This post concerns the alleged visionary Charles (“Charlie”) Johnston and the apparent failure of one of his notable prophecies: that Obama would remain in office past his term. To talk about this matter, the story of my own interactions with Johnston is relayed.
The following discussion is not about “kicking a man when he is down.” The discussion is to help people better discern the claims and understand the legacy of Charlie Johnston. Many have been deeply influenced by these claims, even to the point of making financial investments.
About two or so years ago I noticed some articles being shared on the Internet. They were becoming more frequent and claimed to have been influenced by private revelation(s) allegedly given to Charlie Johnston. I looked at Johnston’s web site (The Next Right Step) and read one article in particular that had a strong political emphasis. His overall message was that there was a “Storm” in which all of us were partaking and that he had been commissioned by God to offer encouragement and support throughout this time of trial. Commensurate with this theme were some stark predictions, such as the one mentioned earlier. The overall aim of Johnston, assisted by his stark predictions, attracted to him a base of followers. Many of these followers view themselves as a “community” that frequents The Next Right Step site to discuss mutual interests and refer to Johnston as their sherpa (guide) through the “Storm.”
After further surfing his site and noticing some troubling aspects, I arrived at the personal conclusion that Johnston’s claims were more than likely not supernatural in origin. He seemed, however, like an affable, sincere man who truly believed he was receiving supernatural revelations. I withheld comment on the matter unless in private conversation. This decision changed on September 30, 2015.
Opinion Solicited and Writings
On the above date, my private opinion had been solicited. After some discussion, I decided to organize some thoughts on Johnston and researched him more in depth. Some thoughts were published on October 8th, 2015 on the web site of Patti Maguire Armstrong in an article entitled On Charlie Johnston.*
One of the particulars with Johnston’s case is his propensity to leave comments on web sites. Somehow, my article was brought to his attention and he decided to comment on or around October 12, 2015 to Armstrong. Around that time, Johnston was appearing in Dallas whereas I was in Waco. I wrote privately to him and offered him hospitality if he were able to make it to Waco. He was not, but offered to speak with me if I could get to Dallas. We did not meet and I ceased communications with Johnston.
In late December, 2015/early January, 2016, I remembered that I had a Disqus account.** I went onto Armstrong’s web site and commented under my article. I challenged Johnston’s remarks and accused him of helping others to profit off his alleged messages in what was a potential violation of the Vatican’s norms. In reply, he called me a “sloppy, slap-dash researcher.”
Johnston claims that he is reviewed by a team of three priests. Who these priests are, Johnston had not named–at least in an official or direct capacity. I had learned the full identity of one of the priests and the first name of another during the research for my October 8th article. Johnston had left clues in various posts and comments that allowed for someone to create a profile.
Armstrong and I decided not to publish the identity of the priests for the October, 2015 article. After Johnston’s “sloppy” remark, I revealed the names in a comment. To the best of my knowledge, Johnston did not comment again on Armstrong’s web site. Some time later, I edited the comment to remove the names.
Meanwhile, I decided to write another article entitled A Follow-Up on Charlie Johnston. Armstrong published it on her web site on February 6, 2016. In the article (among other things), I revealed how I came to know the identity of the priest. Moreover, citing the tradition of the Church on alleged private revelation, I publicly questioned his priests’ manner of proceeding with Johnston. After this article, Johnston made some troubling statements, especially in comments under his article Houston, We Have a Problem.
Johnston claimed that I was trying to use him to make a name for myself and stated that he had “skimmed” my [second] article. He was also claiming that there was a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver who did not believe Johnston, and, in fact, worked against him. This unnamed priest had access, according to Johnston, to some documents from the Archdiocese. Johnston, admitting his evidence was circumstantial, proceeded to speculate to his readers that this priest might have slipped information to me.***
Johnston proceeded to state that his three priests were “real lions” and that I might not be ready to “face angry lions.” Whatever their identity, rank and influence (as well as any potential implications in Johnston’s comment), these men are still priests and so I had cause to doubt that priests might act inappropriately towards me. Seeing such concerns in Johnston’s various comments, I contacted him, privately, on phone and E-mail on February 9, 2016. The conversation went off and on from February to May. It was tense in some places, but we kept open a line of communication.
Shortly after the above correspondence began, the Archdiocese of Denver released a statement about Johnston on March 7, 2016. The statement noted that a “preliminary commission” had been established to “advise [the Archbishop] on the content of Mr. Johnston’s writings and presentations.” The mandate for this commission, according to the statement, “did not include determining whether Mr. Johnston’s messages are divine in origin.” Based upon the findings of this commission, the Archbishop advised the faithful “to exercise prudence and caution in regards to Mr. Charlie Johnston’s alleged divine visions and messages.”
In response, Johnston composed his own message to his readership. He stated that “no restrictions were placed on my writings” and that the Archbishop had chosen the “Gamaliel” option, neither condemning nor endorsing his claims. Over the next several months, he continued to proceed with his claims in his writings and visits around these United States.
