Prophetic Discernment in an Age of Disinformation Part Three
© Phil Mason January 2021
“We live in a political world Where peace is not welcome at all It’s turned away from the door to wander some more Or put up against the wall.”
– Bob Dylan: Political World, [Oh Mercy 1989]
In this series we have been tracing the current upsurge of political disinformation and its impact upon the church. In Part Two I sought to explore the nature of the invisible spirit beings who drive and energize political agendas and the way these powers negatively impact believers when they immerse themselves in partisan politics. In this article I want to dig a little deeper to uncover even further the unique spirits that operate behind the political veil. When it comes to power politics, we would be foolish to ignore the biblical revelation that ideologies are empowered by invisible spirit beings. Many of us may be aware of a recent proliferation of conspiracy theories. We’re not imagining it! Whilst there have always been bizarre conspiracy theories that circulate on the fringes of our culture, there has been a massive upsurge in these theories in the past few years with a number of them going mainstream. When it comes to the subject of political disinformation there is nothing more noteworthy than the power of a conspiracy theory to ignite people’s fears of hidden government agendas to control the populace. Conspiracy theories, more than anything, lead the way in trafficking in disinformation.
One of the most influential theories has come to light is the current QAnon movement. Whilst it is not my purpose to explain this theory in any detail, I do want to highlight it because it has been adopted by millions of people who are susceptible to fanciful far right ideologies. The theory emerged in 2017, one year into Trump’s presidency. In a nutshell, it revolves around the alleged existence of a cabal of ‘deep state’ Satanists who control the left-wing political agenda and who are heavily involved in child sex trafficking. Amongst those who embrace the theory, Trump is seen as a heroic figure who is intentionally working to ‘drain the swamp’ of these dark and sinister forces. But there is widespread pushback from the deep state to resist his attempts to rescue the children who are being trafficked. The theory is perpetrated by a mysterious figure who identifies himself as ‘Q.’ This alleged White House insider releases somewhat cryptic clues to his followers, revealing what is really going on inside the Trump administration. If you want to find out more about this conspiracy theory, there have been numerous insightful online articles written to expose the dark conspiratorial mindset of its many followers.
Beyond the content of this particular theory, I am more concerned with what drives conspiracy theories? As I have considered this question, I have reached the conclusion that it is driven by a very unique and ancient spirit of deception. Paul warned us about deceiving spirits that propagate unique deceptions that have the power to co-opt unwary Christians. “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that come from demons. These teachers are hypocrites and liars.” (1 Timothy 4:1,2 NLT) As I have been exploring the seductive power of these current conspiracy theories, I have seen a convergence of two unique spirits that have been targeting the hearts of God’s people. First, there has been a deliberate attack upon the church by a ‘political spirit’ and secondly, by a ‘gnostic spirit’ and these two spirits have combined forces to cook up a potent mix of deception. These are actual spirit beings that would fall under Paul’s definition of invisible ‘powers’ (Ephesians 6:12) with whom the church is wrestling in this unique season. Without a doubt I believe it is a gnostic spirit that drives and energizes the propagation of conspiracy theories. My purpose is to first explain the operation of the political spirit, followed by an explanation of the operation of the gnostic spirit. Then I want to follow up by explaining what happens when these two spirits team up together.
The Political Spirit
The political spirit is a spirit of strife and division.
When Christians comes under the power of a political spirit they are dragged down into an earthly political battle where they end up fighting flesh and blood instead of fighting principalities and powers. Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Sometimes partisan politics descends into an all-out war where those on the opposite side of the political divide become mortal ‘enemies.’ The political spirit stirs up intense enmity and it ignites unholy passions to defeat the enemy at all costs. It is this heated passion and rage that entices people to resort to the use disinformation.
It is the nature of politics to deliberately portray political enemies in the worst possible light.
