Beware of Adam Schiff’s Eyes. They are the Eyes of the Devil!

You might remember Perry Stone as the preacher who checks his smart phone while speaking in tongues.  In the video below, he reminds us again that the debate over the impeachment of Donald Trump, at least according to his most ardent evangelical supporters, is a spiritual battle.  More mainstream conservative evangelical Trump supporters like Robert Jeffress or Franklin Graham do not talk with the charismatic fervor of a Perry Stone or Paula White, but they believe the same thing about impeachment.

‘Satan Hates This Man’: Perry Stone Says Trump’s Critics ‘Have Demons in Them’ from Right Wing Watch on Vimeo.

Pentecostal Preacher Checks His Phone While Speaking in Tongues

We all have to tell our kids (and ourselves!) to put the phone down and concentrate on what they/we are doing. But perhaps we have been wrong about such exhortations. Perhaps God speaks directly to us through our smart phones! Here is Pentecostal preacher Perry Stone checking his phone as he speaks in tongues.

Stone’s ministry is located in Cleveland, Tennessee, the home of the Pentecostal Church of God (Cleveland) denomination.  Perhaps I will see him at the Lee University Symposium on Faith and Politics in Cleveland this weekend.  If he does, I would love to talk to him and find out what is going on in this video.  (I am also curious about the guy with the tattoo who comes in to wipe the table).  Stay tuned!

Why a $45.00 Prayer Coin is Actually a Bargain for Trump Followers

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Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

For centuries, Catholics have used rosary beads to aid them in the practice of prayer.  Some American Protestants view their Bibles as a kind of talisman or amulet that transmits supernatural power.

And today some American charismatic Christians pray using a coin emblazoned with a picture of Donald Trump.

On Monday (May 13), a charismatic preacher named Lance Wallnau appeared on the program of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker to hawk a Donald Trump/King Cyrus gold coin.

He claimed that the coin can be used as a “point of contact” between Christians and God as they pray for the re-election of Trump in 2020.

Bakker’s show, which is syndicated daily on his PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network, is known for selling his viewers products to help them survive the coming apocalypse. With the click of a mouse, a Christian who wants to prepare for the end of the world can buy buckets of freeze-dried food (the “30 Day Fiesta” Bucket appears to be popular), duffel bags that can withstand electromagnetic pulse attacks, flashlights and generators.

Wallnau and Bakker are selling the Trump/Cyrus coin for $45, but charismatic Christian viewers — many of whom identify as evangelical — can also drop $450 on a “13 Trump Cyrus Bundle” that includes 13 sets of the coin, the booklet explaining the connection between Trump and the former Persian king and the DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.

Read the rest here.

Evangelical Trump Fans: Don’t Forget to Buy Your King Cyrus-Donald Trump Prayer Coin

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote a several pages on the so-called INC (Independent Network Charismatics) prophets.  Lance Wallnau is one of these “prophets.”  Here is what I wrote about him:

Early in the 2016 campaign, Lance Wallnau received a similar word: “Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”  When Wallnau’s prophecy caught the attention of Trump’s evangelical supporters, he was invited to attend a meeting with the candidate and other evangelical leaders in Trump Tower.  As Wallnau listened to Trump talk about his desire to give evangelicals a more prominent voice in government, he sensed that God was giving him an “assignment”–a “calling related to this guy.”  One day, while he was reading his Facebook page, Wallnau saw a meme predicting that Trump would be the “45 president of the United States.”  God told Wallnau to pick up his Bible and turn to Isaiah 45.  On reading the passage, Wallnau realized that, not only would Trump be a “wrecking ball” to political correctness, but he would be elected president of the United States in the spirit of the ancient Persian king Cyrus.  In the Old Testament, Cyrus  was the secular political leader whom God used to send the exiled kingdom of Judah back to the Promised Land so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its holy Temple.  Wallnau was shocked by this discovery.  “God was messing with my head,” he told Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers INC and other Pentecostal and charismatic movements….From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

Recently Wallnau showed-up on the Jim Bakker television program to hawk his Cyrus-Trump prayer coins.  According to this piece at Esquire magazine, Wallnau said that the coin is the “point of contact” between God and people praying for Trump’s success.  And guess what? This coin can be yours for only $45.00.  Here is Jack Holmes at Esquire:

This truly is the Golden Age of Grifting, and the nation’s Evangelical leaders have not passed up the opportunity. The “White Evangelical Christian” designation has always been a proxy for traditionalists who believe America’s rightful social order is the racial and gender hierarchy of approximately 1956. Donald Trump has merely laid this bare by earning their support despite being the most comically heathen man to ever step foot in the White House. What principles of Jesus Christ does the president embody? The better question might be which of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—does he not  represent? It’s all part of the Great Unvarnishing, as the acidity of Trump’s public persona has worn on the top coat of paint many people have applied to themselves, gradually exposing what lies beneath. It’s not about Christian Values, it’s about money and power. Unless it’s about something else.

And for those Trump evangelical supporters with deeper pockets, you can get an entire “Cyrus Trump Bundle.”  It includes the Cyrus-Trump coin, a booklet by Wallnau describing his prophecy, and DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.  It’s yours for $450.

As I argued in Believe Me, the Independent Network Charismatics are a very large, growing, and largely overlooked segment of American evangelicalism.  Wallnau is one of their leaders.

