Thanks to a few Singaporean friends (who shall remain anonymous), I had become aware of a disturbing development--an attempted hijack of a major women's NGO. Through those same folks and Fred Clarkson's post on the AWARE EGM vote, I also found that the takeover of AWARE--something I describe as a "steeplejack" because of its similarities to hijacking-from-within of churches--would seem to have been averted for now. (Unfortunately, I've also read via various Singaporean sources that the same folks in question seem to be attempting to challenge AWARE's educational programs in the schools in a remarkably identical manner to how US groups like FotF operate.)
Several of us in the general anti-dominionist community here in the States have founded a bit of a research group on "Joel's Army" groups (also known as "Elijah's Army" or "New Apostolic Reformation" or "Third Wave" groups), and we'd noticed something was odd in Singapore.
The AWARE steeplejacking scandal has brought some new, and distressing, info to the surface--namely, that a Joel's Army insurgency has been festering in Singapore for at least thirty-five years and possibly closer to 45...and it is being aided and abbetted primarily by groups from the US, South Korea, and Australia.
(Note: This article has also been posted in slightly expanded format at the Singaporean independent news site Wayang Party; commentary from experts on political "Christian nationalist" groups in the comments or guest articles are always appreciated.)
Some necessary backgrounder, or a brief Dominionism 101
A little backgrounder is necessary in discussion of these groups to understand the full threat. This is an area that even a lot of "religious right" experts in the US are not all that familiar with; those of us who focus on Joel's Army-related groups are a pretty small community. That said, let us begin.
The term that is increasingly in use regarding the "religious right" in the US is "dominionist"--referring to a specific theology that largely originated in Assemblies of God and Foursquare churches back in the 30s and independently in some "independent fundamentalist Baptist" groups.
Put very succinctly: These groups feel they have a literal mandate from God to take over the world--including governments and all institutions of society--by any means necessary. The reasons do vary--the groups descended from pentecostal and "charismatic" (more properly termed "neopentecostal") denominations and parachurches tend to couch it in terms of countries or nations being at risk of "losing God's blessing". Some groups go further than this--seeing themselves literally as proxies of God's will.
What we know now as "Joel's Army" or the "New Apostolic Reformation" has actually had multiple names (they don't even use the term "Joel's Army" very much anymore, preferring "Elijah's Army") and is part of a movement originally known as "Latter Rain" and "Manifest Sons of God" that originated in revival movements in the 30s and 40s. Some of the claims coming out of these groups were so ludicrous that the Assemblies of God officially disavowed any groups using the terms "Latter Rain" in 1948...after which most went to parachurch organisations and splinter groups, or simply promoted the same things in the Assemblies without using those terms.
As a result, we essentially have three different lineages of "Joel's Army" groups. The first, and the oldest, is a branch connected with the parachurch Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth With A Mission. Campus Crusade originated some of the initial strategies for taking over secular groups and other churches including the use of what I have termed "cuckoo churches" (so named after the breeding habits of cuckoos, who lay their eggs in other birds' nests and cause the young of the "foster parents" to starve and die as the cuckoo chick literally crowds the other chicks out of the nest)--"cell churches" set up in mainstream Christian churches like the Anglicans, meant to convert everyone from within until the church is a de facto neopentecostal church. YWAM also developed a fair amount of the "internal mythology" of these groups--including concepts regarding "spiritual warfare" and particularly a "fifty year plan" for takeover called the "Seven Mountains Strategy".
A second lineage consists of Assemblies of God-linked groups that promote NAR theology. One of the major groups promoting this is the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International; another notable figure is Paul Yonggi Cho aka David Yonggi Cho who has been spreading "Third Wave Madness" since the fifties (and who ran the Assemblies worldwide through most of the 90s, and who is still a major figure in the denomination thanks to the fact he runs the world's largest megachurch). Still another link in the "Assemblies-NAR chain" is the Australian Community Churches (the renaming of the Australian Assemblies of God) and in particular Hillsong Community Church; essentially the entirety of the Assemblies in Australia has gone hardcore "Joel's Army", has its own political party, and (notoriously) has been connected to abuse of women in a "faith based rehab" chain it operates including reports that depression was attempted to be cured by lay "exorcisms". (This is highly irregular in most Christian churches, by the way.)
