The crowd at the Southwest Believers’ Convention
Steven Monacelli for Texas Observer

God’s Army Gathers in Fort Worth

Self-described Christian nationalist prophets, an election conspiracist, and the wealthiest pastor in America collide for a week of right-wing politics.


Steven Monacelli is a white man with short brown hair and a curved brown mustache. He's wearing a green v-neck.

On the last Sunday of July, an ecstatic crowd of hundreds gathered inside the Fort Worth Convention Center. It was opening night of the Southwest Believers’ Convention, a week-long event that attracts hundreds of members of the fastest-growing Christian segment in the country. And they expected to witness miracles.

“If you need healing, this altar call is for you, and the gift of healing and the working of miracles will sweep through this room,” Pastor Tony Suarez said.  

The first man to heed the call wore a shirt that read “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President,” followed by at least 100 others who gathered in front of the pulpit, hands raised in praise, as Suarez’ voice crescendoed.

“In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, be free, be delivered, be healed, and be made whole,” Suraez said. “I take authority over the demon that calls itself homosexuality. I take authority over the demon of addiction. And I say you have no right to function and operate the body of these believers.”

Organized by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the namesake church of the wealthiest televangelist in the United States, the Southwest Believers’ Convention gathers more than a dozen charismatic Christian leaders from across the country.  A large televangelist ministry boasting more than 389,000 followers on YouTube, Copeland Ministries also publishes a magazine with more than 600,000 subscribers across 134 countries and produces content for the Victory Channel, which is syndicated on TV and radio stations across the country.

Attendees at the Southwest Believers’ Convention stand in line before the stage to receive a healing blessing.
Attendees at the Southwest Believers’ Convention stand in line before the stage to receive a healing blessing. Steven Monacelli for Texas Observer

Organizers kicked off the event with a live taping of Flashpoint Live, a news and opinion show hosted by Gene Bailey, the executive pastor of a church founded by Kenneth Copeland, who refers to his viewers as the “Flashpoint Army.”

“Any Flashpoint Army people here tonight?” Bailey asked the crowd. 

The crowd erupted in applause. 

Bailey introduced Flashpoint’s headliner, Mike Lindell—the election conspiracy theorist and pillow salesman who is in regular contact with former President Donald Trump. In a one-on-one interview with Bailey, Lindell complained that his phone was seized by the FBI for its investigation into the president, called the indicted former president the “real president,” and compared the government response to January 6 to Nazi Germany. 

“I was there with Trump after the second indictment,” Lindell said. “And I said to him the other day, you used to be the cleanest guy but now you’ve brought it to a whole new level. He’s gotta be a saint—they can’t get him on anything!”

Bailey told the opening night audience they should “be like Mike” before introducing John Graves, the CEO of Million Voices, a nonprofit organization based in Tarrant County that mobilizes congregations to get involved with politics.

“If you want to join our grassroots army, [our tool] will be able to say here are 500 Christians that don’t normally vote who live in your same zip code,” said Graves, who has created voter guides for “70 million faith voters,” according to his bio. “All of a sudden, you just became 50 [to 500] people, which may be bigger than the margin of the vote [for your elected official]. You with me?”

This intensely political focus of the Southwest Believers’ Convention has its roots in a stridently Christian nationalist theology known as Seven Mountains Dominionism, which posits that America is a Christian nation ordained by God and that Christians must take authority over religion, family, education, government, media, entertainment, and business. Among groups assembled at the convention, dominionism goes hand-in-hand with the prosperity gospel”—the notion that believers can cultivate material blessings like health and wealth through devotion and prayer. (Several of the preachers throughout the convention explained why they need private jets to do their work.)

After Graves’ remarks, the host introduced a prerecorded sermon given by Kenneth Copeland, whom he called the “common denominator” for the entire week’s program. 

“The day that George Washington was inaugurated, this was the day covenant [with God] was invoked,” Copeland said. “America belonged to God.”

