How Is the ‘Appeal to Heaven’ Flag at Alito’s House Linked to Christian Nationalism? - Word&Way

How Is the ‘Appeal to Heaven’ Flag at Alito’s House Linked to Christian Nationalism?

(RNS) — When The New York Times reported Wednesday (May 22) that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag had been sighted last summer at a shore house owned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, it wasn’t the first time the symbol had been linked to Christian judges and lawmakers.

A demonstrator carries a white “Appeal to Heaven” flag during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington. (Video screen grab)

The flag, which has ties to Christian Nationalism and was repeatedly spotted among rioters at the Jan. 6 insurrection, was promoted by Sarah Palin in a 2015 Breitbart opinion column, was flown over the Arkansas Statehouse in 2015 thanks to former Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, and has been displayed outside U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s congressional office.

The flag dates back to the Revolutionary War, but according to Matthew Taylor, a senior scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, the flag took on new meaning when it was embraced in 2013 by members of the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement led by self-titled modern-day apostles and prophets. It was an NAR leader who gifted the flag to Palin.

“It became this very coded symbol for this spiritual warfare campaign that’s about embracing this vision of a restoration of Christian America. Because this was soon after the Obergefell decision, the flag also became about opposing gay marriage and abortion,” Taylor told Religion News Service in an interview.

Matthew D. Taylor. (Courtesy photo)

Matthew D. Taylor. (Courtesy photo)

“The New Apostolic Reformation has proven, I would argue, over the last five to 10 years its incredible reach into the executive branch, into the legislative branch, and now we see also into the judicial branch,” said Taylor, noting that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Parker was recently found to be connected to the New Apostolic Reformation. Parker made headlines in February when he wrote a Bible-saturated concurring opinion to an Alabama high court decision that equated embryos with people.

Creator of the award-winning audio series “Charismatic Revival Fury” and author of the forthcoming book “The Violent Take It by Force,” Taylor is an expert on both the New Apostolic Reformation movement and its flag of choice. He spoke to RNS about the Appeal to Heaven flag’s links to former President Donald Trump, Christian Nationalism, and the Jan. 6 insurrection. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the origins of the Appeal to Heaven flag?

It’s a Revolutionary War flag that has a long history of being a piece of Americana. The phrase “Appeal to Heaven” comes from a treatise by the philosopher John Locke. He argues that when people appeal to unjust governments that don’t listen, they eventually make an appeal to heaven. In other words, we go to war, and we’ll let God sort it out. George Washington commissioned this flag to fly over the Massachusetts Navy, and at least according to historical sources I’ve seen, he commissioned it in 1775.

When did the flag begin to take on new meaning?

In 2013, Dutch Sheets, a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, was serving as the executive director of a charismatic, Pentecostal Bible college in Texas when he was presented with an Appeal to Heaven flag at a graduation ceremony. When Sheets received the flag, he also believed he received a prophecy that this flag was meant to be a symbol of a campaign to restore America to the Christian nation God intended. He set his sights on the 2016 election, and in 2015, he gave the flag to Sarah Palin, a longtime ally in NAR leadership networks. She wrote an op-ed arguing that government leaders need to start flying the flag over courthouses and statehouses.

Can you say more about the theology this flag came to represent?

Those in the New Apostolic Reformation believe that at the end of the 20th century, God was anointing new prophets and apostles to lead the church into global revival. A seminary professor named Peter Wagner coined this term to describe these massive campaigns that are designed to transform nations through prayer and spiritual warfare. He believed apostles and prophets are generals of spiritual warfare. Another leader, named Lance Wallnau, came into the network bringing this idea of the Seven Mountain Mandate.

You can divide society up into these seven spheres of authority: religion, family, government, education, media, arts and entertainment, and commerce. And Christians need to conquer each of those seven arenas to let Christian influence flow down into society. Over time, the seven mountains became a political theology, and the NAR became the vanguard of Christian Trumpism. Notably, Sheets was obsessed with the Supreme Court.

