Reframing the Trump Prophecies: When Prophecy Fails

Julia Duin, who has a long history of stellar religion writing, yesterday published at Politico a deep dive into the world of Trump prophets and prophecies.  I urge you to take the time to read it. The business of the charismatic church right now is in disarray because the prophets can’t get their prophecies straight. Some think Trump is about to return to the throne and others think those prophets are foolish.

I am not very bothered by this. I have never had much confidence  in modern day prophets. Although I think some of them are good guessers, I doubt any of them have an inside line on God’s will. They all wanted Trump to win so badly that they groupthought their way into near unanimous predictions of a Trump landslide. They were listening to each other, not God or the majority of Americans who were fed up with the Narcissist in Chief.

Some like Jeremiah Johnson can admit this, but others like Johnny Enlow and Greg Locke are providing evidence for cognitive dissonance theorists. The key source for understanding reaction to prophecy discomfirmation is Leon Festinger’s book, When Prophecy Fails. Festinger and his co-authors describe the distress true believers experience when their prophecies fail. I can also recommend in Religion Dispatches a nice summary of more recent work of prophecy disconfirmation which provides a fuller account of the bizarre reactions to prediction failure.

Magnitude of the Dissonance

Let me share a short portion from When Prophecy Fails:

Theoretically, what is the situation of the individual believer
at the pre-disconfirmation stage of such a movement? He has a
strongly held belief in a prediction – for example, that Christ will return -a belief that is supported by the other members of the movement. By way of preparation for the predicted event, he has engaged in many activities that are entirely consistent with his belief. In other words, most of the relations among relevant cognitions are, at this point, consonant.

Now what is the effect of the disconfirmation, of the unequivocal fact that the prediction was wrong, upon the believer? The disconfirmation introduces an important and painful dissonance. The fact that the predicted events did not occur is dissonant with continuing to believe both the prediction and the remainder of the ideology of which the prediction was the central item. The failure of the prediction is also dissonant with all the actions that the believer took in preparation for its fulfillment. The magnitude of the dissonance will, of course, depend on the importance of the belief to the individual and on the magnitude of his preparatory activity.

In the type of movement we have discussed, the central belief
and its accompanying ideology are usually of crucial importance in the believers’ lives and hence the dissonance is very strong and very painful to tolerate.

Festinger predicts that the magnitude of the dissonance generated by prophecy disconfirmation will hinge on the importance of the belief to the individual. He says the person’s central belief and accompanying ideology are of crucial importance. As is very obvious for all to see, the dissonance for the Trump prophets is “very strong and very painful to tolerate.” For Trump prophets, it appears that their central ideology is about Trump being in charge. Instead of Christ, they have put their trust in Trump.

The focus on Trump at all costs is what is so frustrating to other charismatics like Michael Brown. Brown and some others are forming a rival group of prophets who know the election is over and, despite their apparent belief in predicting other futures, are trying to keep some real in reality. From Duin’s Politico article:

In a December 15 article, Michael Brown, a longtime charismatic revivalist and scholar in Charlotte, North Carolina, had sharp words, warning co-religionists: “There is no reality in which Trump actually did win but in fact didn’t win. … To entertain possibilities like this is to mock the integrity of prophecy and to make us charismatics look like total fools.”

In his interview with Duin, Brown seems to describe well the primary ideology held by the Trump prophets:

 “How did we become so politicized?” he wonders. “How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader, compromise our ethics for a seat at the table and drape the Gospel in an American flag?”

Actually, Brown should know the answer to this in that he often defended Trump against criticism during his term. However, he now sees accurately the result. Reality is here. Trump lost. For some, however, Trump became so integral to their religion that they can’t quit him. They can’t see reality without him. The dissonance is to great. To recognize Trump’s loss might do damage to their faith in God.

At some point very soon, there will be a final disconfirmation. Some will go quietly. Some will accept reality. Some will blame the Satanic forces of their ideological opponents. While I doubt any of these public preachers will give up the gravy train of their ministry, many every day Christians who have been hoodwinked by these false prophets might indeed resolve the dissonance by deciding that none of that god stuff was ever true and become another casualty of the Trumpvangelical transformation.

39 thoughts on “Reframing the Trump Prophecies: When Prophecy Fails”

    1. there is still 8 1/2 hours for it to happen (11 1/2 if they live on the west coast).