In 1989, a Future Court Evangelical Tried to Convince Another Future Court Evangelical that “Jesus Was Not Poor”

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In 2005, Time named Stephen Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”  He is the founding editor of Charisma Magazinea Christian magazine that represents Pentecostals and charismatics in the United States.  Strang is also one of Donald Trump’s leading court evangelicals.  He is the author of God and Donald Trump, a 2017 pro-Trump book that gives credence to the idea that several Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders prophesied Trump’s election.

Here is some of what I wrote about Strang in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Strang’s book on the 2016 campaign, God and Donald Trump, provides the best introduction to this wing of court evangelicalism and its apostles who prophesied Trump’s election.  The book is endorsed by evangelicals on the Christian Right inside and outside the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement, including Michelle Bachman, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee.  In telling the story of the campaign from the INC perspective, Strang claims Trump is a Christian because he opposes abortion, reads the Bible and prays every day, stands up to liberals, defends religious freedom, and believe in the “American Dream.”  Strang seems to relish the anger displayed by anti-Trumpers in the wake of the election, and his book reads like a Trump victory lap.  He accepts Trump’s claims of election fraud, attacks Trump’s critics for their “divisiveness,” labels Trump’s opponents “demonic,” defends Fox News, and proclaims Trump a “spiritual remedy for America.”

Jay Sekulow is another court evangelical.  He is a Messianic Jew and a lawyer who has become famous in evangelical circles for representing pro-life and conservative clients in religious liberty cases.  He has made a lot of money defending the religious freedom of ordinary evangelicals and he is not afraid to flaunt it.  He is currently a member of Trump’s legal team.

In 1989, Steven Strang was editing Charisma.  Jay Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book, How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor:

Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too. Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.

Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read:

May 1, 1989

To: Jay Sekulow

This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.

Steve Strang

As I argued in Believe Me, many prosperity gospel preachers and proponents support Donald Trump because they believe his wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.  It should not surprise us that both Strang (Charisma is a voice for the prosperity gospel movement) and Sekulow (a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University) found their way to Trump.  It appears they have been part of the same network for a long time.  I don’t know if Sekulow agreed with Strang’s thoughts about the book, but the inscription is definitely interesting.

By this point in the post you may be wondering how I know about these connections between Strang and Sekulow.  Last week while speaking about Believe Me in Northwest Arkansas, a married couple who are longtime readers of this blog (he is a former history professor and she is a prolific reader of American religious history) drove three hours from Edmond, Oklahoma to attend the event.  They bought a used copy of Roberts’s book online as part of their research into the prosperity gospel and shared with me what they found:

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Thirty years later both Strang and Sekulow are two of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters and defenders.  I wonder if they knew this would be the case in 1989? 🙂

The Author’s Corner with Arlene Sanchez-Walsh

WalshArlene M Sanchez-Walsh is Professor of Religious Studies at Azusa Pacific University.  This interview is based on her recent book Pentecostals in America (Columbia University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write the book

ASW: I wrote the book in order to break the historiographical logjam that afflicts writing about Pentecostalism in America. Most works are either focused on place:  where did Pentecostalism start? That question animates Pentecostal historians and budding graduate students way too much in my opinion. The question for me was, who cares whether it started at Azusa Street or Chicago?  I also wrote the book because the other logjam was the overemphasis on the “great men and women of history” motif, where the godly ministers received all the attention and all historians did was follow their pastoral appointments from pulpit to pulpit.  Again, who cares? I wrote this book because Pentecostals tell great stories and those stories are what animate the movement. Historians should move beyond spiritual genealogy, and I think this book does that.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of the book?

ASWPentecostals tell great stories, those stories are bewildering, fascinating, unbelievable, shocking, and life-affirming, often all at the same time–historians ought to focus on that aspect of the movement–the power of narratives to shape the historical flow.

Pentecostalism has been viewed as a self-exculpatory triumph of what God is doing in the world or a distasteful backwater frenzy fit only for those willing to delude themselves; it is neither of those things, but it is a vibrant faith with great historical tensions among genders, races, and classes–that all deserves examination.

JF: Why do you need to read Pentecostals in America?

ASWYou need to read it because it’s the first book that looks thematically at the history of the movement, not through timelines, but through people–some lesser known than others. There is the well-known story of Sister Aimee McPherson and the lesser known story of Florence Crawford. There are events that are covered here that have not been covered elsewhere like A.A Allen’s Miracle Valley, Arizona compound that was the site of an outbreak of religious violence in the early 1980s that virtually no one knows about. Finally, if I might, I think readers will come away from this book as if they just read a page-turning novel…the stories are that good!

JF: When and why did I decide to become an American historian?

ASWI decided while on my 3rd major in college (I floated in and out of a lot of majors).  I was usually very good at the subject, and I loved my history classes. I took as many as I could with as many professors as I could. I knew that I could combine my love of U.S. history and religion when I took an undergrad class on slavery.

I decided to study U.S. history, specifically Latino/a history, because that is a history that is still on the periphery of U.S. history. I wanted in some way to contribute to compiling the stories of the religious lives of Latinos/as in the U.S. because so very few people were doing that when I started in 2000.

JF: What is your next project?

ASWWell I actually have 2 projects. I need to step away from Pentecostalism for a bit, just because this book has taken 10 years of my life. So I hope to write a religious biography of Fr. Daniel Berrigan.  After that, I’ll step back into my ethnographic fieldwork and complete a project on Latinos/as and the Prosperity Gospel.

