It is a strange time when you are able to reference Lord of the Rings and prophetic signs (a symbolic demonstration meant to release the power of God in the Word of Faith tradition) in the same sentence. But such are the times in which we live. Recently, a clip from a church service began to circulate online in which members of the church performed a prophetic sign that was said to bar racism from the church (You can watch the full section here starting at 2:05:00). These types of signs are common in charismatic movements. For example, Kenneth Copeland performed a similar act when he declared in April that COVID-19 would soon end.
However, what was unique about this event was that it involved not the words of Scripture or a sign of the cross, but a quote from Gandalf the Gray, the wizard from Tolkien’s trilogy, and a replica of his staff. In a reenactment of the infamous scene where he fights off a fire demon, the church leaders declared that the spirit of racism “shall not pass.”
A few caveats
First, this is not the place to get into a discussion of apostolic authority, the spiritual gifts that are most often associated with the movement, and the differences between evangelicals and the charismatic movement. There are historical and theological differences for separating them, as scholars such as Grant Wacker and Thomas Kidd have noted, but that is not the point here. Also, it should be noted that Pentecostalism and its offshoots have traditionally been more racially integrated than most traditions within American Christianity (The moment at the church in this article involved leadership who were African American, Korean, and Caucasian).
The leaders correctly affirm that combatting racism is an act of spiritual warfare against demonic forces. They are correct to call out this form of satanic worship of the flesh. But there is also a need to recognize that it is not through movie quotes, but through the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit that we combat this spiritual darkness.
The power of a word
To return to the event, where church members gathered onstage to dramatically portray the scene from Lord of the Rings, let us consider what this means. What took place there hinges on their collective declaration and the sealing of the prophetic sign. And as Christians, we recognize the power of a word. James tells Christians that they should control their tongues (3:1-12), and the Proverbs tell us that life and death are in the tongue (18:21). But are the words of a movie, inspiring as the scene is, sufficient to drive out racism—or any sin—from the church? As Christians, do we not have a better word to offer than a declaration that “You shall not pass!”?
Sadly, the white American church has frequently offered no word better than that. And in the past our words have in many instances not stopped racism but actively supported it. While there were many who fought and worked against the culture around them, all too often it was not the unity of a multiethnic kingdom that guided us but the cultural norms of prejudice and superiority. For this, only a word of lament and repentance is the appropriate response.
But there is more to say. The word that we offer to the world is not a declaration alone, but a person, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). And this God-man did not just destroy the wall between God and man, but he also destroyed the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). The moment of the Incarnation, when God took on flesh and entered the world, gives hope and shape to the command from James that faith must be evidenced in works. For God was not content to merely declare that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, but he took on flesh and made true the promise (Gen. 22:18; John 1:14).
The promises of Scripture find life and form in the actions of Christ and the church. So we have a better promise to declare to the world than shouting from a stage that racism will not pass. We have a promise, evidenced in the life of a Middle Eastern Jewish man who befriended Roman centurions and Jewish rabbis, fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots, that the kingdom of God is not limited to one ethnicity, and that God will be glorified by those of every skin color and language.
Rather than looking to a vision of a wizard facing down a fire demon, we look to the vision given to an apostle on a Roman island: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9). Rather than the declaration from a character in a book that “You shall not pass!” we have the cry from the Savior that “It is finished” (John 19:30). And more than a fictional monster defeated only within the confines of a novel, we know that the great serpent has been crushed and defeated in reality (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 20:10).
A time such as this
The fight against racism is a fight against demonic forces and an act of spiritual warfare. In this way, it is fitting to compare it to Gandalf’s fight against the monstrosity in Tolkien’s novel. But the act of war against racism is not something that will end because of simple words or a reenacting of a moving scene. It will end because the people of God, empowered by the Spirit and driven by the Word, recognize the truth of their own story and work to make “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It will happen when the unity between ethnicities in the church is a sign—and a better sign than anything drawn from fiction—of the future kingdom of God. It will happen when all of us repent of the way that we have overlooked injustice against our neighbor and seek to make it right.
In one conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, Frodo says that he wishes the calamity would not have come during his lifetime. Gandalf responds that all have the same desire, “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Even today, the American church is offered that opportunity to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as we serve all our neighbors and seek their welfare (Micah 6:8)—not by our own might or power, but by the work of the Spirit through the Word (Zech. 4:6).