All NAR leaders know that if you want to find a lever to change American policy, it’s the Supreme Court. And these fringe characters that have glommed onto Trump, their ideas have become so popular, they have really brought about a tectonic shift in the culture and leadership of the religious right in America within the last decade.

At what point did the flag become linked to Trump?

When Donald Trump became the Republican candidate, people started attaching it to him. They even started a big NAR prayer movement in 2015 called the As One prayer movement, and the movement’s symbol was the Appeal to Heaven flag, the evergreen tree. This was an organized campaign. Throughout the Trump presidency, the flag became a symbol for Trump, for Christian America, for this insurgent Christian Nationalism. And by the time you got to 2020, you had hundreds of charismatic prophets all prophesying that Donald Trump was destined to win this election.

Dutch Sheets very much believed these prophecies and that the 2020 election was a matter of spiritual warfare. In the fall of 2020, Donald Trump went to a Las Vegas megachurch led by an apostle who, as he was preaching, pulled out an Appeal to Heaven flag and said, “We’re going to appeal to heaven for your victory.” Someone in the crowd shot a photo of the apostle onstage holding the Appeal to Heaven flag with Donald Trump’s head silhouetted in the foreground, and it went viral.

So the Appeal to Heaven symbol is very closely linked to Trump and the 2020 campaign and what people believe about these prophecies.

Is that why you saw so many Appeal to Heaven flags displayed by rioters on Jan. 6?

When the election was called for Joe Biden and Trump refused to concede, almost all the prophets began saying God would have to intervene. Dutch Sheets converted his Give Him 15 prayer app into a YouTube show that became a clearinghouse for all the conversations about overturning the election, and Sheets was constantly infusing this Appeal to Heaven idea.

There was always an Appeal to Heaven flag in the background. Shortly after the election, Sheets met with people from the Trump administration who encouraged him to lead a prayer campaign in the swing states. He mobilized about 20 apostles and prophets to go to the contested states and hold these very intense prayer and prophecy meetings in megachurches. This was all part of this building fever pitch toward Jan. 6.

In late December, Dutch and this team of prophets and apostles had a two-hour meeting at the White House with unnamed officials. Some of the members who were there later said they received strategy from the highest levels of the government, and issued prophetic declarations inside the White House. A number of NAR prophets and apostles, including one who was at the White House, were there on Jan. 6.

They had a stage set up with a microphone and PA system just off the southeast corner of the Capitol during the riot, and they were singing worship songs, prophesying, and wearing Appeal to Heaven flags. As the riot started, the NAR leaders became anxious and asked Sheets, who was elsewhere, to prophesy over the Capitol over speakerphone. I argue in my book that Dutch Sheets did more to mobilize Christians to be there on Jan. 6 than any other Christian leader.

It’s not a coincidence that you see Appeal to Heaven flags all over the place on Jan. 6. We know that at least one rioter wore an Appeal to Heaven flag inside the Capitol as a cape. When the FBI went to arrest him later, they found the Appeal to Heaven flag spattered with blood and mace. We can see in one video as the crowds breach the barricades, somebody with an Appeal to Heaven flag using that flagpole to beat down a police officer.

What’s in store for the New Apostolic Reformation in 2024?

NAR folks are mobilizing for the 2024 election. All of those prophecies about Donald Trump having a second term are still out there. When we think about the role Donald Trump is playing in American politics, this quasi-messianic aura that’s attached to him, I don’t think you can understand that without understanding the NAR.

Donald Trump has become a type of savior to many American Christians, and they have attached immense spiritual hope to him. And they believe fervently that the last election was stolen from them by demons. Donald Trump has these armies of Christians, prayer warriors, prophets who have backstopped his political career using charismatic theology, prophecies, and spiritual warfare.

But what we saw on Jan. 6 was that at some point, spiritual warfare tips over into actual violence. And I am very concerned about the election we are barreling toward. Are these folks going to accept election results if Trump loses? And if Trump wins, in their mind they have conquered. They have free rein to enact their vision of a Christian America.