On a Sunday evening in March 2013, after a late spring snowstorm, several hundred people braved the weather to reach an unassuming building nestled into a former strip mall in the small suburban community of Grandview, Missouri, 16 miles south of Kansas City. Their destination was the International House of Prayer. The prayer room—a nondescript auditorium ringed with small side rooms for prophesying and faith healing—receives daily visitors from all over the world who want to experience what IHOP’s founder, the controversial, and self-titled, “prophet” Mike Bickle, claims is a recreation of the biblical King David’s tabernacle. Bickle maintains he is helping Christians achieve a greater intimacy with Jesus through 24/7 music and prayer – a prerequisite, he says, for Jesus to return to earth, carry out God’s battle plan for the end-times, vanquish the Antichrist, and rule the world from his throne in Jerusalem.
On that snowy night, hundreds of followers in what is known as the charismatic Christian movement descended on Grandview for a “Transform World” prayer summit, a meeting that promised 70 consecutive hours of prayer to add new houses of prayer to the hundreds of IHOP imitators around the world. Growing the number of houses of prayer, the participants believed, will help “transform” communities, preparing them for a global revival.
Through IHOP and its associated church, Forerunner Christian Fellowship, Bickle claims to be cultivating an elite class of “forerunners,” or people who “represent God and his interests,” and who “prepare the people to respond rightly to Jesus by making known God’s plans so the people can make sense of what will happen before it actually happens.” His vision of the end-times, which is central to his teaching, maintains that these “redeemed” people will be raptured just as Jesus begins his “royal procession” into Jerusalem. Bickle believes they will return to earth as “resurrected saints” who will “possess supernatural abilities.” When Jesus rules as “King over all dominions and spheres of society,” these resurrected saints will rule with him, “as kings and priests.”
Bickle is a major figure in what is known as charismatic Christianity, a sprawling movement with no clear organizational structure or hierarchy, led by magnetic and often authoritarian figures who proclaim themselves to be modern-day prophets and apostles. Driven by the passionate pronouncements of these “prophets,” rather than by, say, a denominational creed, the movement derides mainstream evangelical churches as moribund and dull – and in so doing has forced them to adapt to its presence. Lest you think these movements are fringe, just look at Republican politics, which has increasingly embraced the charismatic movement and its leaders in its quest for the evangelical vote. Outside of politics–but still crucial to its ongoing and future entanglement with religion–movements like Bickle’s entice the very young people evangelical leaders fret are slipping away from their faith. In one sense, IHOP, with its heterodox theology, inhabits a world of its own. But its draw to young people has led evangelical, and even mainline Protestant churches, as well as word of mouth and social media networks, to advertise its virtues to parents and teenagers who think they want to achieve more “intimacy” with God.
Part of the attraction is sheer excitement. Charismatic, or renewalist Christianity – and, by extension, IHOP’s theology – is made up of born-again adherents whose worship practices focus on supernatural occurrences, faith healing, miracles, prophecy, and revelation, many of which developed over the mid-to-late 20th century as part of a “Third Wave” of charismatic revival. The first wave was born of the early 20th century Pentecostal revival launched by the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles; later, a second wave of charismatic Christians who did not identify as Pentecostal were seen in growing nondenominational and even mainline churches. IHOP grew out of the strand late-20th century, or Third Wave charismatic Christianity that emphasized the role of modern-day prophets and apostles who claim to receive authoritative, extra-biblical revelations directly from God.
Prophesy and miracles may sound fringe, but Bickle’s acolytes extend to high places. 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.
Yet elected friends or not, Bickle’s 30-year career has been marked as much by his charismatic attraction to followers as by accusations of “aberrant” practices, false prophecies — even heresy. Since his affiliation with a group called the Kansas City Prophets, a group of self-declared prophets which coalesced around Bickle’s church in the 1980s, a legion of critics—theologically conservative evangelicals themselves, including former IHOP followers and staff—say his theology and practices are a distortion of the Bible, and the spiritual demands placed on followers, including unquestioning obedience to Bickle’s ideas, are authoritarian and abusive.
Over the years, when his prophecies did not come to pass, disillusioned followers and pastors in the community have confronted Bickle. He has been asked, time and again, to reform his teachings and practices. Yet, somehow, rather than change, each time he emerges with followers and institutions intact, although he may alter, ever so slightly, certain claims or statements in the trove of writings on his website.