      1. Oh, I thought the Second Coming was meant to be on the 4th (i.e. yesterday). 😉

        1. the “true” inauguration would happen on the 4th (“secretly”) then he would take back office on the 5th.

          1. Oh I see! Hahahaha … (If the implications for constitutional government of this whole thing were not so serious, it would just be a comic farce – useful only for belly laughs.)

          2. it is funny until some moron shows up with a gun to “free children” from a non-existent basement.

      2. and by “happen” I mean for the excuses as to why the predictions once again didn’t come true.

  1. Well, a week today, we will have seen yet another failed ‘prophecy’.

    The Party of Trump seems to be becoming addicted to failure and defeat. In the short term, it’s perhaps not such a bad thing, but in the longer run an effective (which includes being sane) opposition is important for the health of democracy.

  2. I’m glad to see some of these “prophets” admitting their mistake… I have a die-hard trumpist friend who, at least in the past, would have looked up to/followed someone like Michael Brown. Whether or not his pushback against the trumpist conspiracists will dent my friends trump devotion or not, remains to be seen. (I plan to ask him sometime). But maybe, just maybe a few will begin to self-assess because someone that is generally in their tribe begins to turn on the party line? Hoping and praying they do.

  3. I’m just going to note that in 2008, there was a similar bunch of prophets who fervently believed that John McCain was going to win. This was before Facebook opened up, Twitter was still small and YouTube was only two years old. The prophecies were posted on this one guy’s website and as it got closer to the election, the predictions got more frenzied.

    Well McCain lost and what happened next was that the guy who ran the site was too depressed to post anything anymore, and then he took down the site. It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t scoop up the prophecies.

    1. That Trump’s ‘second coming’ is predicted for March gives some wonderful opportunities for ‘fake news’ on April Fools’ Day! I am hoping that a certain accomplished blogger will entertain us appropriately … 😉

      1. March 4, the REAL Inauguration Day.
        Sounds like they’re also mixing in Sovereign Citizen dogma.

        1. I have come the conclusion that Qanon is what happened when the Satanic Panic and the Sovereign Citizen movement got together and had a kid.

  4. Now all of the “religious leaders” are having to make up excuses (rationalizations) for why Trump didn’t get re-elected. Ex. it was satan (or demons) that were responsible (missing the fact they are basically saying satan is more powerful than god). Or Scott Lively claiming it was because Trump wasn’t anti-gay enough. Anything to deflect from the truth, which is that none of them actually have a clue what god really wants.

    1. Just like the post-Afghanistan doubling down that al-Qaeda and the Taliban were defeated because they weren’t Islamic enough. (And those who taught this made sure they wouldn’t make the same mistake.)

  5. “How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader…”

    *Almost?!* My irony meter just exploded.
    The answer is: You chose the Pharisee over the Publican, as usual.

    1. “Who is like unto The Trump? Who can stand against Him?”
      — Revelation 13:4, present-day application

  6. These alleged “prophets” need to understand that Biblically, the primary role of the prophetic gift is to speak God’s truth to power — to communicate a challenging message from God to people who often don’t want to hear it. Occasionally that involved saying what God was going to do in the future (perhaps if the people did not repent), but foretelling the future was at most secondary. So MLK Jr. had a prophetic gift — these guys, not so much.

  7. I agree with Warren. I find that in many cases Evangelicals (esp Pentecostals) utter prophesies based on what they ‘want’ to have happen in the same ways that they interpret the Bible. In other words it’s not really a prophecy but a projection of their own desires and hopes onto a so-called utterance from God.

  8. Jeremiah Johnson would be the first one to say that all of this Trump prophecy of triumph was fake. He wrote a book about the excesses in the Prophetic Movement. I read it and yet he does not go far enough in his criticisms. Prophet has never been a money making vocation except for the false prophets who outnumber the real 100:1. In his case his mentor participated in this b.s. Sandford originally said that Trump would lose unless he repented, which means STOP!, being unnecessarily rude and riling up his opponents without good reason. Trump was the rudest presidential candidate of my lifetime. I think he did far more to energize his opponents and shoot himself in the foot then any other president I have seen.

