By Tim Dickinson
Dutch Sheets stood behind Marjorie Taylor Greene, the palms of his hands held up to God.
Revered by followers as a modern Christian apostle, Sheets told a packed crowd at Gas South Arena, outside Atlanta, to pray with him for the GOP congresswoman, who touts herself as a Christian nationalist, and appeared onstage in a bright-red dress.
“We say she is covered by the blood of Jesus,” Sheets said. “She will not be taken out by evil forces,” he insisted, adding: “We take authority over that in Jesus’ name. And we cover her now with a shield of prayer and faith and say, ‘Be strong! Be blessed! You are highly favored! You will not fail,’ in Jesus’ name.”
Sheets, 68, is one of America’s most influential Christian voices demanding an end to the separation of church and state. He’s been at the forefront of that movement for 20 years, but now the Republican part has come to him, with a growing contingent that’s embracing his end-times vision of America as Christian theocracy. At this July 1 worship event, Sheets told the crowd, “We must marry these two arenas — the civil and the sacred. They are not separate in Scripture,” he added, then insisted, “God never intended for it to be separate.”
Christian nationalism has long been an undercurrent of GOP politics. But with the rise of the MAGA movement and the Republican party’s lurch toward authoritarianism, its proponents have burst into the foreground. Representatives like Greene and Lauren “the church is supposed to direct the government” Boebert have embraced Christian nationalism in Washington, while far-right-media figures like Andrew Torba — the CEO of the platform Gab.com — embrace it as the answer to conservative setbacks in the culture wars, insisting: “We are going to take power in this country, for the glory of God.”
The right’s new hunger for theocracy is creating an opening for figures like Sheets, who has long preached that Christians cannot only impose their morals on society through the levers of government, but that doing so is Jesus’ most ardent desire.
Inside the arena, Sheets was soon leading the spirited crowd in a recitation of a new document he co-authored called the “Watchman Decree.” It reads like a Christian nationalist pledge of allegiance.
“As a patriot of faith, I attest my allegiance first and foremost to the Kingdom of God and the Great Commission,” Sheets began. (The “Great Commission” refers to the instruction by the resurrected Jesus to his followers to “make disciples of all nations.”) He then led the crowd in a series of theocratic declarations, including:
“We, the Church, are God’s governing Body on the Earth.”
“We have been given legal power and authority from Heaven.”
“We are … delegated by Him to destroy every attempted advance of the enemy.”
The audience then read aloud, with Sheets, a list of 13 decrees, including that the three branches of U.S. government will “honor God,” “write only laws that are righteous,” and only “issue rulings that are biblical.” The congregation continued, in unison, “We declare that we stand against wokeness, the occult, and every evil attempt against our nation.”
They concluded with Sheets’ trademark spiritual battle cry: “We decree that America shall be saved!”
The Fight for “Dominion”
William “Dutch” Sheets is a leading figure in a fundamentalist movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation, whose followers believe America is anointed by God to convert the world to Christianity — by force if necessary — and they seek to accelerate Jesus’ return and rule over the Earth. This divine mission, as they see it, will be carried out when true believers seize control of the institutions of the U.S. government. Their allies in positions of power include members of Congress, as well as a prominent candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, who is Donald Trump’s pick to lead Pennsylvania.
Christian nationalism is on the rise among the religious right. Many among the fundamentalist faithful seek to live in a country where their biblical views are not just protected, but imposed on others, as a matter of law. The proposition that America should be remade as a theocracy is most popular, according to a 2021 Pew poll, among white evangelicals — that is to say the Republican base. More than a third of this group believes the federal government should “stop enforcing” the separation of church and state and “declare” the United States a Christian nation. A full 29 percent would like to see the federal government “advocate Christian values.” That these are minoritarian views is little obstacle in a Republican party that has grown increasingly contemptuous of democracy and comfortable with MAGA-style authoritarianism.
The NAR movement, in particular, dovetails with the far-right of the Republican party because it blames the nation’s problems on the same enemies — abortion providers, homosexuals, religious minorities, etc. — with the distinction being that NAR followers believe these disfavored groups are literally Satanic. “They use this language of spiritual warfare,” says Steve Snow, a professor of politics who published an academic paper on NAR in the Journal of Religion & Society. “It has inevitably moved over into the political realm — so that your political opponents are demon-possessed.”