“He’s just Teflon,” said one former follower.
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.
Some charismatic leaders view the increasing political clout of these movements as an improvement over the political activism of the old evangelical guard. Stephen Strang, the influential publisher of Charisma magazine, which has published articles by Bickle as well as laudatory accounts of his career, wrote critically of the “muted voice” of the National Association of Evangelicals. “It’s time,” Strang argued, “for the Spirit-filled community to stand up and take the lead.”
Bickle’s aim, however, is not merely to woo politicians and spiritual leaders. “There’s an obvious global strategy to this whole thing,” a former IHOP follower told me. “This is not about putting Kansas City on the map. This is not about look at this cool thing going on in Missouri. This is definitely about Mike’s overarching sense— his strategy to, as he said, change the nature and face of Christianity in a generation, and he wants to have a global impact. This definitely has a huge global fingerprint.”
In the two years that I’ve been researching IHOP, all evidence supports that reach. I’ve been to a Bickle-inspired house of prayer in the back of a Christian bookstore in rural South Carolina and one atop Mount Zion in Jerusalem; I’ve met musicians, missionaries, and self-described “prayer warriors” influenced by this movement from the Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe. In Kansas City, I met a couple from Kazakhstan who found out about IHOP in Kiev, Ukraine. I’ve emailed with a disaffected former IHOP attendee once lured to Kansas City from Venezuela; I’ve met a real estate agent from Kentucky who opened a house of prayer in Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem. I’ve talked with Palestinian Christians, grateful for permits from the Israeli government, arranged by that Jerusalem house of prayer, which released them from what one called their Bethlehem prison to a conference in Tel Aviv for a few days.
But the global outreach is not always about personal spiritual growth. At IHOP in March of 2013, there was a “prayer focus” for “day and night prayer” in Uganda, so that there could be “supernatural discernment” to “raise up prophets and apostles” to lead houses of prayer “all over Uganda.” The 2013 documentary film God Loves Uganda, which documents that country’s rising anti-gay fervor, follows, in part, the activities of IHOP missionaries there.
In a document titled “Affirmations and Denials” on its website, IHOP disputes the “inference of the film” that “such ‘foot soldiers’ are fomenting anti-gay rhetoric and fervor, which has led to persecution of those in Uganda who identify themselves as LGBT.” In the document IHOP said it opposes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, which criminalized homosexuality, but was recently invalidated by the country’s Constitutional Court. IHOP’s position, though, on homosexuality is clear: Bickle has said that gays and lesbians must “declare war” on their own sexuality, or face “flaming missiles of the Evil One.”
Since founding IHOP in 1999, Bickle has managed to persuade his many followers to drop everything else in their lives to embark on his grandiose mission. It’s a journey many abandon after disillusionment with his claims to have received ever-shifting prophecies from God, the authoritarian rigors of studying, working, and living at IHOP, and the demands of Bickle and his lieutenants that followers not question his authority.
IHOP critics and former followers point to the intensity of its requirements for young interns and students: hours spent in the prayer room, fast days, demands that they receive prophecies or talk to God, the general requirement of greater “intimacy” with Jesus, feelings of inadequacy when these ambitions can’t be achieved.
Nick Syrett, an IHOP spokesman, declined interview requests but agreed to answer questions via email. He said “the vast majority of our interns and students have a favorable response to the curriculum, the schedule, and involvement in the prayer room,” and claimed “It is rare for our leaders to give a prophecy for the future. However, if any leader gives a prophecy that does not come true, the leader must acknowledge it to the people they gave the prophecy to—that the prophecy did not come true.” (IHOP’s own website details “Visions, Revelations, and Angelic Activity from IHOPKC’s Prophetic History.”)
The intensity of the IHOP experience has led, some claim, even to foul play. Most recently, IHOP sought to distance itself from a sensational murder case in Grandview involving a group of IHOPU students living in a group house together. Bethany Deaton, who had come to Kansas City with a group of young people from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Texas in 2009, was murdered in Grandview in October 2012. Deaton’s husband, Tyler, was the spiritual leader of the Southwestern group’s house in Grandview, while he and some of the group members attended IHOP’s unaccredited “university,” IHOPU. Deaton’s former followers say he was controlling, abusive, and cult-like. After one of the housemates, Micah Moore, reportedly confessed to the murder, claiming Tyler ordered him to do it, IHOPU sought to distance itself from Tyler, claiming he was not associated with IHOPU and was not on staff. Moore is currently awaiting trial.
