More on charismatic Catholicism

In our continuing efforts to make sense of Amy Coney Barrett’s religious community, here is my friend Matthew Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, on the charismatic Catholicism that informs People of Praise.

Catholic charismatics practice forms of Pentecostalism that embrace the belief that individuals can receive gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Modern Pentecostalism in the United States began on Azuza Street in Los Angeles.

Starting in 1909, African American pastor William J. Seymour led a congregation in the city that claimed to have received miraculous gifts from God, such as prophecy and the power to heal. The movement came to be known as Azuza Street revival.

Members of the Azuza Street congregation believed that they had been given the same blessings as those received by the disciples of Jesus. According to the Bible’s Acts of the Apostles, on the Pentecost – the Jewish Shavuot harvest festival 50 days after Passover – the Holy Spirit came down in the form of flames over the disciples’ heads. Afterward, it is believed, the disciples were able to speak in languages they did not know in order to proclaim “the wonders of God.”

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is associated with God’s action in the world.

Read the rest of Schmalz’s piece at The Conversation.

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.

Local coverage of the South Bend People of Praise community, 1977

Sun, Aug 7, 1977 – 30 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Later today Trump is expected to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. There has been a lot of discussion about Barrett’s religious community, the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. I wrote about it earlier today.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of the South Bend People of Praise group, the August 7, 1977 issue of The South Bend Tribune devoted several articles to it. I have copied two of them below:

Here is Whitney Smith’s piece: “Charismatics: United or hell-bent for schism?”:

To some, the Charismatic Renewal has “the best potential for uniting Christians in and out of the major denominations. To others, certain practices destine the movement hell-bent for schism.

Such is the conflict facing many Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith.

Critics have raised some of the most ardent questions about a religious movement since Rev. Sun Myung Moons Unification Church. They are concerned not only because the renewal has revitalized religion for millions of Christians, but because serious conflicts have arisen out of the Charismatic communities.

“There is definitely the potential for a very serious factionalism within the movement, said Rev. Dan Danielson, C.S.C., vicar for Catholic Charismatics for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. This is even more legitimate a concern than it was a few years ago when criticisms were first made.

At first, hard-line Catholics balked at accepting the movement

Traditionalists said the swaying bodies, waving hands and verbal outbursts of praise from worshippers seem more of an emotional response to Cod than an internal one, and therefore seem more Charismatic than Catholic.

But as Catholics are becoming more familiar with the movement, gradually they are accepting it. Pope Raul VI himself and many bishops have adopted an attitude of what Rev. Danielson called cautious optimism.

Indeed, the focus of criticism has changed.

Most criticism today is aimed at residential Charismatic communities, rather than the worldwide movement from which the communities have emerged.

Former community members claim “authoritarianism in communities such as South Bend’s 800-member People of Praise is in some ways unhealthy for its members.

Catholics attack community prayer practices as unacceptable replacements for time-honored traditions such as the private confessional.

Still others attack as unsound a fundamentalist attitude toward women, which they said results from a “too-literal interpretation” of male and female roles defined in Scripture.

Community members claim much criticism of the Charismatics stems from unfamiliarity with what the community is and what their lives are like. South Bends People of Praise community, for example, has been a puzzle to many local residents.

That’s unusual, considering People of Praise has been used as a model for other communities like it across the country, and that South Bend is communications headquarters for the worldwide Charismatic movement.

Few know about the community because the members are content to “live and let live.” When they do talk about the community to outsiders, its like listening to attorneys plead a case before a judge. They weigh every word.

They’re careful to the point of being defensive and tight-lipped to the point of convincing you they have something to hide. Even if they don’t.

Charismatics have been lambasted for everything from getting excited about God to exorcising evil spirits–a practice they call “deliverance.” So strong has been the onslaught of criticism that the Charismatics have become calloused, almost unresponsive to it.

Asked why they have remained so aloof, Tom Noe. community member, responded they are only interested in fulfilling their commitment as a community: to put the Christian tenets a lot of persons talk about into -practice in their daily lives.

According to Charismatic Conference Coordinator Tony Rowland, critics take potshots at the People of Praise out of ignorance of what it is really like. Still, some of the most ardent critics were once Charismatics themselves.

An example is Brad (not his real name), who left a People of Praise household after living there for nearly a year. 

Brad, 20, quit the community because, among other reasons, “it restricted my lifestyle.”

When Brad wasn’t working, community prayer sessions, recruitment meetings and other activities crowded his free time. Brad and the rest of the Charismastic family pooled their paychecks in the household fund for food and lodging expenses, but received only $8 each week for outside expenses.

The evil spirit of pride” was exorcised from Brad, he said, in a required “deliverance” session before a room full of others at the LaSalle Hotel.

For a year, he was not permitted to date anyone outside the community, he said. If he chose to date inside the community, it had to be “with the intention of looking for a wife,” and he had to receive permission from his “head” (spiritual advisor.)