The New Apostolic Reformation emerged from the charismatic tradition of Christianity, in which believers seek direct encounters with the Holy Spirit. (In Pentecostalism, for example, this comes in the form of speaking in tongues and other “gifts of the spirit.”) But NAR goes much farther. Its followers believe that, since the turn of the millennium, the world has entered a new age of Christian apostles and prophets: men and women who receive direct revelations from God and visions for His will on Earth. (The movement is controversial even among evangelicals. Many believe the NAR movement is contrary to scripture — even heretical, full of false prophets and bunk revelations. One critic calls its teachings “utterly false and spiritually devastating.”)
The founding apostle of NAR was C. Peter Wagner, who didn’t look the part of a zealot. Wagner was a soft-spoken, avuncular figure with white hair and a Colonel Sanders goatee. Yet his theology was extreme: He infamously believed that the emperor of Japan had fornicated with the sun goddess — an embodiment of the shape-shifting Satan. This unholy union, Wagner maintained, disgusted (the one, true Christian) God, who then removed his protection from the island, precipitating the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima.
For Wagner and his followers, the bible is the story of the struggle for “dominion” over the Earth. God granted Adam dominion over the world, which he promptly squandered to Satan, in the form of the serpent in the garden. Jesus, to NAR followers, is the “Second Adam” who granted his followers a new chance to wrest dominion of the world from demonic forces.
The NAR faithful take literally the command given by the resurrected Jesus to his followers to “make disciples of all nations.” They view Christianity as a missionary faith with a manifest destiny to conquer the planet. If that work won’t be fully completed until the second coming of Christ, NAR followers believe it’s their duty to prepare the planet in the meantime, making it as biblical as possible. “Jesus delegated establishing His kingdom to us — to you and to me,” Wagner preached in 2014. “We are the ones who are supposed to bring this about,” he insisted of the Second Coming, calling on his followers to “speak and act on Jesus’ behalf as if Jesus himself was doing it.”
The New Apostolic Reformation doesn’t have a formal church structure. Rather it comprises a network of self-styled apostles who cultivate their own followings — and also lend one another an air of authority through mutual recognition of their divine gifts. “It’s sort of like al Qaeda in the sense that anybody can pop up anywhere and say that they’re al Qaeda,” says Snow, the Wagner University politics professor who has studied NAR.
The religious movement is extraordinary, Snow says, in that it is “hyper-politicized” and literally demonizes its opponents. If you’re not an advocate for their theology, you’re on the side of Satan. They view those who stand in opposition to Christian nationalism as afflicted by demons, and they view their struggle to impose biblical order as “spiritual warfare.” Far from praying to be raptured to heaven, as many other evangelicals do, NAR adherents anticipate reigning alongside Christ — as wealthy and favored “kings and priests” — during his long, heavenly rule on Earth.
“An Appeal to Heaven”
Sheets is a first among equals in the world of NAR. He was Wagner’s top lieutenant and protégé. Wagner died in 2016, but in his late years, he touted “Apostle Dutch Sheets” for his “clear, practical vision” to lead America in “giant steps toward seeing our land reflect the kingdom of God.”
Sheets preaches — against the historical record — that America was founded as a Christian nation, and he views the United States as God’s essential weapon for advancing Christianity across the globe. And when Sheets speaks of warfare for Christ, he seems to want to bring the battle out of the spirit realm and into the physical world. (Sheets did not agree to speak for this story. His ministry stated in an email: “Dutch does not do interviews.”)
Sheets has a round face, close-cropped brown hair, and often sports a trim goatee. He preaches that the American Revolution was divinely guided, pointing to a war flag that featured a pine tree and the slogan “An Appeal to Heaven,” which was flown at times by George Washington and the Continental Navy.
There’s a secular history to the flag. Colonists were battling the Crown over a decree that the tallest timber pines in New England were reserved for British ships. The flag’s slogan, “An Appeal to Heaven,” was lifted from the philosopher John Locke, who argued that when governments abridge man’s natural freedoms it’s appropriate to fight and let God sort it out. “Where there lies no appeal on Earth,” the philosopher wrote, “they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven.”
But to Sheets, and other Christian nationalists, this flag has a secret biblical meaning. In a 2015 book An Appeal to Heaven, and a series of sermons on the same topic, Sheets contends that the pine tree, in fact, symbolizes an evergreen planted in Genesis and stands for an “everlasting covenant” with God. “I figured out that this symbol of the evergreen tree didn’t go back just to the founding fathers in America,” Sheets preached in 2019, “it went all the way back to Abraham!”
In Sheets’ telling, God helped the colonists vanquish the British in order to establish America as an instrument of Christian power — a “vessel” that can “reach all around the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Grasping the pine-tree flag like a holy shroud, Sheets changed his tone from pastoral to fire and brimstone. “We decree over America that you had plans for us Lord.” Sheets told the crowd. “I decree over us that You’re going to finish what You started.”