Several knowledgeable sources say Tyler indeed worked at IHOPU; what’s more, they say, rather than operating “independently” from IHOP, as IHOP claims, Tyler was deeply influenced by it.
“I definitely think that IHOP gave him a covering, gave a validity to his teachings, and gave us all a reason to trust him,” said Boze Herrington, who lived in the Deaton house and has accused Tyler Deaton of abusing him. “It wasn’t like they said you should follow Tyler, but everything they taught affirmed what he said.”
IHOP, these sources claim, was fully aware of Tyler Deaton’s hold over his housemates, and were concerned less with the harm caused by his behavior and more with the possibility that he was drawing his followers away from IHOP.
Charles Metteer, academic dean of IHOPU, said he was not authorized to speak about the Deaton case, as did Syrett.
“When I started IHOP I was enamored by Mike’s end-times message and the grandeur of it all,” said Kendall Beachey, who moved from Indiana to Kansas City in 2008, abandoning his college studies to become an IHOP intern. He ended up staying, and graduated in 2012 from IHOPU, which, according to promotional materials, trains “forerunner messengers” to stand against “liberal theology,” “radical Islam,” and “the mediocre expression of Christianity.”
The allure of Bickle’s teaching, said Beachey, is that his followers believe they are the heroes in his end-times vision, which is central to his theology. While it shares a general narrative with other apocalyptic end-times scenarios, Bickle’s view is post-tribulation, rather than pre-tribulation (The tribulation is the period during which, these end-times theories maintain, the Antichrist will reign over the earth, leading to wars, famines, natural disasters, and religious persecution.) Pre-tribulation, the more popularized view, such as in the Left Behind series, holds that Christians will be raptured to heaven before the Great Tribulation on earth. Bickle calls that view “unbiblical,” promising his followers that in his post-tribulation scenario “the Church will be on earth, walking in victory through the Great Tribulation. This will be the Church’s finest hour, when the power of God will be experienced in great measure, surpassing any other time in history.”
“For me,” said Beachey, “this kid who grew up in the Midwest who never had any significance, I had this storyline that gave my life an epic significance.”
Herrington, who came to IHOP with the Deaton group in early 2009, said that Bickle’s sermon at the popular “One Thing” conference in 2008, “The Coming Eschatological Revolution parts 1 and 2,” convinced the group to move to Grandview. These sermons, Herrington said, were recently removed from the website, but in them Bickle “talks about Jesus killing all the heads of state and there’s a part at the end of the first sermon where he says he saw an angel in his bedroom and had an ‘open vision’ that tanks were rolling across America,” Herrington said. Herrington briefly attended IHOPU and later worked in IHOP’s marketing and editing department, proofreading 30 years of Bickle’s teachings.
Herrington shared with me copies of these sermons which he kept before they were removed from the IHOP website. In one, Bickle said, “The day is coming when every head of state in the United Nations will be killed by the prayers of the saints answered in person by Jesus,” citing Psalm 110:5-6. Responding to anticipated objections to his depiction of a violent Jesus, Bickle added, “Let me tell you, the Jesus of Christmas, peace and goodwill, and the Jesus of Armageddon are the exact same person, and Jesus of Armageddon is executing the kings of the earth in order to establish peace on the earth, because the kings will be joining the greatest oppressor ever to raise up in human history, the Antichrist. These kings will be oppressors in unity with him, and Jesus is coming to confront oppression and drive oppression off the planet and to drive evil off the planet in relationship to the praying Church.”
In a more recent sermon, (and this one is still accessible on the internet), “The Battle for Jerusalem: Litmus Test for the End-Time Church,” which Bickle delivered at IHOP’s annual Israel Mandate Conference in June, Jesus is described as “the head of the army” and “politically the head of the nations.” The armies of the world will gather in Jerusalem, Bickle claimed, “to make war against Jesus.” The world’s “kings” and their armies “will be killed with a sword that comes from the Lord,” after which Jesus will “liberate Jerusalem.”