A third lineage--increasingly associated with Singapore's "religious right"--is that of a "postdenominational" movement linked to C. Peter Wagner and his International Coalition of Apostles. These folks are among the most hardcore of the "Joel's Army" folks; Wagner and fellow NAR promoter Rick Joyner coined the phrase "Joel's Army" (and abandoned it when mainstream and conservative evangelical Christian groups in the US picked up on the phrase and started warning folks about the NAR groups), attempt to convert churches from within even more aggressively than the Assemblies-linked groups and parachurch orgs, and outright see themselves as proxies for the will of God. Possibly the most complete resource that's been written so far for a secular audience is a major dossier composed by the research group I am a part of, the "New Apostolic Reformation Research Team".
And it is essentially this--and in particular the "Wagner branch"--that we're dealing with in regards to Singapore's growing "religious right".
In the case of Singapore, there is a minor complication in that a "Christian nationalist" group more associated with Southern Baptists here in the US also seems to be involved and partnering with Joel's Army groups; however, this does match a pattern seen in other countries, notably Australia.
The gallery of rogues
With this, we can now focus on the actual rogues who seem to be bringing this into Singapore.
Based on a list of megachurches in Singapore that was forwarded via a sympathetic contact, I was able to do some evaluations of these groups--and found (to my horror) that literally every megachurch in Singapore is connected to NAR groups. This is, of course, discounting the "LOVE Singapore" org, which in and of itself is linked to NAR promoter and Wagner "apostle" Ed Silvoso.
Interestingly, we can also discover a wee bit of a timeline with this. No less than three separate and distinct "NAR injections" seem to have occured in the past:
1) An early "invasion" (of which, so far, the earliest record I can find is 1963) involving groups linked to "nondenominational" neopentecostal churches. The "Patient Zero" here would be Church of Singapore; the church seems to have been founded from a number of ex-members of denominations that are not historically part of the pentecostal movement and generally have not had charismatic movements--indicating that there may have been an earlier attempt to target mainstream Christian churches from within. (In particular, Church of Singapore promotes a program called "Growing Kids God's Way" that has been linked to hospitalisations and even deaths of children and is pretty well only promoted in hardline Joel's Army and "independent fundamentalist Baptist" groups.)
2) The "big invasion" proper (and second wave of expansion) started in 1975 with a veritable flood of NAR-linked groups. Notable churches in Singapore and the parties they're linked to include: Covenant Evangelical Free Church (itself spawned from another "evangelical free church" and part of a parachurch/paradenomination group that promotes NAR theology in a wide variety of churches and is connected with the US-based NAR groups Navigators and Promise Keepers as well as LOVE Singapore); Victory Family Centre (founded in 1978 and connected with LOVE Singapore and Youth With A Mission; their head pastor is now head of LOVE Singapore per religious magazine articles); Lighthouse Evangelism (founded by members of a "cuckoo church" that had tried to steeplejack a mainstream Presbyterian church), and the founding of LOVE Singapore itself by Ed Silvoso.
3) Wave 3 started around the mid-80s and is a mix of Wagner-linked "postdenominational" groups and Assemblies-linked NAR groups-and particularly Australian Assemblies of God churches.
It's important to know why the "Aussie Connection" is particularly of interest. The home church of the Australian Community Churches (what used to be known as the Australian Assemblies of God) is Hillsong Community Church; it is the de facto denominational headquarters in that country, and the organisational setup is such that essentially all ACC churches are essentially satellite congregations of Hillsong. (This is quite common in NAR churches.)
