The Rise of Spirit Warriors on the Christian Right

How an extreme transformation in American religion poses an existential threat to our democracy

I just read this article my friend sent me about how the religious right poses an existential threat to USA democracy. Here is a sample passage:

  • A final point on the politics of Spirit Warrior Christianity: It is an easy fit for those who wish to dismantle democracy and entrench minority rule. Election denialism and other conspiracies find a comfortable home in the paranoid mindset of spiritual warfare in a demon-haunted world. An organizer of the Jericho March that preceded the attack on the Capitol of January 6, Robert Weaver, stated that God wanted Americans to march around “the spiritual walls of this country.” The Reverend Kevin Jessup, who spoke at the event, said, “This battle cry is a Christian call to all Christian men … as we prepare for a strategic gathering of men in this hour to dispel the Kingdom of Darkness.” Father Greg Bramlage, who conducted an exorcism on stage, told the crowd, “We are in a spiritual battle, this cannot be solved by human means” and prayed that “no demonic bondage, door, entity, portal, astral projection, or disembodied spirit may enter this space.” Bishop Leon Benjamin, senior pastor of Richmond, Virginia’s New Life Harvest Church, said, “The demons we kill now, our children will not have to fight these devils. These are our devils, and we will kill them now.” NAR leadership networks served as key mobilizers.

The idea that the cross of Christ meant Jesus suffered the death we deserved and thus once and for all paid the sin debt is conspicuous in much of right wing religious thought. Moreover, the far right “Hyper-Grace” movement is a natural development of this penal substitution interpretation of the cross and shows how penal substitution presents a one-sided interpretation of scripture. Hyper-Grace argues everything Jesus said or did before the cross was only intended for the Jewish believers at the time, and the cross erased all that to the point where even repentance isn’t needed anymore. Hyper-Grace was made for the religious right, the idea that we are not accountable for anything because the cross takes care of that, and so whatever means necessary is warranted to do battle against the “other” who does not reflect your religious outlook. Jesus’s mandate of love of enemy is supplanted by the call to divine battle. There has been serious pushback from some on the right (eg Brown/Roth) against Hyper-Grace theology with the argument Grace is not a license to sin, but becoming more aware of your sin and convicted by it.

The liberal idea, by contrast, is that innocent Christ on the cross inspires repentance and seems to reflect ideas like Isaiah where we read “5 And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5, see also Luke 5:8).” The idea is that Christ is love incarnate, suffering for his persecutors to help them see the wrongness of their ways. One online commentary says:

  • Isaiah 6:5, In the passage cited in the question, the prophet Isaiah had just seen a vision of God in all His splendor, glory, and holiness. His immediate reaction was a deep sense of his own sinfulness in comparison (as well as of the sinfulness of the entire rebellious nation of Israel, to which God was sending him to preach). When he said that he was a man of unclean lips, and that all of the Israelites were a people of unclean lips, he was using his and their lips as a metaphor for the sinful way in which in which he and they spoke (as well as for their entire sinful, disobedient lifestyle, including their deeds and thoughts).

Hyper-Grace theology wants to take the concept of repentance out of the equation, even though it only accomplishes this by aborting a large portion of New Testament scripture (see for instance )

Interestingly, it is a pushback against Hyper-Grace theology that actually seems to be fighting against a religion based on vicarious atonement among the religious right. Part of it is the senselessness of penal substitution. For instance, Christ’s death supposedly defeated Satan, and yet Satan is still in charge as the God/Prince (2 Cor 4:4; Ephesians 2:2-3) of this world and wouldn’t be defeated until Christ returns. So, what exactly did the penal substitution cross accomplish?


And, in fact, it is precisely in re-imagining the cross that we can put the Christ Myth Theory back into play. In my 2 modern library essays critiquing penal substitution I thoroughly argued against a penal substitution mythical Christ who was killed in outer space by sky demons. This clearly doesn’t work. But, if we have a moral influence interpretation of the cross, the mythicism question arises anew. Clearly, Isaiah 6:5 mentioned above definitely shows a mystical vision can inspire repentance. And, ancient Jews could be powerfully emotionally involved in the death of deities: eg, in Ezekiel the women weeping for Tammuz. So, as per mythicism we have the evil sky demons slaughtering the Davidic angel Jesus who was the pinnacle of God’s creation, which awakened the law written on people’s hearts by the people realizing the demonic and Satanic influence on them (eg., Satan entering Judas). Price then comments how the wrongful death of Jesus was crafted:

  • Mark borrowed from Daniel 6:4 LXX the scene of the crossfire of false accusations (Helms, p. 118): “The governors and satraps sought (ezetoun) to find (eurein) occasion against Daniel, but they found against him no accusation.” Of this Mark (14:55) has made the following: “The chief priests and the whole council sought (ezetoun) testimony against Jesus in order to kill him, but they found none (ouk euriskon).”

So, what do we prefer, a historical Jesus interpretation or a mythical one? In my two penal substitution library essays I argued for an historical Jesus hermeneutically, but not yet deconstructively as I did above. So, which is right, an historical Jesus or a mythical one? My hope is that I’ve contextualized the argument well enough that a student may one day be interested in exploring it. I have lots of supplementary posts here on Secular Frontier, as well as my 3 modern library essays:

(1) The Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins:

(2) A Critique Of The Penal Substitution Interpretation Of The Cross:

(3) Penal Substitution And Jesus Mythicism:

And who knows, maybe it’s not possible to make order out of the chaotic polysemy?