For America to be the nation God intended, Sheets insisted, it must end religious tolerance. “Lord we refuse to give this nation to another God; we refuse to give this nation to demons,” Sheets preached, citing “Hinduism” and a “pluralistic mindset” as examples of the evils he despised.
“We decree over this nation that the spirit of Islam will not take over America,” he said. To the contrary, Sheets insisted, “We say that Christianity will invade Islam.” Darkly, Sheets implied that violence will be necessary: “We decree and declare that, though it may require the blood of many martyrs, [God] will have his way.”
In Sheets’ vision, Christians will take over Washington, D.C. “We believe you’re going to raise up constitutional judges,” Sheets said. “We believe you’re gonna put somebody in the White House that we’ll say, ‘Oh, yes, we are Christian nation!’”
While Sheets isn’t the only proponent of reviving the pine-tree flag, he’s certainly the most prominent. And this coopted symbol of Christian nationalism has been adopted by a host of Republican politicians. Few parade the flag as prominently as Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who often sits in front of the banner during Facebook internet chats.
In the days after Jan 6. — an insurrection Mastriano attended — Mastriano posted the revolutionary symbol on Twitter, without comment.
Mastriano did not answer questions from Rolling Stone. He was first linked to NAR by The New Yorker, which reported Mastriano attended movement events after winning a seat in the statehouse. Mastriano has denied working directly with the NAR. But he filmed a 2020 interview in his Harrisburg office with a NAR pastor, Abby Abildness, a close associate of Sheets who preaches that Pennsylvania was the “holy seed of a nation” and that founder William Penn was a prophet of “His wisdom and principles of governance.”
For his part, Mastriano’s own rhetoric is hardly out of step with Sheets’ teachings. In radio comments in 2018, Mastriano insisted the Constitution is not compatible with Islam because the founding document reflects a “Christian-Judeo” worldview — declaring that “not all religions are created equal.”
Decades of Influence
Sheets has kept a low national profile that belies his influence on our national politics, where his influence stretches back decades. Reflecting on her pivotal role in the 2000 presidential recount of Florida, former Secretary of State Katherine Harris told Charisma magazine that Sheets was a godly mentor to her, adding that “everything I do politically is animated by my faith,” because her “marching orders” come from God.
Sheets has also shared stages with national, theocracy-minded Republicans, including an appearance with then-Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas in 2007. During the Obama administration, Sheets propagated lies about the first Black president. In one recording, Sheets insisted, “We have a Muslim president.” Sheets argued that “this is a part of the judgment” of God, who, in an effort to “discipline” America, had “turned our country over to our enemies for a season.”
Sheets has never soft-pedaled his theocratic beliefs. He told a crowd in 2012 that it wasn’t realistic for Christians to “take over everything and rule the Earth completely for the Lord,” but that “we’re supposed to try.” Sheets added, “Our assignment, until He comes, is to bring His kingdom rule into the Earth, so that our region looks like heaven again.” Sheets counseled followers to “divide and conquer,” calling on God to “raise up kingdom warriors who are willing to do whatever it takes to bring forth Your kingdom rule in the Earth.”
That kind of divisive talk ingratiated Sheets to Newt Gingrich, who named Sheets to his “Faith Leaders Coalition” during his 2012 presidential run.
In 2015, Sheets shared a message about Christian nationalism he said was directly from God: “The Lord has confirmed to me that the door to the governmental arena — and to Washington, D.C., specifically — is again wide open,” he wrote, insisting that “this invitation … has not only been extended to me, but to the entire body of Christ.”
In videos posted earlier this year, Sheets decried the notion that Christians should pray for God’s will to be done, but not involve themselves directly in politics as “one of the greatest deceptions Satan has ever visited on the church.” He calls government “God-created” and insists Christians must “accept our God-given calling to extend His influence through it.” The alternative, Sheets insists, is “allowing evil to rule over us.”
Preaching Christian nationalism is a boom business. Dutch Sheets Ministries is not a church, but a 501(c)3 nonprofit. In paperwork filed with the IRS, Sheets has declared nearly $9 million in revenue since 2016, and has assets approaching $4 million. (Sheets and his wife, the VP of the ministry, jointly earn nearly $230,000 a year from the operation.)
Sheets has cultivated a huge following. He has an Apple app called “Give Him 15,” where he offers short, daily sermons, often promoting Christian nationalism. The app, he’s bragged, has been downloaded more than 600,000 times. He cross-posts these videos to YouTube and Rumble, often gaining hundreds of thousands of views at a time.