Some arrive in Kansas City driven by the need for acceptance, said a former IHOPU faculty member. “People have self-esteem needs, and the way they meet them is by attaching themselves to delusions of grandeur.” In this case, he said, they have the idea that “we are the people who are restoring the understanding of Christianity, we are the people who have the greater amount of revelation, we know what God is doing, what is about to come, and the rest of the church has to catch up with us.”
But that can backfire at IHOP—where there are high, possibly unattainable, expectations for demonstrating one’s devotion to God. “I’ve talked to many people who don’t feel loved,” the former faculty member said. “They feel like they’re a failure to God.”
For those who persevere and stay, the draw of IHOP’s elitism is what holds them, he added. “Implicitly it’s taught that we are the epicenter,” leading to a fear that if they leave, “they won’t have the same level of spiritual growth.”
Metteer, the IHOPU academic dean, said there is a student academic freedom policy, which was “assumed” and later put in writing in the student handbook. In his email response, Syrett said that Bickle “regularly, publicly, and strongly encourages students to question and challenge anything in his (or any other leader’s) teaching that they cannot find in the Scripture.”
A former follower, who started attending a church Bickle founded in Kansas City in 1982, said she was unable to keep up with its extensive demands once she had a family. She was initially drawn to Bickle’s use of contemplative prayer, but later began to question his claims to have received prophecies that God had given him a “mandate” to transform global Christianity from Kansas City.
Bickle’s early efforts to establish what later became the 24/7 prayer room, she said, were based on his claim that without that unceasing prayer, God would be unable to break through demonic forces in the community. Prayer warriors, then, were needed to “rebuke” and “bind” those demonic forces.
“There’s a lot, through the whole coming out of IHOP, detoxing from all of that, researching and studying and really digging into what was true and what I believed and didn’t,” said a former intern. As she researched Bickle’s teachings, she said, she found they were “about as solid as a house made out of Popsicle sticks.”
A former IHOPU student, Calvin Anderson attended the Forerunner School of Ministry at IHOPU, in the “apostolic preaching track,” where they were taught how to conduct faith healings and engage in prophesying. Anderson, although raised in a “bible belt” church, came to recognize these “prophecies” as staged. Anderson, who chose IHOPU instead of college, ran into trouble for questioning doctrine in class, in essays he wrote, and ultimately, at a conference, where he said to the congregation, “this is not what true Christianity is, and I’m embarrassed to be a part of it.”
After the conference, he presented a set of written questions to IHOP leadership. Anderson said he was told that “Satan himself” must have helped him write the questions, that he was “possessed by a demonic question-asking spirit.” IHOP wanted to send him to Texas for an “exorcism,” and then to a camp “to rebind the father’s heart,” which he refused to do. He was expelled while in his fourth semester at IHOPU, he said.
Anderson, who is gay, said “one of the reasons I was so insistent on needing that genuine miracle” was because homosexuality was considered wicked. “There was no little boy who cried and prayed more hours than me” to “get rid of it and be changed.”
Had IHOP leaders known he was gay, he said, “That would have been immediate reason for exorcism.”
When asked about Anderson’s story, IHOP spokesman Syrett said in his email, “We have no knowledge of the ‘camp’ you mention, nor do we believe that there is such as thing as a demon called a ‘question-asking spirit.’ That is a bizarre idea to us; it is unhelpful and non-biblical idea. We are happy to meet with Calvin and make it clear that we do not stand behind any such practice.”
As to other student complaints, Metteer said, “I don’t deal personally with students.”
Former IHOP followers say that Bickle and his closest protégés react to criticism by saying that “hey, IHOP isn’t for everybody,” suggesting that those who question its teachings might not be suited for its army of spiritual warriors.
“There’s an elitism, a bigotry, an egotism that comes out,” said Susan Claridge, who, with her family, attended a church Bickle pastored in St. Louis in the late 1970s. Her sister, Tammy Ridderling, who Claridge said was deeply influenced by Bickle, now runs Gateway House of Prayer in St. Louis.
Claridge, who launched a site called Stop IHOP Cult – which, like many of Bickle’s critics, uses the loaded term that, unsurprisingly, Bickle objects to – where she has collected the stories of former IHOP followers, added, “If you talk to Mike Bickle at all or Lou Engle, you can see it in them. It’s a chosen kind of thing. And all other aspects of Christianity are not.”
