ.
During his three months of prayer and fasting at the start of 2021, as Johnson listened for God’s voice, he heard the Lord say, “A man is dying, a ministry is dying, and I want you to begin to focus on a movement … to help prepare the bride of Christ for the return of our glorious Bridegroom King Jesus.”
Instead of running Jeremiah Johnson Ministries, the pastor began a new venture called The Altar Global. At three-hour-long worship gatherings streamed live from his church and ministry base in Charlotte, North Carolina, he preaches a renewed focus on Christ. “Lord, put our motives and intentions in check tonight,” he prayed during one service this spring. “Blanket us with pure and simple-hearted devotion to Jesus.”
And as more leaders join this growing remnant, Johnson believes the charismatic community will regain its vision. “The Spirit of God is humbling the prophetic movement across the board,” Johnson says. “And clearly, God is calling on his people to turn back to him.”
Stefani McDade is a contributing writer to CT based in Georgia.
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