“They wanted me to quit my job, which I really enjoy, to come to work for them in the LaSalle building. I think I should decide things about my career and marriage. In a sense, they tried to control my life.”

Such practices have been called “authoritarian” by Dr. William G. Storey, a Notre Dame theology professor who left the movement in 1970.

Another Notre Dame faculty member, Dr. Josephine M. Ford, has written more than 30 articles and books explaining and criticizing the Charismatics. Her most outspoken objections concern the treatment of women in the communities.

Dr. Ford, an associate professor of theology who is now on sabbatical in California, was expelled from the movement six years ago for being disruptive. There is an incredible subordination of women in the communities,” said Dr. Ford.

“There are male and female roles which community members interpret too literally from New Testament scripture, particularly Paul.

“You would think that Adam and Eve are more fundamental to their faith than Jesus Christ Himself.”

Rowland admitted that “a lot of our beliefs go contrary to what is going on (with women’s liberation) today. Scripture says the man is the head of the household, and that women are to support their husbands. A lot of people are apt to take this loosely.

Besides, Rowland added, a relationship in which the wife supports the husband in work does not mean she is inferior. But Dr. Ford insists that the People of Praise and Word of God (Ann Arbor) communities do treat women as inferiors.

She cited as an example a community practice that women may not step outside the traditional female roles when seeking jobs. A South Bend woman I know of wanted to become a doctor, but it was recommended instead that she become a nurse,” she added. 

Rev. Danielson and other critics of the Charismatics stress they have “a very positive attitude about the potential of the movement,” but “maintain significant differences with current leadership.” 

Communities in South Bend, Ann Arbor and elsewhere often leave discordant voices no choice but leaving the movement.

Considering that the current leadership an eight-member National Service Committee fills its own vacancies, there seems little chance for a change in philosophy that would overcome current conflicts.

Rev. Danielson and others say the only hope is for the Charismatics to work more closely within the church structure, and for the (ad hoc) committee of bishops and local diocesan bishops to become familiar enough with the communities to help overcome conflicts.

“Otherwise, the potential for a very serious factionalism is very great,” he said. I, for one, and many of the Charismatics are dissatisfied with many of the decisions that have been made, and feel it is time for a new voice to bo heard.”

Here is Kathleen Harsh’s piece, “Charismatics live together, sharing faith, good times”:

Dinners over. While that’s the time most American families clear away the dishes and tune in Walter Cronkite, the family at 1304 Hillcrest moves to the living room and tunes in the Lord.

This is not your ordinary American household.

The home on Hillcrest is one of more than 30 households in the 800-member People of Praise Community, an extension of the Charismatic Renewal.

Outside’ the spacious brick house are clusters of shade trees. Inside, 18 persons put to practice the Christian principles a lot of other people just talk about.

“You came at a very bad time,” said Mrs. Colette Rowland, the wife of the head of the household, as she bustled through the dining room in a bright yellow caftan.

Everyone in the household and that includes her family of eight, four Notre Dame students and a second grade teacher rushed about as they prepared to leave for the Charismatic Renewal Conference in Kansas City. Mrs. Rowland’s husband and a few other residents were on their way to the conference.

As if that wasn’t enough to disrupt the unusually routine household, the Rowland family is preparing to move to Belgium, where they will help organize international Charismatic prayer groups.

Despite empty chairs and the sense of change that pervaded the atmosphere of the household, life continued as if everything were normal.

Most days, the family follows a rigid schedule: prayer at 6 a m. and breakfast at 7. During the day, they separate for work or household chores. Residents are “encouraged” to spend their free time together.  They are given only one free night each week, according to household head Tony Rowland. They meet every night for the evening meal.

In the minutes before dinner started, Chris Meehan, a senior at Notre Dame, explained why he moved into the household over a year ago.

“I like the environment a lot better here than at Notre Dame,” he said, .leaning comfortably on a piece of furniture in the dining room. “Drinking is a big thing at Notre Dame, and you’re nowhere if you don’t have a girlfriend. Here, there’s  more of a family-type atmosphere.”

Chris handles all finances in the household. Although members are not all related, they pool their pay-checks each week and are given personal allotments based on need. Chris then pays the rent, utility, and food bills for the family.

Finances in households in the People of Praise Community vary, depending on the consensus reached by the members. But, usually finances are handled in a manner similar to the Rowland household. When the paychecks are pooled, a certain percentage is set aside in a fund to be used if the individual decides to leave.

The family type atmosphere Chris finds so appealing was apparent as the unusual assortment of people gathered round the dining room table. Before the household sat down to dinner, the air was filled with the whispering of 13 simultaneous conversations with the Lord. Then together they broke into a prayer, spoken almost routinely.

At dinner, Mrs. Rowland apologized because it was not served punctually at 5:30, as is household custom. Chicken, rice, green beans and peaches were served on unmatching plates and saucers–the everyday set was on its way to Belgium.