Someone energized by this spirit deliberately searches out weaknesses and flaws in the arguments or the character of their political opponents, where they are enticed to step into an alignment with the spirit of accusation. Satan is revealed in the Bible as the ‘accuser.’ Uncovering ‘dirt’ on your enemy is the way of the political spirit. If there is nothing to uncover people will invent something. Politics traffics in mudslinging, hoping the mud will stick and the enemy will be defeated in the public forum. When this spirit infiltrates the church it always leads to divisive language and behaviors. You can see what happens to a follower of Jesus when they come under the political spirit; they turn aside from the high calling of love by participating in the political pastime of shredding those on the opposite side of the political divide. Cordiality and decency is thrown out the window because the enemy is at the gate and he or she must be exposed and defeated!
As we have previously observed, the political spirit consistently traffics in ‘political spin’ which manipulates facts to promote political propaganda. Politics thrives upon the use of propaganda. In the pursuit of advancing political propaganda, people under the political spirit resort to the dissemination of disinformation. This is not the accidental dissemination of misinformation but the deliberate distribution of false information in the service of an aggressive political agenda. When Christians come under the political spirit they inadvertently partner with a spirit of deception. Biblical truth and values are forsaken in the name of their political agenda. Christians who get drawn into the swirl of the political spirit deliberately turn a blind eye to the use of disinformation because the disinformation advances the prospects of winning the election and winning at all costs becomes the name of the game. This spirit works on both sides of the political divide.
The political spirit is always undergirded by a deep sense of national patriotism. Samuel Johnson famously said in 1775, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Misguided patriotism and loyalty to empire can reduce an honorable person to a political scoundrel! Countless evils have been committed in the name of patriotism to someone’s country. Whilst it is good to love one’s country, Christian nationalism crosses the line into idolatry because it elevates a nation to a status that confuses loyalty to God with loyalty to a particular country.
Christians who come under the political spirit have already compromised their loyalty to King Jesus through their loyalty to their country and they end up fighting for a political agenda in the belief that they are fighting for God. Patriotism drives the political spirit. But God is above partisan politics. Remember when the Lord appeared to Joshua with a raised sword? Joshua said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies?” What was the Lord’s response? “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.” (Joshua 5:13,14 MSG) As soon as we think God is on the side of a particular country or political party we are on extremely shaky ground. It was this misguided patriotism that inspired Dylan to write ‘With God on Our Side’ in 1963. He cited a series of atrocities that had been committed in the misguided belief that God was on their side. He said, “You never ask questions when God’s on your side!” And “You don’t count the dead when God’s on your side!”
Jesus exposed the danger of the political spirit when He said, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15)
Leaven is a subtle influence that permeates the heart just as yeast permeates a lump of dough. The leaven of the Pharisees is the subtle influence of the religious spirit whilst the leaven of Herod is the subtle influence of the political spirit. Both forms of ‘leaven’ have a way of getting inside the church and defiling it. King Herod Antipas [a Roman tetrarch and son of Herod the Great] was responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist. He had zero tolerance for his political enemies.
Some Jewish religious leaders came to Jesus to inform Him that Herod was out to kill Him and urged Him to flee from that place. Jesus told them, “Go and tell that deceiver [or, sly fox] that I will continue to cast out demons and heal the sick today and tomorrow, but on the third day I will bring my work to perfection.” (Luke 13:31,32 TPT)
The political spirit is at enmity with the Spirit of prophecy because it is driven by earthly political agendas.
Politics motivated King Herod to kill Jesus because Herod had been appointed King over Judea, but Jesus was emerging as God’s appointed King of Israel. Herod ridiculed the notion that Jesus was a king. “Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally, they put a royal robe on Him and sent Him back to Pilate.” (Luke 23:11 NLT) Jesus warned of the leaven of Herod because Herod was politically motivated in his opposition to Jesus as King. Herod was a shrewd politician who engaged in political propaganda and disinformation to preserve his own power. That is why Jesus called him a ‘sly’ or ‘cunning fox.’ The Strong’s Concordance points out that the Greek name ‘Herodes’ is a derivative of the word ‘hero.’ Herod, like so many of his kind, wanted to be seen as a heroic figure; the man for the moment. Perhaps Jesus was highlighting that the subtle leaven of ‘Herod’ is unveiled in every expression of political heroics, which is energized by human bravado and political power instead of the power of the Spirit. All political battles are fought in “the arm of the flesh.” (2 Chronicles 32:8)
The Gnostic Spirit
The gnostic spirit, on the other hand, entices believers into secret or esoteric knowledge.
