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.”

Image of the Day: "Divine Healing versus the Elders’ Tradition"

I was poking around in the Northern York County Historical & Preservation Society archives yesterday and came across this tract from an evangelist named T.L. Osborn

I had never heard of Osborn before, but a quick Google search produced a lot of interesting information.  It also looks like there is a copy of this tract in the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, MO.  It appears to have been written sometime in the 1950s.
It took me a while to figure out what “Elders’ Tradition” meant in the title, but I eventually found a passage explaining the purpose of the tract which makes an attempt at defining this phrase.  It reads:
FIRST: We may be able, through the Scriptures, to enlighten you as to your covenant (or contract) rights regarding divine healing for your body, and

SECOND: That in some measure we may be able to reveal to you, by the Holy Scriptures, the utter falsity of much present-day TRADITIONAL teaching regarding the subject of divine healing for the body, and show you the un-Scriptural foundation upon which most of this TRADITIONAL teaching is based.

Has anyone heard this phrase “Elders’ Tradition” used before in opposition to divine healing?  Perhaps some of my friends who know something about Pentecostalism might be able to help. 

Dispatches from the American Academy of Religion 2013–Part 2

As part of The Way of Improvement Leads Home‘s commitment to covering major academic conferences, we offer Adam Parsons‘s second dispatch from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore. Read Adam’s first dispatch from the AAR here.

Adam is a doctoral candidate in American history at Syracuse University working on a dissertation on modern American evangelicalism with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn.  He is an editor at the Red Egg Review: An Orthodox Christian Quarterly of Society, Politics, and Culture –JF

It is COLD in Baltimore! I had planned to attend a session today on publishing strategies for graduate students, but when I found out it was in another building, I decided to go to my backup panel. (This is exactly why I always choose a backup panel at large conferences). The choice, as it turns out, was serendipitous, as I ended up seeing my favorite paper of the conference so far. Dennis Dickerson, of Vanderbilt, gave a fantastic and provocative paper in the Wesleyan Studies Group in which he argued that the split between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church was not primarily about race or the issue of slavery. Rather, he argues, the founders of the AME thought that white Methodists’ piety was declining – a sentiment with which Francis Asbury agreed (he suggested, in fact, that the Methodists, on coming to America, should have gone first to African-Americans, not to whites). White Methodists’ lack of opposition to slavery was not the cause of the division, but the most visible symptom of the cause. Going further, Dickerson argued that the historically Black Wesleyan churches have maintained a more thoroughly Wesleyan piety and practice than the United Methodists, and that piety was fundamental to African-American social action.

I couldn’t decide which late-afternoon panel to attend, so I went to half of both I was interested in. The first, on apocalypse and authority in Pentecostalism, attempted to bring Pentecostal history to bear on Weberian conceptions of authority. I was most interested in Jeremy Sabella’s paper on charismatic evangelicalism in Guatemala, in which he tried to contextualize and explain the bizarre-seeming phenomenon of Efraín Ríos Montt, charismatic pastor and, briefly and famously, President of Guatemala. While Montt has since been implicated in genocidal attacks during the country’s guerilla war, during his presidency, he was remarkably popular in segments of the West. Ronald Reagan lauded him, and Luis Palau held a massive rally with Montt in Guatemala which was claimed to be the second-largest gathering of evangelicals ever held. Evangelicalism in Guatemala grew explosively throughout the 1980s – even after Montt’s removal in a coup – but tapered off in the 1990s. Sabella sought to explain this by situation its growth in Montt’s particular style of evangelicalism, which was shaped by the Jesus Movement missionaries who had converted him. Steeped in apocalyptic sensibility and promise, Sabella argued, this faith was appealing to a Guatemala shattered by a massive earthquake and civil unrest, and looking to rebuild. Promising a new Guatemala, it offered a safe haven in the present and a hope for a profoundly different future. However, with the end of the Cold War, the broader geopolitical context for this instability vanished, and the existential need for stability ceased to be such a major factor.

I left this panel early, so that I could hurry to the other end of the convention center and catch part of Wendell Berry’s session. He received the Martin Marty Award for Public Understanding of Religion, and, as part of the award, gave an extended interview with Duke’s Norman Wirzba. The audience was the youngest I’ve yet seen at the conference, including a few young children! Mr. Berry read several poems, and discussed his work with the Land Institute. At the end of the panel, he received a standing ovation, at which point he chided the audience and urged them to be more critical.

In other news, Random House is selling paperbacks here for $3, so I picked up copies of two books on my to-read list: Andrew Preston’s Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith and T.M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back, which should give me something to do on the ride to Ohio for Thanksgiving. Other than those, though, I’ve resisted the urge to purchase books – which is good, because the list I’ve kept of books I want is about to run onto its second page!

Tomorrow’s sections look good, so I should get some rest. (I’m dreading going outside again, but we do what we must).

This Week’s "Anxious Bench Post" at Patheos: More on the History of Black Evangelicalism in America

A couple of weeks ago I asked; “Where Are the Studies of Twentieth-Century Black Evangelicalism?”  I was working on an article on evangelical political engagement and wanted to say something about the role of Black evangelicals, but I was unable to find any good stuff on the subject.

Thanks to the readers of The Anxious Bench and my own blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I was able to find just what I needed.  Miles Mullin suggested the work of A.G. Miller, a religious studies professor at Oberlin.  As far as I can tell, he knows more about this subject than anyone else.  I tracked down a few of Miller’s pieces, including:

“The Rise of African-American Evangelicalism in American Culture,” in Perspectives on American Religion and Culture, ed. Peter Williams (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999)

Read the rest here.

Mark Noll on T.J. Lurhmann, "When God Talks Back"

T.J. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God has been getting a lot of attention lately.  In case you have not heard, Luhrmann spent two years with a Vineyard congregation in Chicago and another two years with a Vineyard congregation in Palo Alto.  She made no bones about the fact that she was an anthropologist who was there to study the congregation and it appears that she was accepted and welcomed in the process.

The editors of The New Republic have chosen Notre Dame’s Mark Noll to review the book.  Here is a taste:

WHEN GOD TALKS BACK is so accomplished on so many levels that cavils seem a little ungrateful. But a few issues should be raised…

The responses to Luhrmann’s substantive explanation of what happens when God talks back will likely be mixed. From skeptics, Luhrmann’s research takes at least some of the steam out of Hume’s famous case against the reality of miracles. Hume argued that testimony concerning a miracle could never be persuasive in light of how impossible it was to accept violations of the natural order of causes and effects that defines ordinary human existence. But Luhrmann’s evidence shows that many people regularly have experiences that, if not exactly miraculous, still fall outside of what others would regard as strictly natural occurrences. Her research, in other words, has undercut Humean claims about what ordinary people experience ordinarily.

Other skeptics might accuse Luhrmann of giving more credibility to her informants than they deserve, owing to the warm personal relationships that she developed with them. Luhrmann could respond that, as recorded in the book, she herself has had at least one first-hand experience of “sensory override” (though not of a Christian sort). Moreover, her clinical trials offered many instances of entirely normal people, with whom she did not enjoy a personal relationship, who claimed “sensory overrides” of a Christian character. But the most serious skeptical rejoinder might come from evolutionary biology. If the human need for personal relationships—along with the whole range of religious phenomena—can be described as adaptive behaviors that increase the relative chance of survival for those who possess them, then the reason that so many people report tangible experiences of God concerns survival of the fittest and not the actual existence of a real God.