Monday, April 22, 2013

Saturday at the Hilltop Conference: First Impressions

To read about a Hilltop Conference talk by  Faytene Grasseschi of TheCry and Benjamín Núñez of VENPRONTO, click here. To read about George Otis Jr.'s talk on societal decline, click here. To read about Lou Engle at the conference, click here.

On Saturday, April 13th, I observed the Hilltop Conference at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn in Arlington, Virginia. Sponsored by the anti-abortion group Bound 4 Life and the Justice House of Prayer D.C.(a Washington D.C. ministry with ties to the International House of Prayer and TheCall), the Hilltop Conference was a two-day gathering of music, ecstatic prayer, and faith-related talks. Among the speakers were Lou Engle of TheCall, George Otis Jr. of the Sentinel Group, Faytene Grasseschi of the Canadian ministry TheCRY, and many more.

Writing at the Bound 4 Life Blog, JHOP D.C. director Matt Lockett spoke of the Hilltop Conference as a "continental convergence" for North America. He was likely referring to speakers who heralded from Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
"Leading into the gathering, I had felt the Lord was prompting me to invite leaders from both Mexico and Canada. I didn’t fully understand what the Lord wanted to do, but I had sensed that He wanted to create a synergy in prayer for LIFE in all three nations. As I discussed this with my Canadian friend Faytene Grasseschi, director of TheCRY Movement, she said, “This sounds like some kind of ‘continental convergence.’” Immediately, I knew God was after a three-fold cord among our nations in which we would bless one another and contend for each other’s destinies. Life for North America!

Acts 17 tells us the Lord determined the boundaries of the nations before they rose and fell, and we know that He has selected Canada and Mexico to be the “neighbors” we are to love as ourselves. Already JHOP DC and Bound4LIFE have experienced the benefit of the profound generosity of our brothers and sisters from Canada and Mexico. Now we have the opportunity to contend and sow generously back into our sister, Canada."

Approximately 200 people were in attendance, and I was immediately struck by the diversity of the attendees. I was under the impression that JHOP mainly targeted young adults, so I was surprised to see attendees of all ages. Moreover, the conference sported white, black, Asian, and Hispanic participants in healthy numbers. Whether this was a reflection of the racial diversity of the Washington D.C. region, or the result of JHOP outreach to diverse populations, I don't know.

In the main conference hall, merchants sold books, DVDs, and outreach materials by Lou Engle, George Otis Jr., and Bound 4 Life. At the front of the hall was a stage on which worship musicians played long sets of worship music before speakers gave their talks. These musical sets could last 30 minutes to an hour, during which worshipers would sit rapt, sway, jump, or dance to the music. The music consisted of the droning, hypnotic worship songs I'd heard at other New Apostolic Reformation events, with slow, gentle lows and ecstatic, fast-paced highs. The fact that these ecstatic worship sessions always preceded talks made me wonder if they were intended to put attendees in a highly emotional, receptive state of mind before speakers preached their messages. Whatever the intended effect, the place was jumping!

Later, when I told a friend about the music afterwards, he likened its high and low rhythms to a sine wave, speculating that the highs and lows were intended to induce a mesmerizing effect. The lows would lull worshipers into a sense of safety and peace, while the highs would induce ecstasy. He encouraged me to conduct an experiment the next time I found myself at an ecstatic prayer gathering. "Plug your ears and watch what the other people are doing," he said. "Then, unplug your ears, close your eyes, and listen to the music. If the rhythm of the music and the worshipers matches, they're responding to the music. If not, all the jumping and dancing is an expected response."

* * * * * * *

Watching the participants during ecstatic prayer, as well as eavesdropping on conversations, proved interesting. I distinctly remember a red-haired woman, kneeling on the ground with her arms outstretched as worship music poured through the conference hall. During one especially ecstatic prayer session, I watched a forty-something man jumping up and down for several minutes, swept up in spiritual excitement.

Between talks, I overheard bits of a conversation between two men in a nearby row, musing on what they'd drawn from the conference. 'God's got a mission for us, so we've just got to do what God asks of us," one man said. The spiritual excitement, uninhibited worship displays, and unquestioning acceptance of a divine mission were not limited to the youth, but were the bread and butter of believers of all ages at the event.