Gnosticism is the exaltation of knowledge. ‘Gnosis’ is the common Greek word for ‘knowledge,’ therefore a gnostic spirit is a spirit of false or superior knowledge. People under the operation of this spirit are convinced they have been given insight into what is really going on behind the scenes. The gnostic spirit seduces people into a higher level of revelation that feeds upon human pride. It is the gnostic spirit that empowers conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories proliferate amongst people with an unhealed orphan heart. Spiritual pride seeps into the hearts of people who have a deep deficit in their sense of personal significance. They are always searching for a superior knowledge that will inflate their ego and provide them with a sense of significance that has not yet been met by the Father’s love.
Only the Father’s love can minister a sense of deep significance that is rooted in the spirit of adoption and sonship. In the absence of this impartation of the significance that comes from the revelation and experience of our sonship, people reach out for whatever will fill that void and make them feel significant. Their sense of significance and worth may be found in material wealth; it may be found in elevated social status or it may be found in the false sense of power that knowledge gives.
When the gnostic spirit infiltrates the heart, love immediately goes out the window. The Spirit of love moves us toward our brothers and sisters to build connection and unity whereas the gnostic spirit causes people to exalt themselves over their brothers and sisters and to break connection.
As a theologian, I have specialized over the past four decades in exposing the gnostic spirit wherever it infiltrates the church.
I have felt a life-long mandate to war against this spirit. It enters the Christian community through syncretism with New Age spirituality (which is modern Gnosticism in one of its purest forms), through false teachings and through false prophetic revelations. I have written a book titled The New Gnostics, which traces the way the gnostic spirit functions when it infiltrates the spiritual operating system of the Christian mind.
If our eyes are open to the operation of the gnostic spirit it isn’t hard to see the way in which conspiracy theories are driven by a gnostic spirit. Adherents to bizarre conspiracy theories end up believing they alone have the real inside story. It’s a closed-circuit system as well because its adherents are always warned against listening to other sources of information because ‘they’ (the perceived enemy) have infiltrated mainstream media whose reporters are under the sway of the conspirators. Through fear of being deceived, gnostic conspiracy theorists only get their information from ‘reliable’ online sources that are awake to the alleged conspiracy. This traps people in a closed circuit where anybody who tries to help them find a way out of this cultish way of thinking becomes the enemy who isn’t awake to the conspiracy. Fear and paranoia are the fruit of participating in conspiracy theories.
All of us were shocked by the political riots and the insurrection on Capitol Hill that we all recently witnessed on January 6, 2021. These expressions of far-right political extremism were fueled by the convergence of the political spirit and the gnostic spirit. The political spirit had already enraged people against their political enemies but the gnostic spirit, in the form of the QAnon conspiracy theory, radicalized people into a militant response to attempt to overthrow their political enemies and to subvert the democratic process. How disturbing was it to see ‘Jesus Saves’ and ‘Jesus 2020’ banners being waved in the midst of the insurrection? How equally disturbing was it to see the guy with the large ‘Q’ on his shirt and the self-proclaimed ‘QAnon Shaman’ dressed in horns and face paint. The insurrection was the result of a toxic mix of the political spirit and the gnostic spirit.