JF: Thanks Arlene!

Are Latino Court Evangelicals Doing Enough for Immigrants?

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Over at Religion & Politics, Arlene Sanchez Walsh and Lloyd Barba call Latino evangelical and Pentecostal churches to do more for immigrants “living under the regime of daily ICE raids.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicals and Pentecostals, by and large, have been unmoored from any deep theological tradition of social teaching regarding immigration, never having developed a systematic response to state injustices. When set in the balance against the weighty record of Catholic and mainline Protestant public social and civil advocacy, indeed the writing on the wall spells out that evangelicals and Pentecostals are found wanting. This absence of advocacy has thus far not been ameliorated by para-church organizations, such as the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, whose leader Samuel Rodriguez has been self-appointed to advocate on behalf of Latino evangelicals. In fact, Latino evangelical leaders in high places of political power—such as the once-rising State Senator Steve Montenegro, a champion of Arizona’s SB 1070, (whose bid for 8th congressional district was supported by the state’s convicted and now presidentially pardoned former sheriff, Joe Arpaio)—show that Latino evangelical politicians can, do, and will vote against the basic-human interests of those sitting in their very pews.

But perhaps, in some cases, our decoding of that writing is misguided by our interpretive code of what responses ought to look like. That Latino Pentecostal and evangelical churches have long been home to a large number of undocumented immigrants is no secret. Could an intimate setting of worship and social bonding be bereft of any political engagement?

Read the entire piece here.

Court Prophet: Jim Acosta of CNN is a “Demon”

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I write a bit about Lance Wallnau in my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  He is the guy who said God told him that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  He represents the INC wing of the court evangelicals.

In this video, Wallnau says that Trump is not afraid of “demonic” journalists like Jim Acosta of CNN because the POTUS has a special anointing to resist the devil and his minions.

Want to learn more about the connection between these “prophets” and the Trump White House?  Pre-order a copy of Believe Me.

Here is a description of the book:

A historian’s acute take on current American politics 

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about eighty percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised—and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

Believe Me JPEG

 

 

Former Editor of *Charisma* Magazine Speaks Out Against Trump’s Immigration Policies

APTOPIX IMMIGRATION PROTESTSAs part of my research for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpI read a lot about the so-called Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement.  I have written about it here and here and here.  Many of the so-called INC “prophets” and “disciples” prophesied that Donald Trump would be POTUS.  According to sociologists Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, INC is the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in the world.  Charisma magazine, with its hundreds of thousands of subscribers, is the primary voice of the movement.

I am still learning about this wing of evangelical Christianity, but it was interesting to see that Lee Grady, the former editor of Charisma, has published a piece at the magazine critical of Trump’s “s—hole” comments.

Here is a taste:

Should the United States close our doors to certain countries just because they are poor, or because they have social or economic problems?

Many leaders in today’s conservative political movement say yes. They believe we would spare the United States a lot of grief if we allowed more immigrants from, say, Norway (Trump suggested this in the DACA meeting)—since Norwegians supposedly wouldn’t bring any problems with them.

But that position in itself is selfish, cold-hearted and racist, whether any racist slurs or vulgar terms are attached. And it is 100 percent opposite to the values of Christianity—which calls us to love foreigners and to show compassion to the poor.

Many Christians say they support President Trump not because he always exhibits Christian character (he is certainly not a pastor) or because his speech is G-rated (we have examples to prove it isn’t) but because he stands for biblical policies. But in this case, I can’t be a faithful prophetic voice for God if I don’t wave a red flag and question President Trump’s ideals.

Having a closed-door policy toward poor foreigners is blatantly anti-Christian. So is showing favoritism toward the privileged. Let’s remember the principle of compassion that is so clearly outlined in Scripture:

Deuteronomy 10:19 says: “Therefore, love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” We should love others less fortunate than us because we were once in their shoes. Americans, of all people, should understand this—because we are a nation of immigrants. It was only a few generations ago when immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Poland were treated shamefully in this country. Today, the suspicion is aimed at those with darker skin or Muslim backgrounds. We should love them regardless.

Leviticus 19:34a says: “The foreigner who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Notice, God did not provide a list of “approved” nations that should be protected by Israel. He simply said “the stranger.” God does not make a differentiation between “good nations” and “[expletive] countries.” He tells us to love them all.

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in.” We can defend our protectionist immigration policies in the name of “security,” but Jesus will have the last word when He asks us what we did with the people He wanted to send to us to protect. On the day of Christ’s return, we will not be allowed to make lame excuses, such as, “But Lord, those people are filthy, and we didn’t want them to drag down the economy.”

Our compassionate immigration policy is the reason the United States is a blessed nation. We have been a welcoming people. Our own Statue of Liberty is a sign to the world that we have, at least in the past, invited strangers to find freedom and opportunity within our borders—whether they were fleeing war, disasters, religious repression, violence or hunger.

How dare we tell Jesus that we don’t want “those people” to become our neighbors. This whole world was a filthy, forsaken place when Jesus left heaven to come here and save us. Compassion for the poor is at the heart of the gospel. Please don’t let your politics turn your heart cold.

Read the entire piece here.  Grady connects a generous immigration policy to the idea that America is a “blessed nation.”

And don’t forget to pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The good folks at Eerdmans Publishing tell me that pre-orders are essential to get the message of the book out there.  I cover INC Christianity in chapter 4: “The Court Evangelicals.”