Notable figures and churches include COOS itself (possibly steeplejacked during this period or later) and--disturbingly, considering that COOS is apparently a Anglican "in name only" church steeplejacked by an Assemblies-linked "cuckoo church"--Kong Hee of City Harvest Church. Hee himself would appear to have been recruited into Paul Yonggi Cho's network at about this time (Hee was formerly an Anglican but is not only head of a de facto Yoido Full Gospel satellite but is linked to a massive network of Australian A/G-linked churches throughout the East Indies; reportedly he was recruited by Bethany Christian Centre in Singapore out of http://www.charismanews.com/a.php?ArticleID=8559">general a dispute that led him to being an Anglican missionary and eventually an Assemblies youth pastor). This is indicative of something rather disturbing--especially in light of other things going on such as the steeplejack of HTB in England; namely, a concerted effort by NAR groups to specifically target Anglican churches for subversion from within.
Other notable NAR-linked groups that were established in this era,and the parties they're linked to: New Creation Church (founded 1985, and for all intents and purposes is a daughter church of Hillsong and maintains close partnerships with the infamous Australian church); Faith Community Baptist Church (founded in 1986 and not really Baptist in any sense of the word; its actual affiliation is small NAR denomination called G12 that is part of Wagner's network of "postdenominational" churches and whose pastor is listed as a member of Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles); Trinity Christian Center (founded by Naomi Dowdy who is mentored by C. Peter Wagner and whose main pastor is also an ICA member); Jesus Lives Church (founded 1986 and whose pastor is in the ICA directory--and who explicitly invokes NAR theology about Singapore being some sort of "spiritual gate" that must be secured, hence the probable reason for the country's targeting), and likely many, many others. (Reportedly no less than 40 churches in Singapore participated in the "Transformation 2009" conference.)
More damning info re COOS and Joel's Army
As if that weren't enough, the "feminist" solicitor now acknowledged as the "brains behind the attempted hijack" of AWARE may have thrown up the biggest signal yet of their Joel's Army allegiances.
Specifically, it would appear (as has been reported in Wayang Today) that Thio Su Mien has been published on the "Elijah List" website as claiming SARS was divine retribution and that an "intercessory prayer team" saved Singapore from the Boxing Day Tsunami.
This gets considerably more disturbing if you know anything about "Elijah List".
"Elijah List" is, quite possibly, the main conduit and online meeting place for Joel's Army and NAR supporters and promoters. (In fact, we researchers ourselves use it--as a method of intelligence on NAR groups.) The list was founded in the 90s as a mailinglist for NAR promotion by Steve Schultz; the mailinglist and its website serve as the semi-official mouthpiece for C. Peter Wagner's branch of Joel's Army and Wagner's "International Coalition of Apostles"--and certainly as a major advertising point for their conferences. In fact, they outright promote Wagner as well as Rick Joyner and a veritable "who's who" of the Joel's Army movement.
Generally, you don't get promoted or mentioned on Elijah List unless you are, shall we say, a veritable celebrity in Joel's Army circles and have friends among Wagner's buddies. The entire purpose of the list is to promote NAR plans and claimed "prophecies"; much of what scuttled Sarah Palin's political career here in the States was the revelation she was being actively promoted by a "prophetess" on Elijah List.
And it would appear that Mrs. Thio the Elder is quite deep in with Wagner's circle. In the very article noted on Wayang Party, it's noted that Thio Su Mien was speaking before a conference including representatives from the US Strategic Prayer Network--a Wagner/ICA frontgroup that came to attention in research circles due to connections with the "prophetess" who was promoting Palin. Much as other NAR-linked groups are want to do, the USSPN has since changed its name--to the US Global Apostolic Prayer Network--and is blatantly "NAR nationalist". In fact, the org is naught but a front of Global Harvest Ministries--C. Peter Wagner's "main group".
In fact, that Washington-state USSPN rep may be either Burdell Austin or someone closely connected to him; he's also made such lovely statements as bragging about essentially conducting an "exorcism" of the "Queen of Heaven" (which is actually a very anti-Catholic statement; the Queen of Heaven is a term used for the Virgin Mary).