This elitism “tears families apart,” she said, because anyone who questions IHOP is accused of consorting with demonic forces. “I am being deceived because I don’t believe the IHOP way.” Bickle teaches, she said, “that if you are a Christ follower, then you cannot then be deceived. What that does is, if I’m a 20 year-old, and I’m sitting there, and I love Jesus, then I think I can’t be deceived—then anything I’m going told from Bickle or Engle or whoever is true.”
Her sister, Tammy Riddering, wrote in an email in response to an interview request, “I’m afraid I will not be a very good source of information for your article,” adding “Gateway Hop is not a franchise of IHOP-KC and we don’t have any financial or governmental ties to them whatsoever. What we do have are friendships, making our involvement relational.”
While some evangelicals embrace IHOP for its appeal to Millenials, other Evangelicals worry about Bickle’s excesses and his growing influence. The “brand of Pentecostalism that Bickle and his ilk represent are even further to the right of fantastical excessiveness,” said Scott Pursley, an evangelical pastor whose daughter attended but became disenchanted with IHOP. Pursley said Bickle places “too much emphasis on otherworldly things and signs and wonders and miraculous activity.” While Pursley said he believes “that God does wonderful and extraordinary things in the world,” a life defined by “chasing miracles is incredibly dangerous and stupid and ultimately disillusioning to the max.”
Holly Pivec, a former editor of the magazine at the evangelical Biola University, who has studied these charismatic movements, said, “As an evangelical, I am concerned with preaching the gospel of salvation from sin.” Pivec described IHOP’s as “the gospel of taking dominion,” which she says is “a redefined gospel.”
Pivec fears evangelical churches “mainstreaming” theologies like Bickle’s, and that of the New Apostolic Reformation, a related movement that claims to be engaging in “spiritual mapping” of communities so that prayer can be focused on driving out satanic forces, thereby “transforming” communities for Christians to exercise dominion over them.
That mainstreaming has affected the religious community in Kansas City. “You can’t live in Kansas City and have Christian friendships that haven’t been affected by IHOP,” said the former follower of Bickle’s 1980s-era church. “IHOP is pretty pervasive.”
Many of the young people, like Pursley’s daughter, learn of IHOP at their churches, but can end up cash-strapped and without the tools to function outside of the IHOP regimen. Those who want to participate in IHOP’s internship program must pay tuition; the “One Thing” internship, for example, costs $4,900 for six months. By focusing on their role in the end-times, and telling them they have an elite role in history’s most important event, said Pursley, “It’s kind of like, what’s the point of going to college? What’s the point of trying for a life in the future? There is no future. I think that’s hogwash. I’m a Christian, and I think that’s hogwash.”
Some interns stay on after six months and become “intercessory missionaries.” But even they must self-fund by raising money from friends and family. One father of an IHOP intercessory missionary said that his son, in his 20s, and who has been involved in IHOP since high school, had to raise his own money. He at one time had difficulty fundraising, and the electricity was cut off from the house where he lived with his wife and children. The father, an evangelical, claimed his son was “indoctrinated” and that he was “mortified” by what he saw in the prayer room.
Syrett said that “Most of our staff build their own financial support team of individuals who partner with them financially and in prayer,” and for staff who have difficulty raising funds, “we have strongly urged them to find a job in the community.”
The member of Bickle’s 1980s church who still lives in Kansas City said that for a young person “who really doesn’t have direction” but “really wants to do something great,” IHOP “is a perfect place for them.” But the set-up there—where many interns forego college, and then go on to IHOPU and then unpaid “staff” positions—leaves young people without the means to support their families if they leave. “They have no direction,” she said, “there are so many young adults with families, and they come out and have no skill, and they have to start all over.”
Despite all this, IHOP has earned praise from some leading evangelicals for drawing young believers closer to God at a time when these leaders worry that the younger generation is slipping away. Indeed Bickle has caused dissent in the ranks of evangelicals: Bickle’s evangelical detractors have been critical of fellow evangelicals who have embraced him, but those critics feel they hit a brick wall, that their worry goes unheeded, given Bickle’s popularity with many of their brethren.
“A lot of evangelicals think, well, I can get five senior citizens to show up at my prayer meeting,” said Beachey. “How did Mike get a bunch of 20-somethings to show up at his prayer meetings? I don’t know what he’s doing, but I want to do that.”