    But, Sandford later contradicted himself by jumping on the bandwagon of not only saying Trump would win but all of the craziness due the The Virus would quickly disappear after Trump won. Epic Fail is what happened when he “got ready to prophecy.” At least he issued a big public apology after realizing he was wrong. He did not go far enough in that as “taking Thy Name in Vain” is one of the original 10 absolute no-no’s! God told the Israelites to kill those that did what Sandford did! The Fear of God I find to be absolutely missing in the whole movement. Thou Shalt Not Put Words in My Mouth was the essential meaning of the Commandment. It was not about cussing although that is not a good idea either…

    1. I fear many of these ‘prophets’ are motivated by the desire (a) for attention and (b) to control others’ thinking. There is, I believe, a measure of psychopathy behind their activity.

      Oh, and there’s the money too, of course – though that flows from the attention and control. Perhaps some of the most telling words in the Politico article are these: ‘ He [Johnson] also said he was losing financial support “every hour and counting.” ‘

      True prophecy is about elucidating God’s purposes to others and only for their good. It is a gift to be passed on as gifts to others, to nourish their souls and strengthen them for service. This ‘predicting the future’ stuff is for the most part silly old nonsense.

      As for the most important ‘future event’ of them all: guessing when that will happen is, of course, a total waste of time. See Mark 13 : 32 etc.

      1. I agree with this, especially (a) and (b.) At the last big church I went to, one friends were attending, I met a couple who were very, very into Cheap Grace and hyper-fake spiritual events in this Neo-Charismatic kind. They did not work but were living off of the generosity of someone in that church. They knew this “prophet” who was in this vein of what Johnson calls Horoscope Prophecy. I decided to test this friend of his living in another state by giving the other guy the written account of the second time I saw Jesus in a dream. The dream is one of the most basic and straightforward ones I ever had. It was just Jesus giving me the money to live on plus good things on the side for me to share with my wife. The false prophet missed all that and attempted to do both a and b by saying my thinking was wrong and that I needed to think like him. The man had left his wife without divorcing her, a problem some of the Pharisees had in Jesus’ day, and was living with another woman who was not his wife. The fruit was evident.

        Soon after that the event happened where that church invited a man representing the Voice of the Martyrs in India to teach midweek for six weeks in a row. That event and my response ended up getting published on Todd Wilhelm’s blog.

        1. Certainly the OT prophets often focused on very “basic and straightforward” stuff: care for the fatherless and widow springs at once to mind … Indeed, so much of their visionary thinking concerned reaching for a society without injustice.

          Even their prophecies about the forthcoming Messiah were very much about the present: what God would do in the future was also a statement about who God IS (and always has been and always will be). All truthful prophecies* have eternal and universal significance. And sometimes that significance is very “straightforward”: that God will provide for our needs according to his will.

          *Apologies for the redundancy: any prophecy worthy of the description is of course truthful! Otherwise is not a prophecy, but merely an utterance – like that about the second coming of Trump next month!

    2. Ironically, Sandford just released another bulletin after his apology that comes short of apologizing for breaking one of the 10 commandments. I scanned through it and now he is calling for people like him to stop doing what he did. A kind of get back to the Bible and basics of discipleship and cut the other nonsense thing. I suppose that is at least something. I still expect him to jump back into the fray in short order. These guys have a terrible track record of keeping up consistent fruit of repentance from Matt. 3:8. To me that fruit would be not to ever send out another “Prophetic Bulletin” again. Whatever the guy is a Prophet he is certainly not!

  9. As spartan and unadorned as it is, every day I find new reasons to appreciate the wisdom of the Buddha. The Buddhistic teaching to focus on the present moment is to disaffirm the need to foretell the future (which only exists conceptually, per the Buddha) and to avoid the construction of theistic notions which beget future-centric religions which forget to minister to present day suffering. A basic understanding of Buddhism and a healthy skepticism of man-made Christian theology is a good start on recognizing that future-savior doctrinal understanding and attendant prophecy fixation is a good way to disavow Christ in ways a child can see. No prophetic-centric Christianity, no Trump.

    I was raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination that got its start in 1844 when a world-ending prophecy didn’t happen, so I take this evangelical Christianity-Trump-QAnon-cult stuff with a paradoxical mixture of PTSD terror and amusement. Thank god for a father who modeled a way to leave a cult/cult-lite tribe. See YouTube and plug in “Bill Maher and William Miller” in the search bar for further reference.