Author’s Corner with John Wigger

9780199379712John Wigger is a Professor of History at the University of Missouri. This interview is based on his new book, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write PTL?

JW: I was fascinated by how fast PTL grew and how quickly it fell apart. What I really wanted to know was how PTL’s rise and fall were connected. How does deep religious devotion become so entwined with money, sex, and celebrity on a Hollywood scale? A short synopsis might help:

Jim and Tammy started the PTL network with half a dozen employees in a former furniture store in 1974. By 1986 PTL had annual revenues of $129 million, 2500 employees, a 2300-acre theme park, Heritage USA, and a private satellite network that reached into fourteen million homes in the US. That year, six million people visited Heritage USA. Jim and Tammy lived in luxury, buying vacation homes, expensive cars covered with One Sure Insurance and clothes, and traveling first class with an entourage. Then it all came crashing down. In March 1987 Bakker resigned in disgrace after his 1980 sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room became public. Stories emerged about gay relationships and visits to prostitutes. By the end of the year, PTL was in bankruptcy, headed for liquidation. In 1989 Bakker was convicted of wire and mail fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of PTL?

JW: PTL helps to explain the persistent connections between religion and popular culture in American life, a connection that runs much deeper than politics alone. PTL grew so quickly because of its embrace of consumer and celebrity culture, much of it through the prosperity gospel, but along the way the money and fame undermined the religious convictions of those at the top.

JF: Why do we need to read PTL?

JW: It’s a story full of human drama, sincere faith, innovations both cultural and technical, financial fraud, secret affairs, and the allure of television cameras. But it also says a lot about why faith continues to be vibrant part of American life. Many of the central characters in the story—Jim and Tammy Bakker, Richard Dortch, David Taggart, John Wesley Fletcher, and of course Jessica Hahn—seem almost too improbable for a novel. But together they helped first to build one of the largest ministries in recent American history and then to bring it down.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JW: History and academia are a second career for me. My undergraduate degree is in Petroleum Engineering. After college I drilled oil and gas wells in California for about six years. Part of that time I lived a few blocks from the beach. One day I woke up and thought, I’m having too much fun and making too much money, what should I do? Grad school seemed the obvious answer. Okay, more seriously, I’ve always been interested in the connections between religion and culture in American life and how those connections have persisted and shifted over time. That’s what led me to switch careers and what this book is about.

JF: What is your next project?

JW: I’m not exactly sure. Hopefully something surprising that will make a good read.

JF: Thanks, John!

The Author’s Corner with Phillip Luke Sinitiere

salvationwithasmilePhillip Luke Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies, a multiethnic school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. This interview is based on his book Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (NYU Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: I wrote Salvation with a Smile out of a long-standing interest in the history of American evangelicalism. After completing a chapter on Joel Osteen in my first book Holy Mavericks (NYU Press, 2009), I wanted to write a larger story on the smiling preacher that considered his place in American religious history. As a life-long Houston resident, I also wanted to explore Osteen and Lakewood Church in relationship to Texas, and to the Sunbelt.

In my research, I found that everyone I spoke with had an opinion about the smiling preacher; folks either loved him or hated him. I wanted to investigate Osteen and Lakewood Church beyond the binary responses I was hearing. After all, there’s a reason why 40,000 people attend Lakewood weekly, millions of people read his New York Times best-selling books, and millions of people tune into his television broadcast. I wrote Salvation with a Smile to figure out why.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile argues that Joel Osteen, and by extension Lakewood Church, is America’s most powerful twenty-first century evangelical minister; it explains how Lakewood became America’s largest megachurch and Joel Osteen became Joel Osteen. While neither represents the sum total of American evangelicalism, the history of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen explains significant developments that illuminate connections between neopentecostalism, the prosperity gospel, televangelism, and religion in the American South.

JF: Why do we need to read Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile shows that Joel Osteen’s father, John Osteen, along with post-World War II neopentecostalism and the prosperity gospel movement helped to make the smiling preacher. In this regard, I hope the book adds another chapter to the broader history of the prosperity gospel that scholars such as Kate Bowler, Gerardo Marti, and Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, among others, have brilliantly documented. Furthermore, Osteen’s nearly two decades of religious television production and broadcasting experience before he became Lakewood’s full-time pastor in 1999 helps to contextualize how in the early 2000s Joel harnessed emerging social media platforms in the service of propagating his prosperity message. In this sense, Osteen and Lakewood’s story connects to the history of American televangelism. Finally, Osteen’s ascendance in American evangelicalism during the Internet Age—and his presence on television and social media—has generated a flurry of criticism, much of it from American evangelicals. Thus, Salvation with a Smile historicizes New Calvinist critiques of the smiling preacher as both an index of his notoriety and as a way to understand the fractures and fissures within contemporary U. S. evangelicalism; in other words, the account of Osteen and his detractors reflects the “crisis of authority” about which historian Molly Worthen has beautifully written.