The role of leaders in these movements is evident in the leadership of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headed by the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, which organizes the National Day of Prayer activities on Capitol Hill each year, supported by members of Congress. One former IHOP follower told me representatives of the task force, including Vonette Bright, widow of Campus Crusade for Christ founder and evangelical icon Bill Bright, have visited IHOP and were impressed with its ability to draw in young evangelicals. The National Day of Prayer Task Force did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite controversies, IHOP, which Bickle founded in 1999, has only expanded, drawing over $5 million in revenue in 2012, according to its tax return. Along with the affiliated Friends of the Bridegroom, the two tax-exempt organizations boast over $16 million in assets. Bickle’s wife, Diane, runs a real estate firm, Glad Heart Realty, with offices in the same former shopping complex as the prayer room, which rents and sells homes to people relocating to Grandview for IHOP. While IHOP’s finances are orders of magnitude smaller than the much older and well-established evangelical powerhouse organizations like Focus on the Family or Billy Graham’s evangelistic and charitable organizations, it is far better funded than many younger, smaller ministries like it.
A significant contributor to IHOP has been the PHM Foundation, which describes itself as a “Christian grant maker” and is funded by the family of David Walter of Coppell, Texas. Walter, the founder of the health care companies Primary Health Care Associates and CareNowis a long-time donor to the Republican Party and GOP candidates and political action committees, according to campaign finance disclosures.
In 2010, 2011, and 2012, according to the PHM Foundation’s most recent tax returns, it donated $5,770,000, $3,738,500, and $2,145,000, respectively, to IHOP. In those years IHOP reported total contributions and grants as $5,700,036 for 2010, $5,659,505 for 2011, and $5,235,045 for 2012.
Daniel Walter, a spokesman for PHM, said in an email, “Our foundation contributed to the organization because of its mission to support prayer, and as you can imagine, ongoing prayer is a difficult concept to financially ‘support.’” He noted, however, that the foundation ceased making contributions to IHOP in 2012 and “we are not knowledgeable or up-to-date about their current activities.” He declined to say why PHM stopped contributing to IHOP.
As IHOP has grown, Bickle and his associates have claimed each step is a fulfillment of prophecy. When it acquired the former Truman Corners shopping center in 2008, for example, IHOP staff claimed that the sale was prophetic, because the sale was completed on the anniversary of President Truman’s recognition of the state of Israel. The story further was embellished to claim that the sellers, who were Jewish, offered the land at a lower price, implying that they, too, sought to play a part in fulfilling a prophecy of having this land once owned by President Truman placed in IHOP’s hands.
Lynn Intrater, who handled the transaction on behalf of her family’s company, said, “we have no ongoing association with IHOP nor do we endorse IHOP’s views on religion, world affairs or the state of Israel,” and the version of “how IHOP became the owner of the property” is “theirs alone.”
This prophecy is crucial to what IHOP calls its “Israel Mandate,” which it says serves “to pray for and partner with Messianic Jews who are living in Israel.” Messianic Jews—who believe that Jesus is the messiah—are tiny minority and little known in Israel, but are highly controversial to Jews in the United States. Last year, former president George W. Bush drew widespread criticism for keynoting the fundraiser of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Irving, Texas.
IHOP works with some of the leading Messianic Jewish organizations in the United States and Israel, Revive Israel and Tikkun Ministries International, and their leaders have spoken at IHOP.
That snowy night in Grandview at the Transform World Conference excited murmur rippled through the crowd as Shmuel Rosenfield, a Messianic Jewish rabbi, was introduced, Rania Sayegh, from the House of Prayer and Exploits in Nazareth, Israel, which conducts outreach to Christian Arab youth, stood with the rabbi. Rosenfield is the personification of what Bickle’s followers learn about Jews: that God’s plan is that they will “repent” from failing to see Jesus as the messiah. Bickle has said that Jews suffer from “spiritual blindness,” and that “the rabbinic Judaism hates Jesus more than Islam hates Jesus, or Buddha or Hindu, they just have this fanatical rage.” But gentiles, following his global prayer movement, will, he has said, “provoke them to jealousy in a way that turns their heart back to Jesus, back to God, say it that way, by coming to Jesus, who is God.”