Following Copeland’s sermon, Bailey brought a number of activists on stage, including two leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation—a movement of self-described modern-day prophets and apostles who preach Seven Mountains Dominionism. Among them were Lance Wallnau, a self-described Christian nationalist “prophet” who has actively campaigned for a number of MAGA-style candidates across the country, and Dutch Sheets, an “apostle” who conducted a tour of churches after the 2020 election to energize and mobilize Trump supporters to overturn the election results. They suggest that things may escalate if God wills it. 

“Maybe—I’ll defer to the prophet [Wallnau]—maybe we are moving into another shift, into a new level of what God is doing in our nation,” Sheets said. 

An ad that reads: In Conversation: Join the Texas Observer & Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anette Gordon-Reed & UT professor of Journalism Kathleen McElroy for a discussion. Annette is the author of On Juneteenth and the landmark Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. She grew up in Texas and then distinguished herself as an historian, author, and Harvard professor. October 19, 7:30 p.m. at Stateside at the Paramount Theater, Austin

“There’s a new season coming to the body of Christ,” Wallnau affirmed. “It’s almost like in 2020—we were spectators, trying to catch up on something that went wrong, but now we are aware we cannot let nature take its course. We have to intervene.”

Wallnau went on to discuss the latest twists in the Hunter Biden case and prophesied that former First Lady Michelle Obama would replace President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee. He laid out his strategy for the upcoming election. 

“If we can frame the argument in America that one party will protect the child and stand with the parents and the other is against the parents, [the Democrats] are done,” Wallnau said. 

Gene Bailey, Lance Wallnau, and John Graves
Gene Bailey, Lance Wallnau, and John Graves Steven Monacelli for Texas Observer

Leaders and adherents alike acknowledge that Trump is erratic—Wallnau has called him “God’s chaos candidate”—but nonetheless see him as a key player in God’s plan to ensure Christian supremacy in America. But just two days after Lindell described Trump as a saint, the former president was indicted for the third time. The topic was of great interest during a Wednesday afternoon Flashpoint segment recorded in the convention hall with Wallnau and Graves.

“I’m going to pray for Donald Trump because I’m not throwing him under the bus,” Wallnau said. “I don’t care what they say. Father, I pray for this man that you raised up and I ask that our faith reaches out and puts a blanket around him of the peace of God.”

Even as he called for God to protect Trump, Wallnau hedged his bets, suggesting that Trump’s potential downfall could be another part of God’s plan and compared him to the biblical figure of Samson, who gave his life to destroy the Philistines.

“Our movement is bigger than any candidate, so don’t let your heart be troubled because of what happens to [Trump],” Wallnau said. “If he’s locked up, the movement isn’t locked up. It actually goes up another level.”

This sort of talk has some religious scholars concerned. 

According to Matthew Taylor, a scholar at the Institute for Christian Jewish Studies, the interconnected network of charismatic Christian leaders has become increasingly radicalized in recent years. He created the audio-documentary series “Charismatic Revival Fury: The New Apostolic Reformation,” which details the role of networks of extremist Christians in the instigation of the January 6th insurrection. He told the Texas Observer he’s worried the patterns he observed leading up to January 6th are even worse in the lead-up to 2024.

“Charismatic epistemology frames profound spiritual experiences as being objectively facilitated by the Holy Spirit,” Taylor said. “And so in their mind, if Lance Wallnau says Donald Trump is anointed by God, and then Wallnau leads you into a very powerful worship or prophecy experience—then Wallnau must be right.”

Leaders in the movement take exception to the idea that they are extremists. 

“According to Rolling Stone, we are Christian nationalists and Christofascists,” Bailey said during the Wednesday Flashpoint recording. “As believers, we all need to get thick skin to understand we’re in a battle. We’re in a battle not just for America, we’re in the battle for good versus evil.”

How exactly the Flashpoint Army will intervene in the upcoming election, and whether they will contribute to another radical event like January 6th, is impossible to say for those who lack prophetic gifts. But if we look at Flashpoint and events like the Southwest Believers’ Convention, we may be able to venture a guess.

“When you’re listening to Flashpoint,” Graves said, “you should ask God the whole time you’re listening, ‘What’s my part? What do you want me to do, God?’ And then in radical obedience and radical faith, go do what God tells you. That’s when miracles break out.”