 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PLS: While I had designs on pursuing a career in professional golf—I was a student-athlete on the golf team at the University of Houston, and later at Sam Houston State University—in college several professors brought history to life and I found that my passions shifted. The late Terry Bilhartz, one of my mentors at Sam Houston State, was one of the most engaging lecturers I’ve ever seen. At the University of Houston, James Kirby Martin always emphasized the importance of writing clearly and accessibly, Kairn Klieman helped me to understand the power of history beyond the classroom, and Gerald Horne modeled the centrality of archival research for academic scholarship. Reconstructing the past at its best tells a story and the ways that my professors and mentors conveyed history in lively, compelling, and comprehensible ways drew me in. Additionally, I found, and still find, archival research both enjoyable and exciting. Sure, the work at times gets tedious, but the detective sleuthing so vital to the art of reconstructing history is great fun. Connecting the dots between past and present is both challenging and exhilarating whether it is in the classroom with students or in moments of solitude when I’m writing. While I may be a professional historian according to industry standards, I remain very much a student of history with many questions for which I continuously seek answers.

JF: What is your next project?

PLS: For Rowman and Littlefield, I’m completing a short biography of 20th century writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. I am also editor of and contributor to two essay collections on the twilight years of W. E. B. Du Bois between the 1930s and 1960s. One volume, under contract with Northwestern University Press, examines Du Bois’s career in global perspective; the second volume, which the University Press of Mississippi will publish, explores concepts of American freedom in Du Bois’s intellectual and political work.

JF: Thanks, Phil!

What is the Apostolic Christian Church and What Does It Have To Do With the Kim Davis Case?

Kim Davis’s denomination, the Apostolic Pentecostal Church, strongly opposes same-sex marriage.  They also reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  Here is a taste of an interesting post at the Huffington Post featuring Vinson Synan, a leading scholar of Pentecostalism in the United States:

Q: Who are Apostolic Christians?

A: The term could refer to any one of a few different groups, including the Apostolic Christian Church or the Apostolic Pentecostal movement, also known as Oneness Pentecostalism…

Q: What is Apostolic Pentecostalism, and what do Apostolic Pentecostals believe?

A: Pentecostalism is a Christian movement that emphasizes a personal experience of God, including the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The movement grew out of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival in California and takes its name from Pentecost, when early Christians first received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as the ability to heal and prophesy.
Apostolic Pentecostals then split from the rest of the movement in 1916 over a disagreement about the nature of the Trinity.

Without getting too complicated, Apostolic Pentecostals believe “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit” aren’t three distinct persons, but three different titles for one person: Jesus…
Vinson Synan, a professor of church history at Regent University in Virginia and an expert on Pentecostalism, estimates there are 15 to 20 million Pentecostals in the United States; of those, maybe 1 million are Apostolic Pentecostals…

Q: What does the “apostolic” in “Apostolic Pentecostal” mean?

A: “Apostolic” refers to the apostles, the earliest followers of Jesus who were sent out to spread the Christian faith. In this case, it comes from Apostolic Pentecostals’ beliefs about baptism. Apostolic Pentecostals baptize believers in the name of Jesus. Other Christians baptize newly converted Christians in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Q: Isn’t this just splitting hairs?

AAll this quibbling about whether the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons or three titles for one person and which ones Christians name-check when they baptize new believers sounds pretty minor, right? But it’s kind of a big deal. The doctrine of the Trinity, Synan said, “goes to the very heart of the Bible and the Christian Gospel — the very idea of the Godhead…”

Read the rest of this post here.

"Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?" Follow-Up

Some of you have been following this story every since I posted about it last week.  Since then Jud Lounsbury, the author of the two stories about Walker and tongues-speaking at The Progressive, has joined the discussion in the comments section of the post.  So has Dave, a former member of Elmbrook Church and someone whose theological sensibility on these matters I respect.  Dave has sniffed out some of the problems with the Lounsbury stories.  Here is his comment:

I’m kind of late to the conversation, but since I was a member of Elmbrook for several years, and have maintained several friendships despite moving away, I was very surprised by what I read here. Speaking in tongues was not a practice at Elmbrook, nor at any of its sister churches when we we there. I believe Mr. Lounsbury has some unfortunate wires crossed here. There are two Meadowbrook churches in Wisconsin, and they both have websites. The one in Wauwatosa (a suburb of Milwaukee) has a website that can be found at http://www.mbctosa.org. The website for the church in Green Bay can be found at http://www.themeadowbrookchurch.com. Mr. Lounsbury weaves back and forth in quoting the Milwaukee Journal article and the church website, so it’s hard in this comment to isolate them, but all the doctrinal statements that are backed up by expired links in the article match quite well with the doctrinal statements on the website of the Green Bay church. If that is the church Governor Walker goes to, then Mr. Lounsbury has a point. But if Walker goes to the church in Wauwatosa, then I would say that the statements about that church’s beliefs and practices are not accurate (specifically the roles of women, and speaking in tongues).

I should add here that Walker attends the Wauwatosa church.

Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?

On August 29, 2008 I wrote a post entitled “Does Sarah Palin Speak in Tongues?”  It remains one of the most read posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It was published simultaneously at Religion in American History and it did quite well there too.

If I remember correctly, I wrote this post a day or two after John McCain picked Palin as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. The piece was one of the first to raise the issue of Palin’s Pentecostalism.

I thought about my Sarah Palin post last night as I sat down to read Jud Lounsbury’s piece at The Progressive:Speaking in Tongues Just Part of the Fun at Scott Walker’s Church,”  

Here is a taste:

Meadowbrook is one of nine churches in the Milwaukee area that end in “brook,” which sprung out of the Elmbrook megachurch in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin. The church is not affiliated with any organized religion and was started by an Englishman named D. Stuart Briscoe, who came to Wisconsin in 1970 and had no formal religious training.