After dinner the household moved from the dining room to the air-conditioned living room to pray. The living room was even more sparsely furnished than the dining room. All that remaimed was a piano and one red sofa, on which Mrs. Rowland seated herself. The rest of the members formed a circle on the floor.

Chris, the 18-year-old son of the Rowlands, took his guitar out of the case and began tuning it. They sang from worn prayer books strewn on the floor. Some members lifted their hands up and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance, while others just closed their eyes and praised the Lord.

Alleluia, Lord Jesus,” and “we give you praise and glory,” and “I love you Lord” hummed through the air on that hot summer night as the members chanted their individual prayers.

Next they selected passages from scripture, relating what they read to problems and experiences in their everyday lives. The prayer session ended with a spirited singing of “Alleluia” complete with maracas.

One by one, they left the room.

Seated alone on the carpet was Mrs. Rowland, who with her soft French accent, told of how she came to be a Charismatic. She said the first time she attended a prayer meeting, five years ago, she felt a “very genuine authenticity of the presence of God.

“I’ve heard scripture all my life, but before it was just words. Now it has come alive.”

Mrs. Rowland said it was not a hard decision choosing to live a life in common with other people. “Once you give your life and your heart to the Lord, you naturally live according to the scripture.”

Although the role of women in the Charismatics life is something most members are reluctant to talk about, Mrs. Rowland discussed It, but not without carefully choosing each word. She added that it was a very touchy subject.

The women in the Charismatic household are given charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. Tony Rowland said they follow literally the roles for men and women set forth in the scripture.

“What my husband and I do is talk things over and make a decision together. Nevertheless, the father has the responsibility of raising the family,” Mrs. Rowland said.

Although critics have attacked Charismatics for requiring women to submit to their husbands and heads of household, Mrs. Rowland said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “submission.”

“The key to it is unity,” she said slowly. “My husband and I are of the same mind and heart to serve the Lord. I know his mind so well that I can make a decision without his presence.” Mrs. Rowland explained that this is submission.

Betty Raven, another household member, also discussed her views concerning the roles of men and women. Betty, a Notre Dame graduate student who has an electrical engineering job at Bendix Corp., said she thinks a lot of the women’s liberation movement–specifically their stance on abortion–is “crazy. She added she did not think a person should pursue a career just for the sake of pursuing a career, saying she would quit work if she got married.

After prayers at the Charismatic household, all was quiet. The dishes were done and some members were outside in the backyard trying to make the heat bearable by talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

Glancing over her shoulder at the joyful household, Mrs. Rowland said, They really do have a good time.” 

Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise

It looks like Trump will nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court later today. Over the next several weeks, Senators and pundits will want to know more about People of Praise, a Catholic charismatic group in which the Barrett family are members.

So far the best short introduction to the People of Praise is Michael O’Loughlin’s piece at the Jesuit magazine America. Here is a taste:

People of Praise is a South Bend, Ind.–based charismatic community that attracts members from a number of Christian churches, though the vast majority of its members are Catholic. The group was founded in 1971, part of a Catholic charismatic renewal that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Charismatic communities emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of believers. Some of their practices appear to have more in common with Pentecostal communities than with traditional Catholicism, such as speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy.

Charismatic communities became increasingly popular through the 1970s and ’80s. The University of Notre Dame once hosted an annual conference devoted to these groups, which attracted tens of thousands of participants. Many groups have been active near college campuses. In some charismatic communities, single members share homes with families who are also part of the group. Other communities purchase multiple homes in a single neighborhood, creating a feeling of a large extended family living on the same block. Members of People of Praise pledge to donate 5 percent of their income to the group, though some give more.

Craig Lent, the leader of People of Praise, told Slate in 2018 that the community pledges “to care for each other physically, financially, materially, and spiritually.” Today, about 350 people belong to the People of Praise in South Bend, with a few thousand more in branches spread throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Their membership lists are not public.

Read the rest here.

People of Praise sounds like a movement of traditional Catholics influenced by evangelicalism, Pentecostalism (with its emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit), and complementarianism. It doesn’t sound like it is outside the mainstream of American Christianity. Critics will not like People of Praise for the same reasons they will not like Pentecostals for their faith healing and tongues-speaking, Southern Baptists for their complementarianism, and Catholics for their sexual ethics.

The former members of the group who claim People of Praise is a cult sound a lot like ex-evangelicals and ex-Catholics who levy criticisms against religious communities that make claims on the lives of their members. People of Praise is not the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like and you are free to leave.

I think we can also expect Barrett’s use of the phrase “Kingdom of God” in a 2006 commencement address will come-up again. I addressed that here.

But the issue here is not Barrett’s faith, but how and if that faith will influence the way she interprets the law. Questions about her Catholicism and People of Praise are absolutely fair game. Barrett should answer them.

Peggy Noonan has a good column on Peoples of Praise at the right-leaning The Wall Street Journal and Stephanie Mencimer has an informative piece from the left-leaning Mother Jones.