    P.S.–Keep up the good work, Warren!

    1. I remember a long-ago SDA End Time Prophecy book titled What Jesus Said.

      All I can say in retrospect is the SDAs had a unique take on the Book of Revelation. Same proof text quotes as Hal Lindsay, radically different choreography.

      1. I’m 58, and however many years ago the wheels were falling off Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill church is when it became clear to me that I suffered from religious/spiritual abuse which the mental health field had started to regard as its own set of signs and symptoms. That’s when I found Warren whom I credit and appreciate for helping me to find my bearings, as the Mars Hill mess conjured an emotional destruction from my SDA experiences I needed to address.

        Ironically, the original site Mars Hill leased, to my understanding, is the former John Danz Theater in Bellevue, Washington, the first theater, according to faded memory, in which, at the age of 8, I saw the 1970 movie SCROOGE with Albert Finney and Alec Guiness as Marley’s ghost. Though I never attended Mars Hill and had not stepped inside the old John Danz Theater in over 40 years, the pallor and the levitating rage of Marley frightened me indelibly and somehow inspired a kinship with the faction of Mars Hill members who were traumatized in deeper ways than I in that same theater by Driscoll and his enablers, all of whom I met through Warren’s dogged, important coverage.

        I don’t mean to digress nor ruminate upon the past except to reveal that my memory is sound in some areas but blank in others. While I attended SDA educational institutions from 1st grade through a 4-year degree and endured countless compulsory Bible classes, chapels, prayer meetings, camp meetings, evangelical series, “Revelation Seminars,” etc., my memory surrounding this education, these experiences, the indoctrination, that period is virtually absent of details. I do have a basic familiarity with the name “Hal Lindsay,” and how he seemed to operate in the margins of SDA dogma, but I couldn’t tell you more than that. About as much as I could produce for someone is that I think there are 66 books in the Bible but would have to give it long thought about which book belongs in which testament.

        It strikes me that memories I associate with religious/spiritual trauma have gone dark as a self-preservation effort. That’s really the only point I wanted to make, that and I think it’s fine work to identify the “wolves,” of which there are, perhaps, more than we ever thought. When I see that effort being made, it helps me to heal. Thank you, again, Warren.

  10. The heart of the problem begins with the casual and cavalier way in which these so-called “prophets” touted themselves and were believed and promoted by gullible evangelicals in the first place. A person with any depth of Christian faith should know that to claim to speak for God is a very serious thing with enormous scriptural requirements for truth and character, and serious consequences for fraud. But over the decades evangelicalism has cheapened everything so much that even prophecy and prophets don’t have to pretend to meet biblical standards; they exist more on the level of a publicity stunt.

    1. These false prophets are counting on U.S. White-Nationalists (their target audience) knowing little to nothing at all about actual biblical perspectives on fraud, bearing false witness, false prophecy, and taking God’s name in vain. Reading the bible requires hermeneutical skills of contemplation, interpretation, and textual analysis—such intellectual activity is deeply offensive to U.S. White-Nationalists and other Trumpvangelicals.

      No wonder false prophecy is so popular among these Evangelicals. I am thankful for Dr. Throckmorton’s blog posting.

  11. It’s enough to put anyone off religion …

    (The Politico article is interesting. I’m not at all confident about any attempts to ‘regulate’ ‘prophecy’ – much better just to stop trying to predict the future, and work to shape it as best we may. We all know what the great challenges are, and we should know what are true Christian principles. That’s all we need … ‘Predicting-the-future’ so-called prophecy should simply be regarded as pointless.)

    1. Not much different from the Celebrity Psychic Predictions in National Enquirer/Weekly World News every New Years. With a similar hit rate.

  12. Those yet prophesying Trump’s ultimate return (or is he there now?) are perhaps more often associated with Q-anon hangers-on. They simply won’t believe a Democrat won, because they’re all evil, baby-eating pedophiles. We live in a country where a good portion cannot evaluate the true metal of a man nor discern truthful statements. I’m half afraid this might be due to our educational systems not teaching critical thinking.

  13. Calling those idiots “prophets” illustrates that the for profit ‘big christianity” has no concept of the gift of prophecy. If they did, most of these frauds would run from any possibility of being a prophet. Because they are, basically, cowards, and it takes incredible courage to be a prophet..

Comments are closed.