It would also appear that she--and her daughter, an appointed member of the Singaporean Parliament--also have quite the history of this sort of behaviour. A pro-NAR blog (using yet another rebranding of "Joel's Army" common in use--"Joshua Generation") notes that she and her daughter were promoting Joel's Army theology in 2007 in Singapore itself:
Drs. Thio Su Mien and Thio Li-ann (a mother and daughter team that speaks powerfully of Malachi 3:24 in the Jewish Bible and Malachi 4:6 in Gentile Bibles, of the reconciliation and working together of 2 generations) both led the charge at the Prophetic School of Law and Justice at the Marketplace Bible Institute , urging Christians to boldly and wisely speak up in the public square. We must not vacate the scene, but rather pray for God's wisdom, and equip ourselves to speak up for the Kingdom of God. We must not be silent, or retreat into compromise and the cowardice of political correctness, when it is a time to speak up. Did not the Preacher say there is a time to be silent and a time to speak? It is also written that we are to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but we must still speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak, when there is injustice or when there needs to be correction or even rebuke. See how appropriately the movie "Amazing Grace" is showing now! William Wilberforce spoke up for the abolition of slavery and was encouraged by Wesley that if God is for him, who can be against him? We pray, however, for the mature fruit of self-control or temperance, and we are to be slow to anger, because a person's anger does not accomplish God's righteousness,
It would appear that Mrs. Thio the Younger is sufficiently infamous regarding her promotion of Joel's Army theology that this is specifically mentioned in her Wikipedia entry. One wonders how many generations of the family may be involved; it's worrisome to me that she's in the Singaporean parliament at all (and it could be potentially even a national security risk) seeing as to the love for political power by these groups; Joel's Army groups took over a major political party in the US in conjunction with other "Christian nationalists", have been increasingly engaging in paramilitary imagery and paramilitary activity including frank domestic terrorism in the States (and including to the point of promoting literal Holocaust revisionism to justify progroms against LGBT people), and historically have not been above the use of coups-de-etat to gain power if necessary (notably in Guatemala during the 80s and early 90s, and Fiji from around 2000 to 2006).
And Mrs. Thio the Elder's talk at the "Marketplace Bible Institute" gains new importance with AWARE's attempted steeplejacking...and the purpose of the "institute":
*Marketplace Bible Institute Ltd* was founded with a mission to equip ordinary people called by God to become annointed and competent Marketplace Ministers. Our courses offer a balance of biblical and theological study, with a focus on contemporary issues. To cater to the time constraints of the busy marketplace minister, a greater emphasis is placed on self-study, with classroom time devoted to teaching, clarification and impartation.
About that "Marketplace Ministry"...what they're describing, flat out, is setting up front businesses that outwardly appear to be secular, but are in fact recruitment fronts for NAR churches. (The Unification Church also notably does this, and even has a name for it--"heavenly deception".)
Also, a word about those "Reconciliation committees". In NAR-speak, "Reconciliation" typically means cultural appropriation of a particularly disturbing kind--stealing the outer trappings of another faith's worship style but with a "Joel's Army" core. An example is with Youth With A Mission promoting "Messianic Moslems"--keeping Moslem cultural practices but engaging in explicitly neopentecostal worship. (More well-known in the US are groups targeting Jewish people for conversion to "Messianic Jews"; there are also "reconciliation groups" targeting Native Americans that essentially hold Joel's Army powwows in the literal sense. Even martial arts aren't sacred; "Christian tae kwon do" (stripped of all the Korean historical and mythological background and replaced with Joel's Army imagery) is promoted as a form of "reconciliation" as well.)
Yet again, we're dealing with another frontgroup. The two main international advisors are Kevin Conner and Ravi Zacharias; Zacharias is by far the more famous, linked to the pentecostal Christian and Missionary Alliance (the parent denomination of the Assemblies of God) and is connected with Campus Crusade for Christ (Leadership U is a frontgroup of Campus Crusade by its own admission--in fact, it's pretty much a training group for Campus Crusade leaders). Kevin J. Conner is connected with a far-less-known NAR group called World MAP; World MAP is notable for being one of the innovators of the use of "cuckoo" cell-churches to hijack other churches from within, the fact that it has been long a conduit for promotion of Joel's Army theology, (under its "Latter Rain" branding), and that http://www.world-map.com/FWP_Interview.htm">it's a frontgroup of the infamous Joel's Army group Youth With A Mission (yes, the same one trying to "reconcile" Moslems into "Messianic Moslems").
