As a Protestant, Matthew D. Taylor, Ph.D., is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS), where he specializes in Muslim-Christian dialogue, Evangelical and Pentecostal movements, religious politics in the U.S., and American Islam. ICJS produced a 30-minute documentary, Spiritual Warriors: Decoding Christian Nationalism at the Capitol Riot, featuring Dr. Taylor. His new forthcoming book, The Violent Take It by Force: The Christian Movement that is Threatening Our Democracy, tracks the role that Christian leaders played, particularly those from the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) networks, in instigating Christians to participate in the January 6th Capitol Riot. 

The Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS), founded in 1987, is an independent, impartial non-profit group in Baltimore, MD. Matthew participates in its efforts to facilitate interfaith dialogue  and dismantle religious bias. ICJS provides free resources to the public to further interreligious understanding and foster pluralism and inclusion. By approaching interfaith conversations that value and treasure differences, Matthew explains that they are not aiming to homogenize the Abrahamic religions. The institute seeks to gain insight from religious differences in world views. There are moments of friendship and kinship when similarities are found, and while these do not remove the differences, they help us live through them.  

Matthew’s research is featured in a new documentary called ‘Spiritual Warriors: Decoding Christian Nationalism at the Capitol Riot‘ which received a Gold Award from the 2024 Spotlight Documentary Film Awards. The short film is an easily digestible version of Matthew’s work unearthing Christian leaders’ identities in the January 6th, 2021, Capitol Riot. Many Christian groups participated, and Donald Trump was the instigator, so the event displayed a visible Christian spiritual ethos. Matthew aims to understand both the rise of New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and how NAR ideas began to filter into mainstream American politics. For a longer, deep-dive into the NAR, Matthew has also created an audio-documentary series titled “Charismatic Revival Fury” that traces the origins of the movement and how it became involved in January 6th

The NAR started as a theoretical concept about a new form of non-denominational church governance led by modern-day apostles and prophets and evolved into a movement of leadership networks in the early 2000s. This movement is marked by charismatic spirituality, non-denominational church leadership, practices like speaking in tongues, prophesying, and a revival of apostles and prophets to instigate global Christian revival. Over time, these networks became politically radicalized and began infiltrating right-wing politics in the United States and other countries.  

Matthew explains how they endorsed Trump in his rise to power and became the vanguard of Christian Trumpism. They offered theology and prophecy frameworks to lead Christians to support Donald Trump and motivate them to political action.  

The apostles and prophets of the NAR are part of a set of leadership and mentoring networks centered on the work of a maverick seminary professor named C. Peter Wagner. Wagner died in 2016. Those who endorsed Trump proclaimed a prophecy that God wanted Trump to be the president, but that believers must make this happen through spiritual warfare and battling the devil. Supporters were encouraged to facilitate the presidency through activism and combat in the spiritual realm. Matthew explains how, in many ways, the events of the Capitol Riot came about through people believing these prophecies and the need to enact them as ‘spiritual warriors.’ The NAR movement radicalized believers to think that they could get Trump back in office and follow the “prophecy.” Matthew’s research found that in December 2020, fifteen NAR leaders met with unnamed Trump officials at the White House and were instrumental in the Capitol Riot events.  

Matthew notes that while NAR leaders seem to be well-versed in the Bible, their interpretations deviate significantly from mainstream Christianity. They utilize prophecy as a way to read into biblical passages messages that back up their political motivations. 

As a Christian, Matthew observes how Jesus actively told followers to avoid any earthly power being bestowed on him in the New Testament. Jesus encouraged his followers to be servants of all people and said that serving others is the path to greatness. Matthew disagrees with the NAR mode of church governance, which tends toward authoritarian and coercive leadership. However, he notes that their beliefs are within the boundaries of  Christian orthodoxy. He describes many of their extreme beliefs as “bad interpretation but not heretical.” 

NAR beliefs have become increasingly mainstream in the last decade in United States Christianity. They have infiltrated right-wing Christian theology and the evangelical movement so that NAR styles of ‘strategic spiritual warfare’ have become very popular among other evangelicals. Matthew notes that, as a scholar, he does see NAR beliefs as extreme but that they radicalize people through theological interpretation and prophecy.  

During Donald Trump’s presidential run in 2015, mainstream Evangelical elites did not want to be associated with him or his views. However, Matthew notes that polls consistently showed that many grassroots evangelicals supported Trump from very early in the campaign. As a result, Trump asked Paula White, his religious advisor, to bridge the gap between him and evangelical leaders. White is a charismatic televangelist with ties to many NAR leaders, so she brought televangelists, NAR prophets, and other charismatic Christian leaders to meet with Trump and serve as some of his core religious advisers. This was the beginning of fringe leaders entering the inner circle of the religious right on a national level in a process that continues today. 

Matthew explains that he is not anti-charismatic.  However, he feels that NAR leaders and the theologies and prophecies they propagate pose a ‘grave menace’ to democracy. This view is not because they are charismatic or even claim to be prophets but because they hyper-politicize and orient their religious views around politics.

NAR leaders are radicalizing their followers to influence politics and even attempt to take control of sectors of society to Christianize America. While the First Amendment allows religious freedom, which we all deserve, we also exist to have civic duties and responsibilities in society. Matthew reminds people that he wishes to humanize true believers on the religious fringe while highlighting how they can threaten pluralism and democracy. We should want to live in a multi-religious democracy where all civilians have freedom and equality. Christian supremacy aims to take away the rights of people to live out their values and differing beliefs. We must remind ourselves that we are all entitled to differing religious beliefs that can coexist harmoniously in society rather than impose our beliefs on one another.