A 1988 Milwaukee Journal profile of the church said the congregation is “almost all white, young, and affluent.” And that “its critics say its emphasis is on saving souls while ignoring more earthly social issues, and its theology reinforceseven blesses the lifestyle of many of its members.”     
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, “a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church.”  In addition, “although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they’ve had ‘born-again’ experiences.”  
“Many of those attending the church espouse an attitude that anyone that does not accept their born-again theology is not Christian,” the Milwaukee Journal article also states.
Walker’s branch, Meadowbrook, doesn’t have any female pastors or “Elders,” which are the governing body of the church. According to same Milwaukee Journal article, “the church has ordained female pastors, but cannot elect women to their Council of Elders because its constitution forbids it.”  On the church’s website, a similar note is struck when it states that women are the “weaker” partner and should obey the Bible’s teachings on submission to their husbands. 
In fact, church members believe that everything in the Bible is literally true and “without error” and that Christ’s return (and the ensuing Apocalypse) is “imminent.”   
They also speak in tongues. If you’re not familiar with speaking in tongues, it’s when God supposedly speaks through a person. But God apparently doesn’t speak any of the human languages, so it all comes out as gibberish. Luckily, if a trained man of God is nearby, he can translate it all for you.
Several things strike me about this article.
I was unaware that charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues were a prominent part of the Elmbrook network of churches, either under the ministry of Jill and Stuart Briscoe or their successor, Mel Lawrenz.  The Briscoes came from the Holiness movement, but I don’t think their theology celebrated speaking in tongues.

Moreover,  a quick glance at the doctrinal statement of the Meadowbrook Church (including the section on the Holy Spirit) does not say anything about speaking in tongues.  In fact, the statement looks pretty boilerplate evangelical (non-Pentecostal).  The link in Lounsbury’s article embedded in the  words “speak in tongues” is dead.  This link apparently connects Meadowbrook’s former pastor John Mackett to tongues-speaking.

There is a Meadowbrook Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin that is Pentecostal and not affiliated with the Elmbrook network of churches. I do not think Walker attends this church.
I also found a similar piece written by Jud Lounsbury in The Progressive.  It is entitled “Palin Got Hounded for Her Pentecostalism, But Not Scott Walker.”  In this piece Lounsbury once again tries to paint Meadowbrook as a Pentecostal church but provides no evidence on this front beyond a vague reference to a BBC website on Pentecostalism which states “It’s not always easy to see if a church is Pentecostal because many Pentecostal denominations don’t include the word ‘Pentecostal’ in their name.”  Based on this, he concludes that Walker’s Meadowbrook Church must be Pentecostal.
Both of Lounsbury’s pieces reveal a general lack of knowledge of evangelical Christianity.  For example, in the “Speaking in Tongues” piece he quotes a 1988 Milwaukee Journal article on the Elmbrook Churches that is close to thirty years old and does not appear to have a very strong grasp of American religion.  Again, here is the paragraph from Lounsbury’s article with the stuff from the Journal in quotes:
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, “a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church.”  In addition, “although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they’ve had ‘born-again’ experiences.”   
There are several problems with this:
1. The Journal’s definition of Pentecostalism could apply to any conservative evangelical church in the United States. So could a similar definition of Pentecostalism he uses in the “Palin Got Hounded”
piece.  I don’t think Lounsbury understands the difference between a Pentecostal evangelical and a non-Pentecostal evangelical.
2. Lounsbury seems to have no clue about the meaning of “nondenominational.”  Nearly every nondenominational church that I know is an evangelical church that celebrates the “born-again” experience and will only marry those who have confessed to have had such an experience.  The idea that churches like this exist in the United States may be news to the readers of The Progressive, but there are millions of people who would embrace such a view of marriage and there are thousands of evangelical churches–conservative, moderate, and progressive–that would uphold these views.
While I am not fan of Scott Walker, I am a fan of accurate reporting on religion and politics.  It appears that this piece at The Progressive is an attempt to discredit Walker by connecting him to the religious beliefs of Palin.  (And even if he was connected to Pentecostalism in some way he would be part of one of the world’s fastest growing religious movements).
As my 2008 post argued, Palin was a Pentecostal.  She attended an Assemblies of God Church–a historic Pentecostal denomination.  Walker may or may not speak in tongues.  And perhaps the Meadowbrook Church does have a certain charismatic flavor that the mother church–Elmbrook–does not.  But if this is the case, Lounsbury and The Progressive are going to need some better evidence.
Here is a much better piece on Walker’s church.

ADDENDUM:  You should also check out Heath Carter’s recent piece on Walker and evangelicalism at The New Republic.

The Decaying Ruins of PTL

Most of you know the story of PTL (Praise the Lord) ministries, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker‘s television ministry that collapsed under a sex scandal and subsequent revelations of accounting fraud. Jim ended up in jail.  He and Tammy Faye got divorced.  Tammy Faye started making appearances on television reality shows.  Jim remarried and returned to television, albeit briefly. Tammy Faye also remarried.  She passed away in 2007.

I recently learned that University of Missouri historian John Wigger is writing a book about the whole thing.

One of the pieces of the PTL empire was Heritage USA, a Christian theme park in South Carolina. Have you even wondered what happened to this complex?  Emily Johnson has.  Over at Religion & Politics she has a very interesting essay about the “ruins” of PTL.  (Time also did a piece on the ruins back in 2011).