* * * * * * *

On the exhibit table, amidst Life Bands and worship music CDs were books and pamphlets by the conference speakers. While at the Hilltop Conference, I picked up reading materials such as the Bound4LIFE Field Guide and The Call of the Elijah Revolution: The Passion for Radical Change by James W. Goll and Lou Engle. The Call of the Elijah Revolution begins with a forward by Dutch Sheets stating that America is caught in the grip of Baal. Sheets laments that "the Baal spirit" pervades nearly every dimension of modern society, and he blames the Baal spirit for "every ungodly and immoral movement" in the U.S., including abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. God, he argues, wants believers to sever their ties to Baal and honor their covenant with God. Christians are not at the mercy of "ungodly" politicians, atheists, humanists, or the gay community, Sheets insists, reassuring believers that God will predicate his actions on what believers decide to do.

The Call of the Elijah Revolution calls on "holy revolutionaries" to engage in intercessory prayer and fasting while opposing "false ideologies" such as abortion, violence, and general moral decay. These modern-day Elijahs, the book claims, have been entrusted with revival and spiritual renewal. The book encourages spiritual mentoring among believers, collaboration between different generations of believers, and passionate spiritual devotion.

To my consternation, the book devoted a chapter to the Jezebel and Ahab spirits, described as demonic entities who have corrupted the American landscape. Ahab and Jezebel were a corrupt king and queen from 1 Kings 16-22, but New Apostolic Reformation preachers also refer to them as demons. The chapter lambastes "prophets of Baal" under Jezebel's influence, including New Age gurus, secular humanists, proponents of pluralism, pagans, and forces in the entertainment industry that produce corrupting music and television shows. The chapter did not speak of demonic influences symbolically or allegorically; it warned that literal demonic forces were saturating society. Lou Engle has spoken of Jezebel as a demonic spirit in several public talks (see here and here for examples), as has GOD TV co-founder Wendy Alec in a "prophesy" posted online.

Bound 4 Life banner at
the Hilltop Conference
The Bound4LIFE Field Guide stresses the importance of intercessory prayer to end abortion, explaining the purpose of the Life Band, Silent Sieges (silent anti-abortion demonstrations) and the red LIFE tape that Bound 4 Life supporters wear on their mouths. The field guide also defined Bound 4 Life terminology, laid out the principles of the Bound 4 Life effort, and discussed strategies and logistics for conducting Silent Sieges.

On the final two pages of the field guide were anti-abortion statistics, which annoyed me for several reasons. First, the field guide offers statistics for "babies being aborted" or "babies who died from abortion", instead of "pregnancies terminated" or "fetuses aborted". Second, many of the statistics were presented without citations. Finally, several statistics were controversial. For example, the field guide claimed that only 1.7% of abortions were performed to preserve the health or life of the mother, and only 0.3% were due to rape, leaving 98% of abortions due to "inconvenience" or being "unwanted". I raise an eyebrow to this statistic, given that rates of rape-related and high-risk pregnancy are substantially higher than suggested here. One study found that the per-incident rate of pregnancy resulting from rate was 6.42%, compared to 3.1% for consensual sex. According to a 2010 article in Contraception, 19% of women surveyed had experienced pregnancy coercion. Yet another study of women seeking protection orders found that 20% of respondents had experienced a rape-related pregnancy. Given that rape-related pregnancy is not uncommon, especially among vulnerable populations such as domestic violence victims, I seriously question Bound 4 Life's claim that only 0.3% of abortions are due to rape.

What is the field guide trying to imply by insisting that few abortions are due to health concerns or rape, and that most are unwanted or "inconvenient"? That abortion is somehow unnecessary? Even if these statistics were sound, would that somehow undermine the right of women to control their own bodies? Shoehorning all abortions into rape-related, health-related, or "inconvenient" also oversimplifies the reasons why women experience unwanted pregnancies. What about cases of birth control sabotage by a controlling partner? What about non-viable or severely deformed fetuses? What about women and families who lack the economic and psychological resources to deal with an unwanted pregnancy? The Bound4LIFE Field Guide left me shaking my head.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Hilltop Conference! I'll be posting commentary on talks by George Otis Jr., Netz Gómez, Benjamín Nunez, and Lou Engle.