The QAnon conspiracy theory elevated the recent US election to the status of an apocalyptic battle. The election was “apocalyticized” (a new word) into some kind of final battle against the forces of Antichrist. The proposition that a cabal of blood drinking Satanists who had allegedly infiltrated and taken over the Democrat political party to rig the election and steal it from the Republicans turned the 2020 election into a final Armageddon showdown where the only solution was to go to war and launch an assault on Capitol Hill.
It was this same powerful combination of the gnostic spirit and the political spirit that inspired many well-known prophets to prophesy that Trump would win a second term. This ‘revelation’ turned out to be a false prophecy. At the end of the day, it was a ‘gnostic’ revelation empowered by a virulent political spirit and a tidal surge of Christian nationalism. People asked, how could so many good prophets get it so wrong?
Entanglement in nationalism, a political spirit and a gnostic spirit of revelation caused many otherwise respectable prophets to be publicly humiliated. Some have rightly apologized, but some prophets came so heavily under this combination of the gnostic and political spirit that they have doubled down on their false prophecy claiming that Trump would still be miraculously elevated to the presidency in spite of losing the election. There are still some ‘prophets’ clinging to their false prophecies in the belief that Trump will somehow be magically restored to the presidency through an eventual revelation that the 2020 election was rigged. This is what the Bible called a “lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets.” (1 Kings 22:22)
Paul warned believers against coming under “another spirit!” (2 Corinthians 11:4) He spoke this warning in a unique season in which the gnostic spirit was infiltrating and derailing the church in Corinth. The only way to explain the proliferation of false prophecies and the wildly inflated claims of Trump’s presidency and his alleged prophetic destiny to overthrow a great end-time Satanic conspiracy is to recognize that a spirit of false prophecy came over a significant company of prophetic voices. This is the fruit of the political spirit infiltrating the church coupled with a powerful gnostic spirit, with both riding on the back of a massive surge of Christian nationalism. What a toxic mix and what a great deception. The American church’s obsession with the end times also played a role in elevating the 2020 election to the status of a great apocalyptic battle.
How much was the QAnon conspiracy theory to blame for poisoning the minds of the prophets who prophesied Trump’s re-election? This is an open question and hopefully the answers will come out in time. But there is compelling evidence to suggest that at least some of the prophets were favorable to the QAnon conspiracy theory. This was revealed in their language of the ‘deep state’ and the existence of an evil ‘cabal.’ The blanket silence amongst prophetic voices in failing to openly condemn and renounce the QAnon theory speaks volumes. It is time for the prophets to recognize the potency of political disinformation and to call it out.
As the dust begins to settle there are many lessons to take away from this crazy season.
My main point has been to focus our attention upon the need for a whole new level of prophetic discernment that will become the essential equipping to avoid falling again into a trap that the enemy had set for the church in order to destroy its credibility and its witness to this generation. The world knows that recognized Christian prophets were in bed with Donald J. Trump, prophesying his success. The church’s believability is in tatters and it will take a long time to fully recover from the mess that Christian nationalism has made in the house of God. The political spirit and the gnostic spirit teamed up together to slam the modern charismatic movement and the enemy won a decisive victory in lowering the public credibility of the church. Secular watchdogs with an insight into the potency of political disinformation have demonstrated greater discernment than many in the prophetic movement. Somewhere along the line the prophets lost sight of the biblical mandate of speaking truth to power and ended up becoming nationalist prophets of right-wing politics. The silence in exposing the widespread use of political disinformation and conspiracy theories has been deafening!
Somehow the prophets ended up with an entirely different message to the clear message of Scripture.
The focus shifted from the advancement of the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the simple gospel to the success of a political brand that offered power to the church to change the heart of a nation through the arm of the flesh. We need to get back to the “more sure word of prophecy” that calls the church out of Babylonian captivity. John said, “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, My people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4,5 NASB) We all need to hear this voice and to step up to an entirely new level of discernment that speaks truth to power. This is the heritage of the prophetic tradition.
It is time for prophetic discernment in an age of disinformation and chaos! Let’s seek the Lord for a radical discernment in this hour!