Johnson teaches religion at the University of Tennessee.  Here is a taste of her piece:

To see what remains of the park today, interested explorers can take exit 90 off I-77 in South Carolina. Driving southeast on Carrowinds Boulevard for a mile, you will pass subdivisions and townhouses that have sprouted up on much of Heritage USA’s former 2,300 acres, courtesy of a local real estate developer. Pass by the refurbished golf course and stop a moment to notice the brass-capped pyramid that once held PTL’s main offices as well as the PTL World Outreach Center. It is now the U.S. headquarters of Welsh textile company Laura Ashley, a fully owned subsidiary of the Malaysian MUI Group.

You will eventually come to a crumbling parking lot, with the still-unfinished Heritage Grand Towers ahead of you and the remains of Heritage USA on your left, bordered by a chain-link fence and overgrown with weeds. If you peer through the fence, you can see the lake that sat at the center of the park and you can make out the island on which the Heritage USA waterpark stood. You are unfortunately too late to see the fiberglass “King’s Castle” that had become emblematic of the park’s excesses. Intended by Jim Bakker to be the world’s largest Wendy’s restaurant, it was eventually repurposed as a go-cart track but was demolished last year. 

The Author’s Corner with Chas Barfoot

Chas Barfoot teaches philosophy and religious studies at Arizona State University. This interview is based on his new book Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926 (Routledge, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: It began as a thesis on Women in Pentecostalism for a ThM degree under Harvey Cox. When I arrived in Berkeley in the spring of 1978 I submitted an outline to Harper San Francisco. I didn’t type back then so Richard Quebedeaux, a dear friend and a Harper author typed the outline for me dispensing tips as he typed. One of the editors, the only woman, liked the chapter title and summary on Aimee Semple McPherson. Roy Carlisle from Fuller Seminary had also just come on board to be in charge of Evangelical books and authors. I was all of a 20 something ex-Pentecostal preacher boy who hadn’t published a thing. Clayton Carlson, the founder and publisher was aware of the sensational books on Aimee by Lately Thomas and was very supportive of the project. When I discovered that Aimee’s third husband was alive, and that I had access to his memoirs, Clayton made the decision to go with two volumes, since the research indicated there really were two Aimee’s.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: My new publisher and editor at Equinox, Janet Joyce, came up with the sub-title after reading the manuscript and was spot on. Aimee Semple McPherson set the tone for modern Pentecostalism with her secular-spirituality and megachurch empire in Los Angeles which also included the founding of an international denomination that is still growing.

JF: Why do we need to read Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: Today we recognize that there are Pentecostalisms. Thankfully, Aimee wasn’t written as a dissertation. I let the events unfold and the secrets reveal themselves. The research demanded that I discard the deprivation model I had so prized in my Princeton thesis. It didn’t fit Aimee’s particular brand of Pentecostalism nor the one I grew up in. Eldon Ernst helped me uncover some Baptist clergy correspondence and immediately you could see from the letters that fundamentalism and Pentecostalism were viewed as two separate, competing movements. Both books contain valuable oral histories from people who knew and worked with Aimee. Finally, it is a work on healing, women in religion, religion in the west, and the differences between what Albanese calls extraordinary vs. ordinary religion or mainline vs. marginal religion.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

CB: When I was under contract with Harper’s Clayton Carlson asked, “What will we call you, a historian?” I said, “That sounds right.” Author, writer would have worked, but In the Biblical tradition one becomes what they are called! I had specialized in the sociology of religion, and now I was working in history and biography and attempting to combine the two disciplines. My affair with history began with a course with Oscar Handlin and I later met his protege William McLoughlin who had written the biography of Billy Sunday. Bill was a wonderful nurturing person who after a lunch with several Heinekens encouraged me to apply to the PhD program in American Civilization at Brown. I could continue to work with Harvey Cox at Harvard he said and with him in History at Brown. I never applied since I had settled back in California but Bill opened the door for me to meet with Roberta Semple Salter, Aimee’s daughter. I’ve often regretted not working with Bill. He, also, viewed my “ministerial training,” as he called it, as a virtue and not a hindrance for a historian of religion. Jim Washington was also very supportive when I was accepted for doctoral work at Union Seminary. “You have,” he said, “a flair for narrative history.” That meant a lot since I was going through a divorce at the time and Jim later published a book on Martin Luther King, Jr. with my editor at Harper’s.

Along with Harvey Cox, whose PhD degree was in the history and philosophy of religion, it was the historians who inspired me the most and opened doors along the way. I sat in on Samuel Haber’s history class at Cal and read the new (at the time) California historians, Al Raboteau and Catherine Albanese. Henry F. May, recently retired, loomed large in Berkeley lore. Kathryn Kish Sklar at UCLA gave me several student papers that turned up a forgotten PR man of Aimee’s.

When I returned to academic life after a twenty year stint as a mainline minister, a vanishing occupation if ever there was, two historians working in the southwest became new mentors: the late Ferenc Szasz at the University of New Mexico and Bob Trennert former head of the History department at Arizona State University. I quickly realized that the history of religions in the southwest was virgin territory.

JF: What is your next project?

CB: I have two projects going on simultaneously: Aimee Semple McPherson, Among the Savage Branches, 1926-1944 (Equinox, 2016) and A.A. Allen’s Miracle Valley and the Search for the Fabulous in the Southwest.