“God Wants to Give Trump Eight Years”
Nonprofits like Dutch Sheets Ministries risk losing their tax exempt status if they enmesh themselves in electoral politics. But Sheets was all-in for Trump, going so far as to stage an “Appeal to Heaven” conference at the Trump Hotel in 2018. Despite Trump’s manifestly sinful life, Sheets saw him as a divine instrument, in particular for Trump’s stated opposition to abortion, which Sheets has characterized as “blood sacrifice that empowers demons.”
In 2018, Sheets shared a prophesy that Trump was going to have “an encounter with God … that’s going to transform him,” he said. “I believe He wants to make him a father in this nation.” Sheets continued, “He’s going to know God and he’s gonna realize this God put me here, and I’m gonna do everything possible to follow His leadership, His will, and do for Him what He wants for this nation.”
Like many other NAR preachers, Sheets prophesied that Trump would be reelected. And in the aftermath of Biden’s victory, Sheets didn’t admit error. Rather, he insisted, the result was fraud perpetrated by Satan that would not stand. “We have prophesies, dreams that God wants to give Trump eight years,” Sheets insisted on a podcast with Charisma magazine. Sheets insisted that the election result was “going to be overturned, and President Trump is going to be put back in office for four years.” Sheets warned, however, that followers would “have to push this thing through,” insisting: “I believe there’s a remnant army out there that is not going to let this go. And we’re going to make sure that God’s will is done.”
Sheets continued to use metaphors of war and violence through the runup to Jan. 6. On a Nov. 9 podcast titled “God Is Not Finished with President Trump,” Sheets asked his listeners, “Are we gonna fight or not? Is Trump God’s choice or not?” He exhorted, “We must make a stand right now,” and to “war and get God’s will and God’s person back in office.”
By late December, Sheets was invoking the Black Robed Regiment, a group of colonial preachers who were instrumental in the Revolutionary War, and asking God to “fight for us as you did our founders.” Sheets decreed that “there is coming a great partnership of the church and government,” and asked his followers to “war with me for our great nation.”
In a Jan. 2 message to the faithful called “Why We Fight”, Sheets insisted that the coming war was for the “spiritual soul and God-given destiny of our nation” against two enemies. First and foremost, there was “Biden and those on the left who do not want biblical principles morals and ideals controlling America.” But Sheets also listed Republican foes who “are unwilling to stand up and fight in this battle.” He called them “self-serving cowards” with “no understanding of … God’s purpose for America” or the “God-given vision of our founding fathers.” These turncoats, he insisted, had “traded patriotism for privilege, and Christ’s cause for a career.”
By Jan. 3, Sheets appeared on camera wearing a 1776 sweatshirt and seemed to have a clear vision of the unrest that was about to unfold. Citing the “thousands of patriots who will descend on Washington D.C.,” Sheets implored his followers to pray “that they’re kept safe,” warning: “It is likely to be a very tumultuous week.”
These videos were inflammatory — and appeared to border on incitement. But they were also, unintentionally, revealing. As he spoke, Sheets exposed himself as a hack, without any special understanding of American politics. He stumbled through regurgitations of half-digested right-wing talking points, rambling that if Trump were denied victory, “You can forget about justice taking place in the deep state, the false FISA warrants, the lies on the Russian-conspiracy thing, the wrong, false impeachments — all the things they make up — you can forget justice coming to any of that.”
In the aftermath of Jan. 6 and Trump’s final defeat, many fellow evangelical preachers also believed that Sheets and his ilk, who spoke prophetically about the certainty of Trump’s reelection, had been exposed. A stark open letter signed by dozens of charismatic faith leaders in May 2021 insisted on “the need for prophetic standards in the church.”
The letter didn’t name names, but it sought to address the “fallout” of fake prophesies that foretold of a Trump victory. “We recognize that true prophetic words can be faith-building,” the religious leaders wrote, “but we reject the idea that prophets can use Old Testament texts about believing the prophets in order to gain blanket support for their words, as if everything a prophet utters today must be believed.”
The letter reserved judgment for the worst offenders. “We do not believe that a sincere prophet who delivers an inaccurate message is [necessarily] a false prophet,” they wrote. But the letter also offered a stark warning to fellow charismatics that the sword of fundamentalism cuts both ways: “Those wanting to use Old Testament prophetic texts to exercise influence or authority over their followers should remember,” they wrote, “that inaccurate prophecy under that same Old Testament standard was punishable by death.”
We want to hear it. Send us a tip using our anonymous form.
Copyright © 2022 Penske Business Media, LLC. All Rights reserved.