(Yes, if you've been following along--this does, in fact, mean that Thio Su Mien is connected intimately with all three major branches of Joel's Army groups.)
To attend this "Marketplace Bible Institute" (which would appear to be wholly unaccredited and only offers degrees in ministry), you are not only required to sign a statement of faith but must be a member of a "local church" and have a recommendation from a pastor (of note, "local church" is a common euphemism in these circles for a cell-church).
Remarkably, she seems not to mention her connections to the "Prophetic School of Law and Justice" on her profile on her legal site's page, and it appears that her legal offices in fact operate as a subsidiary of the Australian firm Allens Arthur Robinson. (Perhaps she fears it'd be bad for business.)
An additional link to American "Christian Nationalists"
One area that the steeplejackers seem to be linked to which isn't obviously NAR--but which in and of itself has some disturbing implications--is the connection to Focus on the Family.
FotF is a primarily US-based "Christian Nationalist" org--most of their work involves stumping for various political "religious right" initiatives, promoting "degaying" of LGBT youth, and promoting James Dobson's books on religiously motivated child abuse (one of which literally starts out with the beating of a small dog as an example of how to "break the spirit" of a "willful child", and another book in the series has Dobson happily recalling being literally caned with his mother's girdle).
One particular oddity that has been brought up in other sources is the fact that FotF Singapore is apparently registered as a secular nonprofit--which is almost the exact opposite of its legal status in the US.
First, a minor primer on how nonprofits work in the US. It's my understanding that in Singapore there are separate registries for religious and secular nonprofit orgs; in the US it's a little different in that we have a general "nonprofit without lobbying" category (501(c)3) with a mess of subcategories and a "nonprofit with very limited lobbying over broad issues" category (501(c)4). Even 501(c)4 orgs are not supposed to lobby for specific bills or candidates (technically, only political action committees are allowed to do this), and only donations to 501(c)3 organisations are tax exempt; most groups tend to have both orgs.
Among 501(c)3 nonprofits here, the only real difference between churches and other nonprofits (including parachurches and nondenominational religious groups) is that churches are exempt from filing any forms with the Internal Revenue Service; others file a form called a "form 990" in lieu of the regular tax forms.
"Christian nationalist" groups in the US typically organise themselves as 501(c)3 orgs, with some having 501(c)4 divisions if they've been given warnings about electioneering; however, by and large, they incorporate as secular orgs (in part to hide the fact they're explicitly religious. (And yes, almost all of what they actually do politically is illegal under the tax codes and elections laws; sadly, however, these are rarely enforced here.)
Focus on the Family, at least how it operates here, is one of the rare exceptions. Specifically (and likely to take advantage of some very favourable laws in California when it incorporated), Focus on the Family gets its 501(c)3 exemption under sections for "historical" and "nondenominational religious" groups--in fact, in the 2004 form 990 for FotF (from page 31 on) it lists its formal incorporation papers as a "religious corporation" in California. (In the US, many states require you to either be a member of a recognised denomination or--for things like nondenominational ministries or churches not part of an established denomination--to formally incorporate as a religious corporation. California is probably the easiest state in the US to do this in; FotF started out in California then moved to Colorado in the 80s.)
VERY interesting indeed. (Of course, if you look at the rest of the article re FotF's "oddities" you'll notice they have a habit of "playing not quite fair" with tax laws.)
I expect that FotF may have been registered as a secular nonprofit largely to fly under people's radar--they knew from their experiences here in the States that people do actively resist "religious right" orgs, so they were "stealthing" a bit.
All in all, it looks like the NAR and even political dominionist groups are trying the same dirty tricks in Singapore as in the US--the difference is, Singapore seems to have had a major "teachable moment" with the attempted steeplejack of AWARE.