For more information on the Hilltop Conference, click here.

For more information on the Justice House of Prayer, click here.

For more information on Bound 4 Life, click here.


  1. Thanks again for being our reporter at large. I didn't know about the music/chanting. Sounds a little like the Holy Rollers. Very disturbing.

    1. Donna -- You're very welcome. I had mixed feelings about the ecstatic prayer. On one hand, the worshippers looked like they were having the time of their lives, and it was fun to observe. On the other hand, I suspected that the natural "high" they were feeling was a strategy to make them more receptive to the preaching.

  2. Would that they expressed the same concern for little kids who don't get a breakfast, have no place to play after school, live in substandard housing, can't go to college, and on and on and on. Or how about contraceptive care? Or women's contraceptive health? Oh yeah they are anti PPP. What hypocrites!

    1. Sherry -- I wish anti-abortion people in general would devote half as much passion to helping post-womb kids as they do to opposing abortion. I also wish they'd focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place through contraception access, quality sex education, and other measures, like you said.

    2. I have to admit I don't see their position as even Biblical. As with homosexuality, they choose to focus on particular "sins" (if abortion is even a it Biblically so clear?) which instill emotions (disgust, marteral/paternal feelings, etc)

    3. Brian -- Yeah, they do tend to focus on high-emotion issues rather than important but less emotionally stirring matters. As for abortion, the Bible really doesn't condemn it. In one passage (Numbers 5:11-31), it even commands that a woman suspected of adultery drink an abortion-inducing substance, but I don't hear anti-abortion Christians mentioning that passage much.

  3. The Call of the Elijah Revolution calls on "holy revolutionaries" to engage in intercessory prayer and fasting

    If they could only get 200 people from an entire continent, and their strategy for achieving change is to just mumble to themselves and stop eating, I'm not too worried about this bunch. The ideology is as offensive as ever, though.

    I'd add a line to your "What about....." paragraph on the "Field Guide": What about just minding their own damn business where other people's reproductive biology is concerned? Regardless of why a woman wants an abortion, who are these busybodies to second-guess her? They're not her.

    The lady in the bottom picture appears to be using their propaganda as a barf bag, which would be understandable.

    1. Infidel -- Aye, their anti-abortion propaganda gets tiresome after a while. I wonder if New Apostolic Reformation Christians realize how outsiders see them?

  4. Nutters.

    And if they want us to be their neghbours, they'd better start spelling it with that "u"!! ;)

    1. Knatolee -- Gotta love Canadian English! :)

  5. From experience:
    - yes the music induced trance is really cool and comparable to a drug high,
    and yes, it makes people more susceptible to brainwashing.

    - people who pray don't just pray. They protest. They vote. (And tell others how to vote) They write to MPs. They give money. They tell as many people as they can what they believe. They get their kids out of sex-ed. They try and replace sex-ed with abstinence propaganda. They instill shame in their children so that if they have an unplanned pregnancy, they feel pressured to carry to term or feel horribly guilty if they abort.
    - and some of those children will end up pro-choice and sex-positive anyways, but need therapy :)

    1. Prairie Nymph -- Great observations. As I watched people in spiritual ecstacy, it was disconcerting to realize that their emotions and political views were being so blatantly manipulated. Inducing a natural "high" in people and telling them it's God is bad enough, but using it for other ends is unsettling.

      I wonder how many of them will wake up from this someday, realizing what it was all really about.

  6. On the plus side, I'm reading a book called Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion by Marc Galanter, and it has studies that show how trance-like states from cultish practices do mimic the effects of drugs and can be used to wean addicts off of the chemical addictions. Although they are then addicted to the spiritual practice and group that helped generate them. Hmm. Additionally, they create guilt when the subject leaves (or thinks of leaving) the group which drugs are not capable of doing.


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