In light of the Archdiocesan statement, I requested Patti Armstrong to remove my articles. This was done, if memory serves, on or around March 19, 2016. My articles were not contrary to the Archdiocesan statement. In fact, my second article contained an observation made on a specific aspect of Johnston’s Demonology that may have been used by the Archdiocese in its initial review of Johnston.**** This observation Johnston himself discussed in his above-mentioned message to his readership.
Several weeks later, on April 29, 2016, Patti Armstrong published her own article for the National Catholic Register about Johnston. I spoke with Johnston via phone sometime in May for about 50 minutes. It was a direct, yet civil, conversation in which both of us discussed some of our points of concern. It ended charitably and with the possibility of talking further. Shortly thereafter, he remarked on our conversation via his web site (June 3).
A little while later, in July, 2016, I commented on a forum entitled The Mother of God about Johnston in response to a user named “Harper.” The owner of this site, a gentleman named Padraig, questioned me in a few posts about detraction. A few months later he proceeded to declare publicly that the “devil has [Johnston] by the tail.”
Given Johnston’s behavior toward those who challenge him, it seemed best to wait and see if his prediction about Obama remaining in office would come to pass. I watched as the elections took place in November (which Charlie had privately believed would not take place), the electoral college cast its vote on December 19th, Congress announce the results, and ultimately watched the transfer of power on January 20th.
My story is relayed in the hope that it will help people to discern the claims of Charles Johnston. I believe him to be sincere in his belief to have received supernatural messages. My prayer is that Johnston will accept events as they have transpired, vacate his claims and enjoy peace.***** It appears, according to his January 20th blog entry, that The Next Right Step will remain functioning so as to preserve the community surrounding Johnston. What the role of this community will be, however, remains to be seen.
Update: 2-16-17 A.D.
The Archdiocese of Denver has issued a new statement on Charlie Johnston. The last paragraph is particularly revealing:
Feb. 15, 2017
Contact: Karna Swanson
Executive Director of Communications
The events of 2016/17 have shown that Mr. Johnston’s alleged visions were not accurate and the Archdiocese urges the faithful not to condone or support further attempts to reinterpret them as valid.
Beckita, who took over for Johnston over at the Next Right Step web site, issued the following response:
The Archdiocese of Denver issued the press release quoted below in response to a column I published on February 7. I regret that I was not fully clear on what I meant. The Rescue which I referenced, the “Process of Rescue,” as having been “fully approved by the Church” was not Charlie Johnston’s prophecy. I was referencing Our Lady’s promise at Fatima that, “in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” I thought that was clear because I mentioned that this process of rescue connected to Our Lady’s promise had begun before Johnston was born. Looking back, I can see how a reader might see some ambiguity and think it was referencing Johnston. I apologize for the ambiguity.
Update 2-22-17 A.D.
John Allen wrote an article that discussed the present story. Noted are his oversights concerning 1) distinguishing between the two statements from Denver, and 2) non-clarity about the post on The Next Right Step that triggered the latest statement. I found, however, one paragraph towards the end to be particularly striking:
What experience would seem to show is that neglecting these movements hardly makes them go away.
Instead, the challenge would seem to be the slow, patient work of engaging these subcultures and their leaders, pruning excesses but also encouraging where possible, to ensure that people don’t go elsewhere, often with far less quality control, to feed their spiritual interests. That way, if officialdom does have to intervene at some point, as Denver did this week, it won’t feel like it’s coming from the outside.
* If anyone wishes to object to the timing of the first E-mail to the time of the first article (about 8-9 days), the reader is encouraged to remember my prior viewing of Johnston’s materials.
** I signed up for Disqus a few years ago and had forgotten that I had the account as I did not use it often.
*** I have no knowledge of the priest specified by Johnston as working against him, much less to have received confidential and (possibly) canonical information from said priest.
**** That aspect concerned when the damnation of the devil and his angels occurred.
***** If a comment Johnston made to a disillusioned reader is any indication, he may not “retire” so easily. Johnston stated:
Karl, if you lost money because you put it towards preparations when I told you to trust God and not focus on preparations other than prudent things you could easily afford, that is not my fault. Who will give me all the money I have forfeited by living poverty since 2010 in order to be faithful to what I was called to? I will give no apologies to people who have taken steps I urged them not to. It has always been about acknowledging God, taking the next right step, and being a sign of hope. So it still is.
The reader is reminded that Johnston helped to arrange for the sale of property in the northeastern part of these United States to serve as “refuges” during the “Storm.” Here is the remark:
I have had a few people who have large tracts of land mention they would be willing to sell it off in 50-acre parcels for use as refuges. The idea kind of flummoxed me. But what the heck, there is a couple with property in New Hampshire wanting to sell. If anyone is interested, drop me an email and I will put you directly in contact with them. I will have nothing else to do with it. But if you want to be put in touch with sellers, I will do that much. After that, you’re on your own. (And for what it’s worth, I will receive no commission, or finder’s fee or any other sort of recompense.)