JF: Sounds exciting! Thanks Charles.

Thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of the Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Angela Tarango

Dr. Angela Tarango is Professor of Religion at Trinity University. This interview is based on her new book, Choosing the Jesus Way (University of North Carolina Press, April 2014).

JF: What led you to write Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: When I was a graduate student at Duke University, my interest swung towards Pentecostalism. My advisor, Grant Wacker, who knew I was also interested in Native American history, told me that the Assemblies of God had a history of missionary work among Native Americans. I wrote my very first paper on this topic for Grant’s missionary history class, and it morphed into my dissertation. Then I transformed the dissertation into this book. Really, I wrote this book to try to fill in a gap in American religious history—books have been written about African-American, Latino, and White Pentecostals, but few realized that a fairly robust population of Native American Pentecostals existed, and that they are not a new phenomena. Most scholars think Native Pentecostalism is a new trend but really, converts start popping up in the historical record not very long after the Azusa street revival.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: That Native American Pentecostals took the classic evangelical/Pentecostal theology of missions, the indigenous principle, and transformed it into a tool to argue for more tangible power and authority to run their own missions. This allowed them to criticize and stand up to the ethnocentric and at times racist ways that the white leaders of the Assemblies of God treated them from within a Pentecostal framework.

JF: Why do we need to read Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: It is the first book to give an in-depth look at the history of Pentecostal Native Americans in the twentieth century. It also challenges the idea that Native people never engaged traditionally white denominations in substantial and meaningful ways. It is important because it addresses their religious lives of modern Native American Christians, and all too often American historians tend to relegate Native peoples to a 19th century past—they are perceived as having disappeared, or that Christianity is an entirely colonialist endeavor. That is not to say that it hasn’t been, but my book shows how some Native people chose to belong to a Christian denomination and that their actions actually changed the course of that denomination. Finally, I think people will find it compelling because it tells a history that so few people are even aware exists.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: Officially, in college (Wellesley College) when I fell in love with the study of American religious history while under the tutelage of Steve Marini. But probably unofficially when I was about 9 years old and my parents took me to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and our Navajo guide told us his peoples’ story of the Long Walk. I remember being really angry I wasn’t taught this in school, and I was really angry that such a horrible thing had happened to the Navajo people. That same year I refused to build a mission (growing up in California all fourth graders have to do these projects where they build replicas of the missions) because my parents taught me that they were a colonialist construct. I do believe that is what I said to my fourth grade teacher—the poor woman was baffled. So I got the alternative assignment of building a Native village instead, which I did. So I guess I was a little rebel from the get-go.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I am working on two big projects. The first is to look at how, in some modern tribes, casino revenues are used to preserve culture; whether it be in the form of the arts, language, traditional music and religion, certain tribes have made the active decisions that casino money will be used to revitalize traditional aspects of the tribe. This raises really interesting questions of tribal identity and how a tribe defines their culture. My other project is a biography of Jacob C. Morgan, who was a mid-twentieth century leader of the Navajo people, a tribal chairman, a boarding school survivor, Calvinist Christian (He was a missionary to his people for the Reformed Church), Navajo nationalist, and foe of the BIA commissioner John Collier. Morgan is quite a character and in many ways he embodies the complexity of mid-twentieth century Navajo life.

JF:  Thanks, Angela!


Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner

What Happened to Pentecostal Pacifism?

You would never guess from folks like John Ashcroft and Sarah Palin that the Assembly of God denomination has pacifist roots, but over at The Anxious Bench blog David Swartz introduces us to a new book revealing that Pentecostalism has a long tradition of pacifism.  The book is edited by Jay Beaman and Brian Pipkin and it is entitled Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace.  

Here is a taste of Swartz’s post:

This twenty-first-century iteration of Pentecostalism, however, would have been utterly foreign to movement progenitors. In the wake of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 and at the founding of the denomination in 1914, the Assemblies of God were officially pacifist. As late as October 1940, the Assemblies of God still claimed that “military service is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that a Christian cannot fully follow the teachings of his Lord and Master if he engages in armed conflict.” Several scholarly works have already recovered this forgotten history. Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979) and Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (2003) treated this lightly. More recently, Paul Alexander narrated a full-scale account of Pentecostal pacifism in Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God (2009).

ut Beaman and Pipkin’s book Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace (2013) offers something new: hundreds of fascinating primary sources showing the pacifist orientation of the Pentecostal movement. Take, for instance, this 1938 column from the Foursquare Church, founded by the colorful Aimee Semple McPherson: “Should a Christian take up arms in time of war? The question is perhaps, a little late. It already has been answered—IN THE BIBLE. Until the Ten Commandments are repealed the Christian has no alternative but to stay aloof from war and its consequent destruction of human life. Should one be drafted? Well, prayer changes things. And the God who saved Noah from the flood, and preserved Daniel in the lions’ den and his brethren in the fiery furnace, surely can ‘handle’ so inconsequential a thing as a little draft-board. Prayer, wisdom and the proof of patriotic loyalty on our part, couple with a willingness to serve our country in non-combatant service should turn the trick for any obedient child of God.” Beaman notes that the Foursquare Church grappled with the pacifist impulse until WWII, when it capitulated (or came to its senses, depending on your theological persuasion) and embraced the use of lethal force and the preservation of a “Christian America.”