People of Praise and South Bend, Indiana

Over at Politico, Adam Wren writes about the relationship between People of Praise and the city of South Bend, Indiana. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has brought attention to this small Catholic community.

Here is a taste of Wren’s piece, “How Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Group Held Shape a City“:

What’s difficult to understand outside South Bend, however, is just how deeply integrated this group is into the local community. Though the group has only a few thousand local members, and keeps a low profile as an organization, its influence and footprint in the city are significant. That influence, and its resistance to liberal changes in the wider culture, are likely to arise as issues in her Supreme Court nomination hearings, expected to begin Oct. 12.

People of Praise includes several prominent local families, including realtors and local financial advisers, who act as a sort of professional network for families in the group and provide considerable social capital to its members. In South Bend mayoral elections, campaigns have been known to strategize about winning over People of Praise as a constituency, given the fact that they live close together in several neighborhoods. The group runs Trinity School at Greenlawn, a private intermediate and high school that is considered by some to be the best—and most conservative—school in South Bend. Families from Notre Dame and elsewhere, even unaffiliated with the group, pay $14,000 to attend grades 9-12 and $13,000 for grades 6-8. Barrett served on its board between 2015 and 2017, and her husband Jesse, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is now a partner in a law firm here, advised the school’s nationally recognized mock trial team.

As industry receded in South Bend with the closure of the automaker Studebaker in 1963, People of Praise has grown to occupy some of the city’s most storied institutions. The group’s original home was the nine-floor, 233-room Hotel LaSalle, a Georgian Revival structure from the 1920s, one of the most prominent buildings in downtown South Bend. When the group moved into the building in 1975, after it was bought by Charismatic Renewal Services, Inc.,a closely affiliated nonprofit, it cleared out one floor to serve as a communal daycare, and used a former ballroom for its meetings, where members spoke in tongues and practiced healing. Some members lived there.

Trinity School occupies a sprawling mansion situated on a sylvan property on the east side of town that was formerly owned by the Studebaker family, whose factory once employed 30,000 workers. The group’s main meeting hall, which isn’t listed on Google Maps, is a former bowling alley and indoor soccer complex 10 minutes from downtown, near the Trinity sports fields.

Read the entire piece here.

I blogged about People of Praise here.

As I read Wren’s piece, I thought about all the small evangelical experiments in communalism associated with the Jesus People and the evangelical Left. See Shawn Young, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock; Larry Eskridge, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People; and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

I know these communities well. In fact, I became an evangelical in a similar community in West Milford, New Jersey. This community was theologically and socially conservative, but active in helping the poor and serving its neighbors. And yes, it did have authoritarian tendencies. One day I will write more extensively about my seven or eight year experience in this community.

I am guessing that Barrett’s adoption of black children from Haiti has a lot more to do with her Christian faith as expressed through the People of Praise community than it does her efforts to cover up some inherent racism. Of course these two explanations can be connected, but it also worth noting that human beings often act in this world in ways that cannot always be reduced to race.

And as long as we are at it, let’s keep Barrett’s kids out of it.