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This Week in God, 1.23.16

If candidates are judged by the company they keep, Ted Cruz is going to have a hard time explaining Mike Bickle, founder of the "International House of Prayer."
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty)
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas.
First up from the God Machine this week is an endorsement presidential hopeful Ted Cruz picked up from a religious right activist named Mike Bickle, who brings quite a c.v. to the table.

Bickle is the founder of the International House of Prayer, a controversial missionary organization in Kansas City, Missouri, that some critics have labeled a cult and which is best known for engaging in nonstop 24-hour-a-day prayer in preparation for the End Times and for its anti-gay activism in Uganda. Bickle, unsurprisingly is a demon-fighting radical who believes that gay marriage is "rooted in the depths of hell," that homosexuality "opens the door to the demonic realm" and that Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist.

That last part isn't a joke, by the way. As Rachel highlighted last night, Bickle really did suggest Oprah -- yes, that Oprah -- might be a forerunner of the Antichrist. "She is winsome, she is kind, she is reasonable, she is utterly deceived," Bickle has argued. "A classy woman, a cool woman, a charming woman, but has a spirit of deception, and she's one of the clear pastors, forerunners, to the harlot movement."
This week, Bickle threw his official, "enthusiastic" support behind Ted Cruz's 2016 campaign, touting him as "a president who will first be faithful to honor God's Word."
And while a candidate can't be held responsible for who does and doesn't offer endorsements, in this case, Cruz issued a press statement touting Bickle's backing as an important development.
It's part of an unmistakable pattern involving a GOP candidate who's gone to great lengths to cozy up to some extraordinarily radical figures in the religious-right movement -- including a November event in which the senator shared a stage with pastor Kevin Swanson, who believes Scripture demands the death penalty for homosexuality.
Eight years ago at this time, Barack Obama was challenged repeatedly over his association with Jeremiah Wright. John McCain was pressed on his ties to John Hagee. This year, it seems some of the presidential field with their own relationships with controversial pastors are getting off easy.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Pope Francis "made his first visit as pontiff to a synagogue on Sunday, where, in a reference to Islamist attacks, he condemned violence in the name of religion. Amid chanting of psalms in Hebrew and speeches underscoring the remarkable advances in Catholic-Jewish relations in the past 50 years, Francis became the third pontiff to visit Rome's main synagogue, after popes John Paul and Benedict."
* Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump was asked this week about criticisms from evangelicals that he's never asked God for forgiveness. "I have a very great relationship with God. And I have a very great relationship with evangelicals," he responded, adding, "I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try and do nothing that's bad."
* A case worth watching: "The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear another legal battle over the separation of church and state, and will determine whether Missouri improperly excluded a church playground from a state program that provided safer play surfaces."