As of Saturday afternoon, Donald Trump’s average approval rating, as computed by FiveThirtyEight, stands at 38.8 percent–the lowest on record for a president at this stage in his administration. But the only reason it’s even that high is because the religious right continues to bow before him. Polls show that anywhere from 73 to 78 percent of white evangelicals approve of Trump’s performance–more than double the national average.
It’s mainly because a significant segment of what passes for leadership on the religious right have convinced their followers that any opposition to Trump is influenced by witchcraft and demons, and that God still has favor on Trump despite all of his outrages. Indeed, one prominent fundie claims that those who oppose Trump risk getting “smacked” by God himself–and that God is about to smack most of Trump’s enemies even in the midst of the furor over the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Another claims that those who oppose Trump risk bringing a curse on themselves and their families.
As nauseating as this is, a hypercharismatic evangelist from Denmark with a growing following on this side of the Atlantic is engaging in something that may be even more outrageous. How do you get more outrageous than pushing your followers to support Trump with a mix of alternative facts and fear? Very easily, as it turns out–by making people think that autism is demonic. He’s due to peddle that message this summer and fall in the United States.
Back in 2011, baker-turned evangelist Torben Sondergaard was at the end of his tether when a man for whom he prayed was healed and no longer had to make regular visits to the hospital. It eventually led him to form a movement he calls “The Last Reformation,” based in the north Danish city of Aalborg. He bills it as an effort to return the church to “the simple disciple life” led by the early Christians. As he sees it, that life includes returning to the gospel–which in his reading means being baptized in water and being baptized in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues. That tenet puts him way outside mainstream charismatic/Pentecostal thinking.
It also includes teaching people to pray for the sick and cast out demons–or as he calls it, “kickstarting” them. Here’s an example from 2015 in the UK.
At first glance, this is just another fringe charismatic outfit, no different than the crazy that we usually see on Trinity Broadcasting Network, Daystar, God TV, and the like. But in 2016, Sondergaard’s act stopped being a laughing matter. In January 2016, he took to Facebook with a giddy post about what happened in Australia earlier in the day.
That post, and an accompanying Facebook video, came back to haunt Sondergaard a few months later. He was due to travel to Ireland, where his movement had already acquired a substantial following, for a “kickstarting” seminar in Dublin. By April, autism advocacy groups across Ireland and the UK had seen his claims to have cast a demon out of that autistic girl, and were up in arms.
Fiona O’Leary of Autism Rights Together, who is autistic herself and has two autistic children, called any suggestion that autism was demonic “very damaging” and “just terrible.” Her organization had been working to get unregulated treatments for autism outlawed, and she saw Sondergaard as a perfect reason why that law was necessary. Her concerns were echoed by Adam Harris of AsIAm.ie, who accused Sondergaard of giving people the false hope that “autism is something that can be cured,” and of preying on people “at a very vulnerable stage in their lives.”
When confronted about these concerns in Barcelona, where he was holding a “kickstart” prior to coming to Ireland, Sondergaard said that he could not cure autism. However, he said, he did free that Australian girl from the “demons” that caused her ordeal.
When the criticism continued unabated, Sondergaard accused his critics of being Pharisees. No, this isn’t snark.
I first heard of Sondergaard in March, and was initially intrigued, being a charismatic/Pentecostal Christian myself. But when I saw him claim that autism could even potentially be demonic, I was appalled. This goes well beyond the usual “demon under every rock” mentality that is all too common in fringe charismatic outfits. By even suggesting that autism is demonic, Sondergaard could be keeping kids under his influence from getting badly needed care and a better quality of life. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to him that God can work through medicine just as well as he can through a miraculous healing.
Even in the face of this, Sondergaard has become quite the celebrity in some charismatic circles. This crackpot message is coming to the United States very soon. In early June, two people trained by his team are holding a “kickstart” in Los Angeles. This fall, Sondergaard himself is coming to Asheville, North Carolina for a “Pioneer Training School” from September 24 to October 15, at which attendees will get hands-on training on healing the sick and casting out demons.
Sondergaard has a decent-sized following in the United States and Canada; a look at a worldwide map of Last Reformation followers reveals a virtual forest of gray pushpins for followers and orange pushpins for recommended contact people. It’s hard to believe his following here in North America would be anywhere near that large had more people known about his dangerous claims about autism. The mere thought that kids in both Los Angeles and Asheville could be told that they have demons in them should send a chill down anyone’s spine.
This is yet another case of what happens when the American press drops the ball on a major international story. But now that we know what this quack and crackpot is preaching, we can put him on notice that we will expose him. Let him know what you think of his hurtful teachings on his personal Facebook page, as well as the Last Reformation’s official Facebook page. Let them have it on Twitter as well.
(featured image courtesy Sondergaard’s Facebook)