And throughout the Transform World summit at IHOP, the fixation with Messianic Jews was evident. John Gere, a missionary from Israel, has brought anointing oil, a fresh harvest, he says, from olive trees in the City of David. Gere and his wife, Una, run a prayer room—an affiliate of a house of prayer in Jerusalem associated with IHOP—in the City of David, near the controversial archaeological dig where a pro-settler group that has won support from the Israeli government makes the claim that it is uncovering King David’s original city, directly beneath a Palestinian village. No direct links to King David have been found, but the City of David has become one of the top tourist destinations in Jerusalem, despite its tenuous link to its namesake.
Their prayer room is in the “original Jerusalem,” Una Gere tells me later. “It was the Jerusalem that David captured and made his capital.” When I was reporting in Jerusalem in 2012, volunteers at Succat Hallel, the house of prayer on Mount Zion, told me that the Gere’s prayer room was shrouded in secrecy, but that it was frequented by South Korean missionaries. Una Gere emphasized that their prayer room is not open to the public “because it’s in the Muslim neighborhood.”
BACK IN KANSAS, John Gere’s anointing oil on hand, summit participants washed the feet of the visitors. This was followed shortly by a lecture on the “ideological challenge” of Islam. Joshua Lingel, who also teaches at IHOPU, told the audience, “We need the church and the world to understand why Islam is a threat to humanity.” He has a singular solution: “We need them to fall in love with that man that we fell in love with, Jesus Christ.”
Bickle has claimed that the political leadership of Israel will eventually accept Jesus as the messiah as well. At the 2014 Israel Mandate Conference, in his sermon “The Battle for Jerusalem: Litmus Test for the End-Time Church,” Bickle said Jesus will “rule from Jerusalem, but only after the Jewish leadership”—meaning, he said, the government of Israel—“receives him.” Invoking Matthew 23 —considered by many theologians to be an anti-Jewish part of the gospels, Bickle said of the Jews, paraphrasing from Matthew, “Your house is left to you desolate because Jesus knew he was going to die very soon, and they were going to be leading the charge for his murder and his crucifixion,” adding that Jesus’ final prophecy was that he would not come again, “until with your mouth you say this about me, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
If you went to the Knesset today, Bickle admitted to the 2014 Israel Mandate Conference, “I’m sure that would not go over very well.” But, he went on, “there’s going to be a sudden and drastic escalation of conflict,” leading to an “outpouring of holy spirit” and “a complete shift in the view of the Israeli government about Jesus.”
Despite these anti-Jewish statements, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has been stepping up its alliances with evangelicals, has reportedly enlisted an IHOP staffer, Luis Cataldo, to serve as outreach chair and liaison to the local Christian community. Cataldo tweeted from AIPAC’s 2014 Policy Conference in Washington, DC, saying in one tweet, “#AIPAC14 just raised the bar of excellence for conferences anywhere. Evangelical Christian here to stand with Israel. Jesus is Jewish.”
Neither AIPAC’s Midwest office nor Cataldo responded to requests for comment.
On one weekend day in the IHOP prayer room early last spring, the atmosphere was intense and the unrelenting music by turns oddly mesmerizing and maddening. On any given day at IHOP, one can show up and hear eroticized lyrics set to hypnotic music, such as “Come be the fire inside of me/come be the flame inside my heart/come be the fire inside of me/until you and I are one.” But IHOP, which preaches “sexual purity,” meaning no sex outside of heterosexual marriage, denies that there are “sensual overtones in proclaiming Jesus as the Bridegroom. Jesus is not our lover or boyfriend.”
Toward the end of a two hour set on this visit, I could feel the base line reverberating in my chest cavity as the music accelerated with a gradual crescendo toward what seemed headed toward a climax, but doesn’t quite get there: “It’s your presence we’re longing for/It’s you we’re hungry for/So come/Like we’ve never seen before/Jesus we love your presence/Fill me up, God.”
All around me, young people were scouring their bibles, pacing back and forth, speaking in tongues, making entreaties with their prayers and body language. As the set drew to a close, all but one of the musicians made their exit, so the music could continue uninterrupted as new group of musicians slipped onto the stage for the next set. No one seems quite satisfied; some people leave, some people stay. And the prayers to fall in love with Jesus begin again.
Research for this article was supported by a 2012 Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion. The fellowship is a program of the University of Southern California’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion.