Moved by the Spirit: Pentecostal Power & Politics after 100 Years
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
April 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, an event that is often cited as the birth of modern pentecostalism. Since then, pentecostalism has emerged as one of the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “global South,” which comprises the nations of Africa, Central and Latin America and most of Asia, where pentecostalism is reshaping the religious, political and economic landscapes.
The Pew Forum, together with the USC Annenberg Knight Program in Media and Religion and the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, held an event to examine pentecostalism’s impact on global politics and its relevance to U.S. foreign policy concerns.
Anthea Butler, Assistant Professor of Religion, University of Rochester
Paul Freston, Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social & Economic Thought, Calvin College
Donald Miller, Firestone Professor of Religion, University of Southern California
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
DIANE WINSTON: I’m Diane Winston, and I hold the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California. As you all know, this is the centennial of the Azusa Street Revival, a movement that propelled a new faith worldwide. There are millions of pentecostal believers today, and all this week there will be events around town to celebrate the founding of this movement and what it has accomplished. Today we are going to put this in a political and social context by looking at the impact of pentecostalism on the global South in particular. And we are excited to have an outstanding panel of experts to talk with you about it.
I want to thank the sponsors of this event, the Pew Forum, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and the Knight program. And now I’ll turn this over to Luis Lugo, who is the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
LUIS LUGO: Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us for a discussion of “Moved by the Spirit: Pentecostal Power and Politics After 100 Years.” I’m Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington, D.C. We are a research organization and we do not take positions on policy debates — we’re probably the only group in Washington that doesn’t take positions on policy debates. We are delighted to be partnering today with the Knight Program in Media and Religion at Annenberg and the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, also here at USC.
As you probably already know, this is the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival, which started in L.A. not far from here and gave birth to the modern pentecostal movement. This event is being celebrated here this week. I spoke with the organizers just this morning. They have over 22,000 folks who are registered, not including the local folks, and over 100 countries represented. The anniversary offers us a great opportunity to consider, perhaps from a more detached research perspective, what this movement is all about.
You may be interested, since the Annenberg School is one of our partners here, to see how your newspaper of record, the Los Angeles Daily Times, as it was called in those days, described the events on Azusa Street back in April of 1906. I’m reading here from an article entitled, in the best tradition of impartial journalism, “Weird Babble of Tongues” (laughter) from April 18, 1906. It was the custom in those days to have three bullet points, which essentially summarized the article, and the three bullet points are these: “New sect of fanatics is breaking loose; Wild scene last night on Azusa Street; Gurgle of wordless talk by a sister.” (Laughter.)
I will read just the first paragraph: “Breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand, the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles. Meetings are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street near San Pedro, and devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers who spend hours swaying back and forth in nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the gift of tongues and to be able to comprehend the babble. Such a startling claim has never yet been made by any company of fanatics even in Los Angeles, the home of almost numberless creeds.” That was 1906.
A somewhat more recent L.A. Times piece from earlier this year adopted a slightly different tone in suggesting that pentecostalism, “may surpass the movie business as Los Angeles’ most influential export.” One wonders whether it hasn’t done so already. But without question, the single most dramatic shift in the world religious scene in the last 100 years has been the explosive growth of pentecostalism and associated renewalist movements, which now command a following of between 250 million and 500 million people worldwide. That is up to a quarter of world Christianity.
I was just looking through the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which points out that the fastest-growing denomination in this country last year was the Assemblies of God. But nowhere is this growth more evident and dramatic than in the global South, where pentecostalism is literally reshaping the social, political and economic landscapes of Latin America, Africa and many parts of Asia.
Pentecostals historically have tended to focus on individual spiritual conversions and experiences rather than on social causes, but as you will hear today, that is beginning to change, especially in the developing world. There, pentecostal churches are creating social programs that provide food and shelter for the hungry and the homeless, and establishing schools and daycare centers.
Pentecostals also have become increasingly involved in politics in countries as diverse as Brazil, Guatemala and Zambia. These developments, not surprisingly, have led to greater social and political tension with Catholicism in Latin America, for instance, with Islam in Africa and elsewhere and with Hinduism in India.
To explore these and other issues associated with the global pentecostal movement, we have with us today three very knowledgeable experts. First we will hear from Anthea Butler, an assistant professor of religion and a fellow at the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester in New York. She is a past president of the Society of Pentecostal Studies, and her work on pentecostalism has been published widely. Her book, Making a Sanctified World: Women in the Church of God in Christ, which, incidentally, is the largest pentecostal denomination in the country, should be out hopefully in the next two months.
Our second panelist, Paul Freston, occupies the Byker Chair in Sociology at Calvin College and is professor of sociology at the post-graduate program in social sciences at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos in Brazil. He is one of the premier experts on the political impact of pentecostalism around the world and has authored several books on religion and politics including Evangelicals in Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Finally, we will hear from your own Don Miller. He is Firestone Professor of Religion, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (one of the partners for this event), and professor of religion and sociology here at USC. His forthcoming book, tentatively titled The New Face of Global Christianity: The Emergence of Progressive Pentecostalism, focuses on the social ministries of pentecostal churches and is based on his last five years of research in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Again, thank you so much for joining us today. We look forward to the panelists’ comments and to the discussion to follow.
ANTHEA BUTLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Luis pointed to the first of the Los Angeles Daily Times articles on the revival, and I have to shoot back with my personal favorite of all of the articles that appeared. The title is “Women with Men Embrace; Whites and Blacks Mix in a Religious Frenzy; Wives Say They Left Husband to Follow Preacher.” Now that sounds like a good soap opera to me. (Laughter.)
The article goes on to say, “Muttering in jargon of unintelligible sounds, which no man can interpret, the worshippers in the barn-white Negro church on Azusa Street worked themselves into passions of religious fervor last night, and brought the meetings, which had been held for some time, to a climax. They caused a crowd of nearly 500 to assemble.”
As MapQuest tells me, about 4.8 miles away from this address is 312 Azusa Street, where the former foundations of the building that housed the Azusa Street Mission are now ensconced in cement surrounding the plaza of the Japanese Cultural Center. The Azusa Street Mission was the birthplace of pentecostalism to many. It is perhaps a strangely inauspicious place for the foundations of a movement that would be the subject of so much scrutiny today.
All this week, people from around the world are here to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this revival. I dare say that this might be just as many as passed through the revival between 1906 and 1910. So it’s good to think about that and put that in your framework.
Pentecostalism has become in vogue, as I like to think of it. Authors like Harvey Cox and Phil Jenkins are writing popular books in academic studies on the impact of pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere, or the impact of pentecostalism on social and cultural issues. What we have not really looked at, however, is the history of pentecostalism and how its origins begin to project into the future the trajectories of the social and political orientations that pentecostals around the globe understand themselves to have today — and I should say that that understanding is a very myriad understanding, which you’ll note from this history that I’m about to tell you.
My contribution to our discussion today will be to lay a historic foundation at the beginning of the Azusa Street revival to see if there is anything that we can actually point to that might be able to foresee — or as pentecostals might say, prophesy — the future of what global pentecostalism is today.
In order to do this, what I want to talk about today is something that we normally don’t talk about a lot with pentecostals. We all think we know what pentecostal belief is, but sometimes it is very hard to pinpoint that. I want to locate my discussion today in belief because I think it’s in pentecostal beliefs that we can see pentecostal actions historically in moving through that time.
There are three specific areas of pentecostal belief that form the foundation for this social and political orientation, and these are as follows: One, an end-time Messianic apocalyptic vision. That is, we expect Jesus to return soon. We are in the end of times and because the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh — and this is the book of Joel, chapter two — this orients us to evangelism; it is a missions-oriented impulse. And part of this global focus comes out of the actual speaking in tongues, which I will discuss. Now you see pentecostals today coming from Korea, the Caribbean, and Africa to America to evangelize. So it is a reverse evangelization.
The second area of belief is the restoration of the apostolic age. In other words, things that happened in Jesus’ time happen right now. In 1906, there was an expectation that these things would occur, signs and wonders from forerunners to the end of the kingdom, that would help people focus on social mores and concerns like temperance, purity, interracial harmony, the breaking of gender barriers; things happening in the last days that would not be like the days before. Pentecostalism around the world today is looked at as a force for individual change — social, health, AIDS, addictions and the like — and, of course, for economic change. We can look at these signs that the early pentecostals in 1906 looked to as a restoration of the apostolic age and begin to see these things in global pentecostalism today.
Finally, the third area of belief is the egalitarian and democratic focus: The Spirit is poured out on all flesh — male, female, black, white, red, yellow or brown. Everyone can receive this gift. And not only can everyone receive this gift, but the boundaries of nationalism, gender and race are broken. And we can see today in global pentecostalism how these things work themselves out among countries and specific peoples.
Early pentecostals also did not have a sense of denominational boundaries. This was a movement; this was not a church. And so, as such, it operated beyond the normal boundaries and confines of what we see. And we’re going to talk a little about how you have people from different religious traditions entering into the Azusa Street Revival. If we had a longer time to talk about this, I would go forward to talk about how pentecostalism is one vein, charismatic is another and renewal is another, and those all come under the big rubric of pentecostalism.
The social and political posture of the Azuza Street movement, then, at the beginning, was rooted in a biblical but not a fundamentalist orientation — and there is a big differentiation there; because something is biblical does not mean that it’s fundamentalist. They looked to the Bible as a template for reading the signs of the times and interpreting their place within the world and the pentecostal experience.
It is within that context, then, that the actions of early pentecostals, politically and socially, can be seen as both complementary and contradictory to many of the things that we see in global pentecostalism today: a concern for social issues gleaned from prophetic beliefs and biblical justice, yet acquiescing to social norms when confronted; an orientation to engage in the political and social forces of government on the basis of biblical focus and social injustice, but also a willingness to assist the government and lead changes to the right intervention; an ability to cross social and denominational boundaries because of the imminent return of Christ, yet raising boundaries to protect fledgling pentecostal communities; and removal of boundaries in worship, yet raising those same worship barriers to create difference and dissension.
In sum, the mainstream pentecostal movement was a bundle of contradictions and complexities, all mediated by social and political constraints of the social vocations of the various participants who visited and promoted the revival. Much like the multiplicity of global pentecostalism, one sometimes knows what pentecostalism is or what pentecostal behavior is if you see it, but defining it to the minutiae is another task altogether.
In order to set the stage for you, let me just briefly tell you what the history is in a nutshell. The revival first actually began among a group of African-Americans at the Bonnie Bray house at 216 North Bonnie Bray Street. The house still exists today. If you’re here this week and you want to take a tour, there are people there almost around the clock, and you’ll be able to go in and look at some of the original furnishings that were in the house.
When the revival broke out on April 8, 1906, it happened amongst a small group of African-Americans led by a man named William J. Seymour, who had traveled to Los Angeles to preach the message of pentecost that he learned from Charles Parham, who has sometimes been called the projector and founder of pentecostalism. Within a week, over 300 people were beginning to meet there. The porch fell in on the last night. The Los Angeles Police Department came because people were speaking in tongues in the street, and they arrested them on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. (Laughter.) So if you think that this was a small meeting, be warned; it becomes even worse. The police told the gatherers that they would need to move, and they moved to 312 Azusa Street a week later, happening to meet that first day on April 16, 1906.
This was a crucial date because one of the things that happened, and what Luis did not say to you when he read from that April 18 article from the Los Angeles Daily Times, was that April 18 was also the day the San Francisco earthquake happened. Somebody, two days beforehand, had predicted at the meeting that God was going to do a great shaking. And so when the earthquake happened in San Francisco, obviously the confluence of both this pentecostal experience of speaking in tongues and manifestations of signs and wonders, coupled with this actual event of the San Francisco earthquake, set the revival on its course and began to bring people there in large numbers.
This babble that the reporter talked about in the Los Angeles Daily Times was tongues, and tongues is this first and formidable sort of sign that pentecostals look to as a way to prove both, A, a sanctification experience, and, B, this end-time focus. Early pentecostals thought of this tongues-speaking as not just glossolalia, as we term it in religious language, but xenoglossolalia, actual languages. So for the participants at the Azusa Street revival, this sign of tongues, then, was not just a spiritual language, as some pentecostals will talk about it now, but it was also an actual language that would help them to speak to people of other nationalities to spread the gospel. Plans abounded at the mission of Chinese, Mexicans and others who claimed they could hear messages from God in their own language.
Xenoglossolalia was a new boundary breaker, a form of incipient global focus that was present at the beginning of the revival. This gift was for a purpose: to evangelize the world. And those who believed that they had this gift of tongues — that it was an actual language — set out for mission fields in Asia, Africa and Europe. And I don’t need to tell you that there were many missionaries who found themselves on the shores of Africa or China who were very upset to find out that those tongues they spoke were not actual languages.
So in a sense, then, you could look at early pentecostals as being focused out to this global world mission. For some, their mission’s activity was about going out into the world. For others it was to influence political focus. John G. Lake was one apostolic missionary who went to South Africa and found himself in a very interesting conversation with Louis Botha about the homelands and the natives, and he suggested that perhaps they might want to do what the Americans had done in putting Native Americans on the reservation. This would be one of the other kinds of focus that you can see come out of pentecostalism.
Another is, in a sense, this barrier breaking of gender relationships. Women at the revival were allowed to speak. People like Florence Crawford, who came to the revival, ended up actually leaving their husbands and children in order to go out and minister. We might see this egalitarian focus today in terms of women who were actually able to go and preach, even though they are in pentecostal denominations that don’t allow women to be in ministry; this charismatic gift that is received allows them to go forth and do these things.
Third, and something that we do need to focus on, is racial relations at Azusa Street. You hear about whites and blacks mixing. William Seymour was committed to this interracial revival and keeping everyone within these confines. What sometimes happened, though, is that people left the revival and went back to the South and tried to change the social mores. G.B. Cashwell, for instance, had an experience here with baptism that was scary. He said at first, “There were blacks who laid hands on me, but I shuddered and left the revival because I could not stand their hands upon me.” But later he went out and tried to change the social mores when he found himself back in his hometown. Unfortunately, society moved in, and society kept the focus away from that.
So what do we see from early pentecostalism? What can we glean from this? This egalitarian nature of the Azusa Street Mission allowed, in one part, many from different denominations to come into the doors and receive the baptism. On the other hand, you had acquiescence to political or social mores. When early pentecostals left the mission, they found themselves in positions like Lake, in compliance with the government. They often found themselves sometimes — like Charles H. Mason, who came to the mission as well — in direct defiance of the government because of their pacifistic beliefs. Mason was followed by the early FBI because of believing in pacifism.
What we can see from the core of the movement is a global focus. The things that concerned early pentecostals, whether it was economics, social or political concerns or this evangelistic thrust of xenoglossolalia, brought Azusa Street Mission people into contact with the rest of the world. This pentecostal experience that was not tendered into the denominational structure of strict organizational lines were able to mutate, proliferate and grow from the imaginations of those who thought of themselves as being this missing link to the upper room at Pentecost.
Though often classed as unhistorical, pentecostals connected themselves to history when it counted for them: the hope of the power of the Spirit to change the world they inhabited into the Kingdom of God, where the pains of the world — disease, hunger and privation — give way to a new world where boundaries would be immaterial and suffering would cease.
It is in this vein, then, that we must look at these aspects of global pentecostalism today that continue to resonate for people around the world, no matter what class, status or ethnicity they are. The pentecostal desire for a utopian community is written on the faces of those pilgrims that this week have arrived in Los Angeles, not by train or boat, but by the modern conveyances of planes and automobiles. Thank you.
PAUL FRESTON: To understand the political impacts and the political potential of pentecostalism worldwide we’d have to understand something of its spread. I would tend to go with the lower estimates of numbers of pentecostals in the world. Even so, that’s quite an impressive number. And the vast majority of them, of course, are in the global South. They may be 4 or 5 percent of the world population, which doesn’t sound like very much, but you have to remember that they’re highly practicing and they’re fast growing through evangelism and through high birth rates in many parts of the world. There have been two main areas of impressive pentecostal growth from non-Christian religions — that’s in Sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of East Asia — and one area of growth from Catholicism, in Latin America.
Today major centers of pentecostalism include Brazil, which probably has the largest community of pentecostals in the world, Chile, Guatemala, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Korea, the Philippines and China. Is pentecostalism then, in any sense, an American religion? Well, yes, if one attributes relative importance to what happened at Azusa Street a hundred years ago, which I would say was due largely to the networks which it managed to establish — networks of missionaries and networks of immigrants in various places. But you have to remember, of course, that this was the underside of American religion, far from centers of power and wealth, and it was often, in fact, exported by non-Americans. And also, of course, there were similar phenomena going on elsewhere in the world at the same time, which were less able to globalize their influence.
Pentecostalism grows today almost entirely through indigenous initiatives, not through American televangelists, whatever they may say about themselves. You will have noticed, of course, that there were, for instance, no Venezuelan pentecostals anxious to assassinate President Hugo Chávez because Pat Robertson told them to. (Laughter.)
So the characteristics of global pentecostalism that are important for its political impact include the fact that it’s very institutionally divided; it’s disproportionately amongst the poor in already poor countries; it’s nontraditional; and it often lacks international contacts, which gives it a certain invisibility and is why it’s often missed by Western academia and media. Pentecostalism, in short, is world Christianity distant from power and wealth, associated largely with poverty. And global pentecostalism is usually not at all dependent on Western pentecostalism.
It’s no use, therefore, to try to understand pentecostalism through the category of fundamentalism, whether understood in its historical American Protestant sense or the contemporary usage of American fundamentalism and Hindu fundamentalism. It’s a different sort of religiosity, and it relates differently to global trends. As a large and rapidly growing religion, especially among the world’s poor, its political doings may in the long run be almost as important as those of Islam.
So what are the political impacts in the global South? Does the pentecostal experience lead necessarily to a particular political position? I don’t think it does. In the past it was often said that pentecostalism necessarily leads you to be apolitical, and that proves to be wrong. And then it started to be said that it necessarily leads you to be politically conservative. But there are many signs that that is not always by any means the case either. Certainly some pentecostal theologies do tend either towards being apolitical or towards being conservative, but that’s a different thing.
There are surveys that show the pentecostal experience does not correlate with being less involved in social and political movements. There is an increasing involvement of pentecostals in politics, in Asia to a certain extent, although not so much, in Africa quite a lot and in Latin America especially. The positions adopted have been extremely diverse and the record very mixed. Pentecostalism is being put to a variety of political uses across the globe. Its fragmentation means that its direct political impact is always smaller than might be hoped or feared. No pentecostal neo-Christendom potentially dangerous to democracy is really feasible. In any case, a very small minority of pentecostals have theocratic political projects similar to those of militant Islamists.
Also, it doesn’t seem to be true that Third-World pentecostals will automatically line up with the First-World Christian right on many issues. While they may do so on abortion and homosexuality — though without making those questions so central — it’s far more fractured on questions of gender and economics, and distant from the Christian right on geopolitical issues. The results for democracy are paradoxical. Totalitarian regimes or movements are firmly resisted, as are non-Christian religious nationalisms, but authoritarian regimes that do not impinge on freedom of religion may not always be.
Being so fragmented, pentecostalism is less useful during phases of democratic transition. But during the more extended periods of democratic consolidation, it helps to incorporate marginal social actors and instill the confidence and skills which strengthen democratic culture at the level of civil society. However, it’s also possible the churches may be extremely wrapped up in the apocalyptic mentality that regards the world as hopeless. Such a mentality is, at best, not helpful to democratization. But that withdrawal mentality is now less common, especially in churches at a slightly higher social level. One now sometimes finds the opposite of that: a triumphalistic mentality that we are the children of God; therefore we should be governing.
So theocratic ideas are emerging that say believers should govern their countries in the name of God. In some places, it’s better-off charismatics, used to having a political role in society, who entertain such ideas — for example, in Zambia, where a charismatic president declares Zambia to be a Christian nation, though without establishing any church or any legal discrimination of non-Christian religions. In other places, it’s more the older, lower-class pentecostal churches that have grown so much that their leaders have become ambitious and tried to transform their religious leadership into political leadership, either simply to strengthen their own churches as institutions by milking the state, or by dreaming of exercising political power for themselves. That dream obviously does have serious anti-democratic potential, but in practice it doesn’t happen, because they don’t control the votes of their members like they think they do. In any case, the churches are too divided among themselves.
So the direct effect of pentecostalism on politics may be less than is hoped or feared. It’s a pluralist form of organization which can be seen as inherently compatible with democracy, but at times it’s also a civil society bound up in its own limited projects and unable to develop a more universalistic reflection on public life. Very often also, third-world pentecostals are cut off from the history of Christian political reflection. In some countries, the result has been damage to the public image of pentecostals, associating them with political naiveté and vulnerability to manipulation and even sometimes with corruption and hunger for power. They are undoubtedly on a steep learning curve. But the growing involvement in social projects sometimes leads to more critical political involvement, oriented more to the good of society as a whole. In fact, one can even see, to a certain extent, a shift to the left, or at least to the center left, particularly in parts of Latin America. In part, this shift is due to the sudden shifts in the politics of the Catholic Church, no longer seen as occupying the left so much and therefore opening space for another religion to do that.
There are also, of course, the class aspects; one finds, for example, that pentecostals in Venezuela tend to be quite favorable toward Hugo Chávez. Greater involvement in social projects, as I’ve said, leads to a new perception of social reality, the realization of how many things need to be dealt with at a more-than-purely-individual level. Also, increasingly, pentecostalism’s attraction as a religion of personal salvation means that you have more and more left-wing militants converting to pentecostalism and continuing to be left-wing militants.
In addition, pentecostals are often quite nationalistic. Why wouldn’t they be? Pentecostals in this country are nationalistic, but of course it’s a different nation whose interests are being defended. And in some cases, pentecostalism has been embraced by ethnic minorities with their own political agendas. At the level of civil society, very often the impact is very different from that at the macro level of political parties and parliaments. For example, in Brazil it’s often commented that in the shantytowns, the favelas, really only two things function: the Catholic Church is absolute and the state is nonexistent; the only things which function are organized crime and the pentecostal churches. There is a tremendous amount going on at that level.
Finally, I’ve been asked to comment on the relevance of global pentecostalism to U.S. foreign policy concerns, though I’m not the person to talk about that. But anyway, if foreign policy concerns and security concerns mean any questioning of the immense power differential between the United States and other countries in the world, then I would say, yes, undoubtedly pentecostal growth will have some implications for that. If it means will there be pentecostals blowing up buildings in Los Angeles next week, no, probably not. (Laughter.) Pentecostalism sees itself, amongst other things, as a recovery of primitive Christianity. And primitive Christianity, of course, was largely pacifist. It was persecuted, not persecuting. So even though you do increasingly have some pentecostals moving in other directions, they have greater difficulty justifying that tendency on the basis of primitive Christianity.
There is certainly in pentecostal political militancy some use of violence. As I said, there are some marginal theocratic tendencies among pentecostals in some parts of the world. However, since they don’t have a Sharia to implement, their ideas of theocracy generally boil down to little more than their supposed God-given right to rule. As to the use of political violence, there have been some incidents in Nigeria where, of course, pentecostals — and Christians in general, and Muslims — are involved in a fight for the control of a very important nation state. There have also been some recent cases of pentecostal vigilantism in parts of Central America as part of the more general phenomenon of vigilantism. And there has been some involvement of pentecostals in armed separatist movements in a few countries of Asia and Africa, which are all based perhaps more on ethnicity and region than on religion.
But with regard to international terrorism, there is really no pentecostal equivalent. Some scholars have expressed the fear that African Christianity might have a serious terrorist potential. Being from the world’s most impoverished region, the argument goes, and being very religious, which is obviously a dangerous thing, the only ingredient lacking is the knowledge and technology to be dangerous on an international scale. However, there is very little evidence for this, at least so far. As I say, some pentecostals in northern Nigeria have killed some Muslims who, they would say in justification, were attacking them. In such a tense context, the tendency of some pentecostal groups to consider one’s religious opponents as demon-possessed could well be explosive, and there is also a worrying tendency in some new theologies toward a return to ideas of territoriality and even to a rule of the saints. However, it should be remembered that pentecostal Christianity, as compared with Islam, has had a very different historical relationship to the state, to territory and to the use of force.
What about a comparison between pentecostals from the global South and their co-religionists in the United States? Perhaps far from being a constituency for international terrorism, does global pentecostalism constitute an extension of American soft power? Does it mean that there will be a commonality of geopolitical worldviews which will extend the power of the United States throughout the world? Once again, I’m dubious. The war on terror, and especially the war in Iraq, has revealed a deep fissure within global pentecostalism. Before the invasion of Iraq, a television program in Brazil featured several Brazilian pentecostal congressmen discussing this issue. However conservative the political parties that these congressmen represented, and, if you’ll pardon the expression, however wild and woolly some of the churches that they were involved in, all of them, to a man, were unanimous in condemning the imminent invasion of Iraq.
While not monolithic, the majority current in Brazilian pentecostalism seems far closer on these questions to Christian currents in the United States, which might be labeled mainstream. As for Spanish-speaking Latin America, a surprising diversity of Latin American churches made official pronouncements against the war, including many churches usually thought of as politically conservative, or which like to imagine themselves as non-political. In addition, a very conservative South African Christian political party, based mostly among white and black charismatic churches, the African Christian Democratic Party, opposed the imminent invasion of Iraq in no uncertain terms. Their spokesman in Parliament said that selfish interests and ducking domestic problems were not good reasons to go to war. The ACDP, they said, rejects, from a Christian perspective, the American civil religion that says America is pre-destined by God to save the world.
We thus see how risky it is to read Third-World pentecostalism either through the lens of contemporary Islamic politics, or through the lens of the American religious right. It is not now, nor is it likely to become, either the next constituency of recruits for geopolitical terrorism or an extension of American soft power. Thank you.
DONALD MILLER: I am going to talk about a very particular slice within pentecostalism, and this is the way in which I got to that particular point: About five years ago, I was with a good friend, Ted Yamamori, who was then the president of a large nongovernmental organization. We were sitting in a café in Manila and decided that we would like to do a research project that would focus on fast-growing churches that were in urban areas, that were in the developing world and that also had very strong social ministries within their own community. We wrote to about 400 experts to recommend congregations that could be the focus of this study, and to our surprise, about 85 percent of the congregations that were recommended were either pentecostal or charismatic.
So we decided we would write a book on what we are calling progressive pentecostals. These congregations are not necessarily progressive in the political sense, but they are progressive in the sense that they are really moving beyond an other-worldly preoccupation with the imminent return of Christ. Not that they’ve abandoned this idea, but they are equally concerned with following Jesus’ example of ministering to those who are sick, addressing the problems associated with poverty, confronting societal injustice and so on.
Let me turn directly to our research findings. We found a very wide spectrum of social ministries in the 20 developing countries where we did case studies. There was a spectrum that ranged from very individualistic interventions to approaches that incorporated a public health model
For example — and this probably was true even from the earliest days of pentecostalism in 1906 — there were mercy ministries, namely, projects that were focused on providing food to people who were hungry, clothing to people who needed clothing, shelter for those who were homeless and so forth. Also, we found a number of pentecostal churches around the developing world that were responding to particular crises. Whether it be floods or famines or earthquakes, pentecostals were there providing emergency services of one sort or another.
We also, in a very interesting way, found a number of pentecostal churches that were entering the sphere of education. Rather than children going to schools with 100 children in a classroom, they were trying to create model schools with 30, 40 or 50 children in a classroom. Also, a number of these churches were involved in preschool education of various sorts. In addition, many of these churches had drug treatment programs; if we have time, maybe in the Q & A, I can give some actual examples of different drug treatment programs, some of which very much draw upon supernatural powers related to the Holy Spirit for assisting people in getting off drugs.
Moving into the social arena, many of these churches are also starting health clinics, often very affordable ones. Some of them are partnering with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] on various kinds of economic development projects, particularly micro-credit loans that start small businesses within the community.
Progressive pentecostalism is an emergent movement. I do not know what percentage of the pentecostal movement this slice may represent, but my guess is 10 percent or something in that neighborhood; that is, of pentecostal churches that are really engaging their communities, moving beyond simply their own religious community.
What are the elements that are contributing to this social engagement? One interesting comment I received from someone I interviewed in Argentina was that liberation theology, typically associated with the Catholic tradition, opted for the poor, but the poor opted for pentecostalism. (Laugher.) Indeed, I think there is something to be said for that idea because there is, in a religious economy sense, a lot of competition within different elements of the Christian communion, particularly in various parts of Latin America, but also, to some degree, in other parts of the world.
Another important element, in my opinion, is that the leadership is not removed from the people. Someone I interviewed in Kenya said that the shepherd, referring to the clergy, smells like the sheep; meaning a lot of the clergy within these pentecostal movements are not highly educated, they don’t have seminary degrees, they very much are connected to the people to whom they are ministering. They know their problems, they know their pain and they are committed to helping them move from a position of scarcity into one of greater affluence.
There’s another element that has struck me over and over again in traveling around the world, and that is how innovative, creative and entrepreneurial many pentecostals are. In fact, on occasion I felt these people were megalomaniacs of one sort or another in terms of their goals and ambitions. But a couple years later, when I went back and visited the same congregations, they had, in fact, realized many of the social projects they had envisioned.
Why is this focus on social ministries emerging with greater force at this moment in the history of pentecostalism? Even though pentecostalism has its roots with the very poor, there is a growing middle class in many of these countries. And my own sense is that as people are becoming better educated, they’re starting to think in a more holistic way about, not only their own lives, but about their communities and about solutions to problems. So, rather than thinking simply in highly individualistic ways — how can I feed this person? — they are beginning to think increasingly in structural terms. This, again, is not all of pentecostalism, but it’s the particular slice I have looked at.
Also, it’s no secret that there’s been an exponential increase in the number of global NGOs — organizations like World Vision, Food for the Hungry, Compassion International and so forth. And in many countries, I’ve observed growing partnerships between these NGOs, a number of whom are very sophisticated in terms of their development theories, and pentecostal churches. I think the presence of NGOs is starting to have a very direct impact on pentecostal social engagement. And, also, of course, pentecostals don’t live in isolation. They often attend the same conferences and events and read some of the same media as evangelicals do. And, of course, there is a fairly significant element of evangelicalism that also is engaged in social ministries.
To switch gears here for a moment, there’s another way of thinking about pentecostal social development. It has a lot of parallels to the sociological literature that has been referred to as the Protestant Ethic Thesis, which is related to the growth of capitalism. Let me just give a pentecostal angle to that notion. One of the first things that happens to a new convert to pentecostalism, particularly to the men, is that they give up, or at least are told to give up, womanizing, gambling, alcohol, drugs, if they’re using drugs and so forth. What is the impact of that, particularly in relatively poor communities? One result is that people actually end up having surplus capital, at least when compared with their neighbors who are continuing those practices. Where does that surplus capital go? It ends up being invested in their own petty businesses — and I could give a lot of examples of that. It ends up being invested in the education of their children. In short, pentecostals — and this also certainly applies to Mormons and other groups, so it’s not exclusive to pentecostalism — end up then having a competitive economic advantage when compared to those who are not abiding by these particular prescriptions.
There are other interesting angles here. Pentecostals very much believe that one should not be involved in promiscuous affairs, that young people should have sex only in marriage and that young women, in particular, should delay sexual debut and delay having children, which often results in them having more education, allowing them to be involved in better employment. And that also, I believe, is one of the reasons we’re witnessing upward social mobility in a number of pentecostal communities.
So far, I’ve said nothing about the goal of theology, but obviously theology is extremely important within pentecostalism. One thing I heard, sitting through thousands of hours of sermons, were preachers telling congregants, “You are made in the image of God; you have value; you have dignity.” In fact, in one vivid example, I went to a rather small church of indigenous people in Guatemala, and, repeatedly, the preacher, who was a local person, was saying, “Stand up for your rights.” And it had a very progressive political quality to it. I think that there are significant implications, then, for the possibilities of not only self-worth, but also for the evolution of democratic reform within various countries.
I’ll just end by saying this: What I’ve observed in my research is that pentecostals often are creating alternative institutions. They are creating alternative schools, alternative forms of medical care. To the extent that they’re political, in a number of instances, it is their conviction that they’re actually building a whole new generation of people who potentially could be involved in the political realm, but in a noncorrupt and more morally praiseworthy way. To the extent that this will actually occur, I guess time will tell.
MR. LUGO: Thank you, Don. I should add, speaking of all the research that these fine folks are doing, that the Pew Forum, with the help of our friends at the Templeton Foundation, is about to launch a major series of surveys of pentecostal publics and leaders, both in the United States and around the world. It’s a very complicated project, but our aim is to probe their attitudes on a wide range of issues and create what we hope is a more complete portrait of the global pentecostal movement. In fact, we’re going in the field this week, as it happens, in nine countries — three in Africa, three in Asia, three in Latin America — and then this summer we’ll survey pentecostals here in the United States. We’re working with the organizers of the Azusa Street Centennial so that we can poll the leaders who are coming from those more than 100 countries to get a sense of where pentecostal leaders are.
We hope to have these results ready by early fall, so stay tuned on that one. It’s probably going to just bear out what these folks have been saying. A social scientist, a former Secretary of Education, once defined social science as “the elaborate demonstration of the obvious by methods that are obscure.” (Laughter.) That’s what we intend to do over the next few months.
It’s time to hear from you folks. I would ask that you keep your comments and questions brief, and that you please identify yourself.
QUESTION: My name is Joyce Dillard. My grandmother’s aunt was the white woman who went to the black service. The whole family left Sweden because they were Baptists. She was a Samuelson; Osterberg was her married name. And my grandparents were in the movement with Azusa Street. A lot of oral history is not brought up here. They rose with the Spirit; it wasn’t just talking in tongues. You didn’t address the healing by laying on of hands, but both my grandparents and many of my relatives have that ability to lay on the hands, and that is an aspect of the growth of this religion.
Family stability is another issue. Boy, you couldn’t divorce like you can today; that was a no-no. That kept our family stable. And there was an individualism. My grandfather was one of those that did the baptisms in the name of Jesus; he was one of the rebels of the movement, and he was self-educated. He learned the different languages, Greek and Hebrew, on his own, and it’s that self-motivation in pentecostalism that I think needs to be addressed. You have the power to do things, to act whenever.
Also, I think as a whole, as far as world politics go, you need to address the use of the radio back in those times. Again, my grandfather had a radio. My grandparents didn’t even have a TV set. They would come to our house for the Rose Parade. Later, toward the end of their lives, they did have a TV set, but most of the time that was taboo. Now, the use of television has come in with the movement, and I think that transition from radio to TV needs to be analyzed and reported on.
I’ve already mentioned international relations. There is the “10/40 window,” prayer for all the Muslim countries. Very few people know about this. This country was prepared, and is prepared today, because we’re still praying for those countries. And it was across the board in Protestant religions; it wasn’t just pentecostal. I was in a Nazarene church where I was doing that 10/40 prayer. So I think that needs to be addressed as part of the movement, because that’s been neglected as a component of religions in the world scene, and people, as individuals, are involved, even though they may be sitting at home or in their churches.
MS. BUTLER: Let me address a couple of things you said. You made the comment about tongues talking and the laying on of hands. If we had had more time, I could have gotten into a fuller history of the movement. What I wanted to do to lay the groundwork was to talk about the things that are directly related to global relationships. And tongues, especially, is a very contested part of the movement theologically. You also mentioned the baptism in Jesus’ name. That’s the wonders movement. There are many manifestations of this around the world.
I appreciate you bringing up your grandparents because I think, in part, what we often miss about this story is how much this was a global movement from the very beginning. People were coming from all over the world to Los Angeles to hear this message, and then they were going back out again. And what did that mean? How did they go out? What kind of manifestations did they take?
But I will take issue with one thing you said, and that is individualism. This individualism comes because of the baptism of the Spirit; the Spirit dwells in you. If you think about certain manifestations of pentecostalism, about service and power, it’s not just about the individual. It’s what the individual is going to do to benefit the kingdom, and that’s the important part. This is how pentecostals locate themselves. So it’s not just a sense of individualism for individualism’s sake. It’s individualism that works towards what is supposed to happen at the end times — it’s this eschatological thing that we see. So when you talk about your relatives being individuals, I would submit that that individualism is connected to a core.
You also brought up this issue of media, which sort of made me laugh because I thought, well, if evangelicals thought they had media, pentecostals perfected it. If you think about media in this country and media in terms of the first televangelists — Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart — there’s a plethora of things that you can see on the television set right now. Aimee Semple McPherson, was the first woman to own a radio station west of the Mississippi River. But even before that media, you had the Apostolic Faith Newspaper that went out all over the world, from Azusa Street, that began to be printed three or four months after the mission opened.
So I think this kind of use of media is very important, and how the secular media reported on Azusa Street is also important. It’s not just a black and white thing; I really want to get you to see that. This is a much more complex movement than perhaps a lot of people – especially the scholarly community – give it credit for.
MR. MILLER: I think one cannot underestimate the role of music within the pentecostal tradition. I mentioned that one of the liabilities is the bad breath of translators, and one of the other liabilities is sitting next to one of these huge speakers and going deaf in one ear.
The music at the congregations — at least, that I did case studies of — often was extremely professional. There was a sense in which converts were coming directly from entertaining in bars to playing worship music — with changed lyrics, obviously. And so I think media does play actually a very strong role, but I would say the punch behind a lot of it is the music: the originality of the music, the cultural embeddedness and appropriateness of the music. Pentecostalism is oftentimes attracting a fairly young constituency. And my opinion is that it’s because they are attracted initially to the music; that that is one sort of porthole into this movement.
MR. LUGO: You know, I’ve heard that even Elvis learned a thing or two from the Church of God in Christ down in Memphis (laughter). That may be a rumor. I don’t know.
But it’s interesting. This pre-Otis Chandler L.A. Times piece mentioned at the very end that there was a Jewish rabbi at that Azusa Street Revival — Gold, and that he converted. This is the question I want to pose to you, Paul, and it’s connected to the Islam question that the lady posed. In our survey we’re trying to probe for a philosemitism among worldwide pentecostals. Do you find much of that, particularly in Africa, and we’re talking in this context, in particular? It’s a philosemitism that’s connected with the apocalyptic understanding of the end times, and it’s already feeding certain attitudes toward Islam.
MR. FRESTON: By philosemitism, I take it you mean friendship toward the modern state of Israel. I think you find, again, a variety of postures. You have some that align with Christian Zionism, which, of course, increasingly will come in conflict with the actual policy of the state of Israel, now that Israel has realized that demography is more important than topography. But on the other hand, you also find pentecostal missionaries from the global South working in the Muslim world who are extremely unhappy about Christian Zionism and about the policy of the United States in the Middle East, and, in fact, find that they are much better accepted in Muslim countries than they would be if they were Americans.
The “10/40 window” is this idea that you need to have a major missionary thrust between the 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, basically in Africa and Asia — basically the area where the other major world religions hold sway. And why is that important now? Because there aren’t many other people left.
Increasingly, if you’re a world religion and you want to evangelize now, you will be evangelizing people who belong to another world religion, and increasingly also, the evangelists will be Christians from the global South. In other words, the idea of the Christian missionary must be changed quite radically. It’s no longer always, by any means, a wealthy, white Westerner.
And so increasingly you have the possibility — especially perhaps between Christianity and Islam — that these religions are in competition for an increasingly scarce number of converts.
I think part of the problem there is the question of learning. And one of the things that I noticed that very often characterizes both pentecostal missionaries and also pentecostals in politics is the problem that if you believe that you are chosen, that God has called you and that you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and if you have the recipe for making things work — you have the recipe for evangelizing because you’ve done it in your own country. You have the recipe for politics because you are the cream of society. You don’t need to take the trouble to actually go and study and learn from history, learn from how other Christians have done it and got it right or got it wrong. So the problem is how you get into the right frame of mind to go through a learning curve. And that’s been a big problem, I think, both in missions from the Third World, and also in their involvement in politics.
MR. LUGO: Paul is overseeing a project that is looking at missionary-sending activities from the global south to other parts of the global South, but also to the North. So stay tuned for that piece of research.
QUESTION: I’m a graduate student in theology at USC, and I study Central American immigrant pentecostals here in L.A. I have a question for Anthea. I really appreciated your discussion of the history of pentecostalism, and the racial inclusiveness of the early Azusa Street pentecostals and how that was central to the early sexualized stereotypes of Pentecostals. Yet I still work here in L.A. in the small storefronts, and even to an extent the mega churches, and I see that it’s segregated along the lines of race and ethnicity and nationality. So I’m wondering if you could speak to these contemporary manifestations of pentecostalism that are more segregated.
MS. BUTLER: I think part of it goes back to cultural issues.. From Azusa Street forward, you’re in a time of Jim Crow. You begin to have people go back South and otherwise. What we’re seeing now is partly that Pentecostals really do mirror the city. If I think about Los Angeles, for instance — I’m going to pick on some of the biggies here — let’s think about West Angeles. There are Latinos living all around the community, but they are not going to West Angeles because they view this as an African-American church, and vice versa. There is the issue of language barriers. Spanish, especially, is one.
There’s also the class issue. And I think this is important. If you think about what has happened here in Los Angeles, especially within the last three or four months with issues regarding the jails and the prisons, sets of African-American men, Latino men and women who are incarcerated, their parents are part of these churches. Fighting for resources becomes very important. Theologically, they may be the same, but when it comes to the cultural issues and the pressures in terms of immigration, that is where we step into the political realm. You might have African-American pentecostals thinking a certain way about all these immigration policies that are going on relative to Central Americans’ thoughts about immigration here in the United States.
It’s a complex issue in the States. What I find overseas, especially in places like Europe, is that the immigration problem becomes the biggest problem to interracial relationships. I attend a church in Zurich from time to time, and the African congregation there has had some whites in the past, and they also have a very large pentecostal church there that has about 5,000 members right now. That congregation has a small contingent of Africans and some people from Latin America, but it’s predominately Swiss pentecostal and white.
So I think what we find is that sometimes it’s social and cultural issues. But I’ll lead with this, because I think the things that show up, even though you don’t have race mixing. The “Celebrate Jesus celebrate” song in the video we saw, is a popular hymn written by a Pentecostal, Gary Oliver. You can hear that song being sung in Spanish. You could go to a church like the Church Of the Way in Van Nuys, and you’d hear that same song.
The packaging is often the same in terms of music and how it is used, but the social and cultural issues on the ground sometimes dictate what happens in the church. And so that was the tension that I was speaking about, when something from the outside comes into the church and keeps that segregation.
MR. LUGO: You know, post-’65 immigration is having these kinds of consequences in religious communities throughout this country. We hear a lot about the number of non-Christian immigrants, and, indeed, since ’65, we’ve had more religious diversity with Muslims, Hindus and others coming in. But if you look at the demographics, the most important lesson in terms of religious demographics in the post-’65 immigration is not the religious diversity with respect to non-Christian religions. The biggest story demographically speaking is the number of Christians who have come in and are remaking American Christianity. I like to quote Stephen Warner here, a sociologist of religion, who says what we’re witnessing in the first instance is not so much the de-Christianization of American society as the de-Europeanization of American Christianity, which is really quite interesting.
Four out of 10 Catholics in this country are Latino, you know, and in the Assemblies of God, at least 25 percent are Latinos. So it is changing, and in other communities as well, not just with respect to Latino immigration, which is roughly half of the ’65 immigration. Look, even your average Arab in this country is a Christian Arab, not a Muslim Arab, and that has implications. So we’re seeing these issues negotiated throughout American religion.
MR. FRESTON: I looked at Brazilian immigration to this country, and a lot of these people are already pentecostals or become so here. Pentecostalism is a religion made to travel. It does especially well in diaspora situations, it seems, for a number of reasons. And it’s interesting how in these churches, the vast majority are illegal, and so before they have another sort of theology, the theology that they need to develop, even though it’s usually implicit rather than explicit, is what I’d call a theology of the undocumented. They do, in fact, develop a very interesting theology of the undocumented based on biblical, historical and pragmatic arguments.
QUESTION: I’m John Wiseman. I’m a Ph.D. student. What is the role of prophecy, either fulfilled or unfulfilled, in the current state of pentecostalism? I’m particularly thinking of Dr. Miller’s comments about the social changes taking place, the move to material and social change in pentecostalism. I’m wondering if prophecy — maybe unfulfilled prophecies — has had anything to do with that move away from other- worldly conceptions and actions to more material social change.
MR. MILLER: In a number of the churches that I studied, there would be rather carefully orchestrated moments where there could be prophecy, but it typically was of a fairly general sort that was more focused on encouraging the flock and the community — not prophecy in the sense that we sometimes think about it in terms of foretelling what will happen in the future. So it’s not that it wasn’t present, but I didn’t see its political role. I’d be interested in hearing my colleagues’ take on it.
MR. FRESTON: Yes, there are distinctions out there. There is prophecy in that sort of sense – general messages of encouragement. Then you might have prophecies that actually foretell specific events, which might or might not come to pass. And third, of course, you have the question of seeing the signs of the times of biblical prophecies being fulfilled, which would be another dimension and perhaps what you were thinking of more.
I think in that context, initially, you did have a very strong pre-millennial interpretation of prophecy, which tended to feed into a sort of Titanic mentality; you know, the world is like the Titanic, it’s going down; all you can do is get people onto the lifeboats and off the ship.
But I think that, sociologically speaking, there are encouragements for that to change as you get a bigger stake in the world — either as an institution you get a bigger stake, and therefore the leaders become more interested in getting a stake in the world, in society, even in politics, and defending that, or else your actual flock moves up.
Or another scenario is that you start to attract people at a higher social level. What has happened in someplace like Guatemala, for example, is that a certain percentage of the traditional elites have moved into forms of charismatic pentecostal churches. And there, of course, they’re much more susceptible to post-millennial interpretations because they are used to being involved in politics and having a share in running the country or discussing political things. For them just to say, “Now, all that is nonsense; the world’s ending tomorrow,” is not very attractive. So there’s a greater temptation, if you like, to think, No, no, no; in fact, Christ returns after the millennium, and we have to govern first. So you get these ideas of a kind of rule of the saints coming in.
MS. BUTLER: Some of us like to make a joke that you could see how much pentecostals really believe in prophecy, because they continue to engage in large building projects of churches all around the country and the globe.
Let me sharpen your question a bit. You can think about the prophetic in terms of the personal. So you may have someone thinking that God is going to bless me and make my finances increase — and we haven’t even talked about prosperity here, which is a huge portion of lots of penecostal movements. And this is where I will have to depart from my other two panelists and say to you that, from the very beginning, pentecostalism has wrestled with this deprivation theory, and we are beginning to see throughout our historical research that not everybody that comes to the door of Azusa Street and otherwise is poor, and many Pentecostals after that aren’t necessarily poor; they have some means and they are very educated.
So I think there’s a trajectory that you can look at historically that leans to not just this poverty-based pentecostalism, but a middle-class pentecostalism from the very beginning, what Grant Wacker refers to as a pragmatic pentecostalism.
The second part of the prophetic ties back into this question of Zionism. From the very beginning there was a sense for pentecostals that there had to be certain signs of the times. And if you want to know if that still exists or not, I would encourage you to go online, google Pat Robertson and read about this whole issue of him buying land in Israel, because that will tell you that there’s a real sense in which there is still this prophetic working out of these things. And in terms of gas prices being raised, I would imagine that in lots of the sermons that will be preached this week, many people will say, Here we are at the end times again. It’s not the everyday focus of pentecostalism, but it’s there in the background always lurking.
MR. LUGO: If there are differences between pentecostals, on the one hand, and American fundamentalists and evangelicals, on the other, it doesn’t sound to me like they are over these prophetic issues. What are the differences between these three movements? I have a hard enough time explaining to journalists the difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical, and now you, in good academic fashion, make it even more complex. (Laughter.)
MS. BUTLER: I’ll make it simple for you and just read the Bible for all three of them, because I think the Bible is the one thing you can talk about. Pentecostals would believe in scriptural infallibility. But they wouldn’t believe in inerrancy, that the Bible is just absolutely perfect in all areas. So, in a sense, you see pentecostals dealing with extra-revelation, this sense of the prophetic. We have the Word, but we also have the Word that speaks to us through the Holy Spirit.
Fundamentalists will say the Bible is infallible and inerrant; God said it; I believe it; that settles it; this text stands as it is. And so for fundamentalists, it’s very hard to move out of their hard line. When you see, for instance, a Southern Baptist moving from a progressive place to a more fundamentalist place, that’s in part due to this hard-line view of the Bible. Pentecostals and Southern Baptist fundamentalists would agree about abortion. They would agree about sexual issues. They would agree about gay marriage. But at the same time, they would look at a biblical text very differently.
Evangelicals have more of an openness, and the importance to them is also the text, the Bible, but also in thinking how they could interpret that in new ways in order to do this evangelistic task. They’re cousins to pentecostals in a certain sense, and evangelicals and pentecostals are perhaps much closer to themselves based on 19th and 20th-century history. But fundamentalism and pentecostalism, that should not be said in the same sentence. Class-wise, a lot of pentecostals now would love to call themselves evangelicals. But if they knew the history, they could never be evangelicals.
QUESTION: I’d like to muddy the waters even more. Dr. Butler, can you explain the difference between charismatics and pentecostals and fundamentalists, because the charismatics that I know get offended if they’re described as pentecostals.
MR. LUGO: Don or somebody else who was up here mentioned that researchers tend to classify everything under renewalist movements, and that includes charismatics within mainline denominations. You know, in South Korea, maybe it’s Presbyterian charismatics. In much of Latin America, it’s Catholic charismatics. In Africa, it’s African charismatics. And then you have pentecostals associated with traditional pentecostal denominations, and then the neo-pentecostals who are independent, and so forth. But Anthea, you complicate it even more.
MS. BUTLER: What are classical penecostals? I’m going to use the African-American example here, because I think this is the clean way to do it. Think about traditions like Church of God in Christ. They come out of 19th-century holiness movements. Some of them come out of Baptist movements. They see themselves as the inheritors of the Azusa Street Mission. They come out of denominations like the Assemblies of God. That is classical pentecostalism.
Charismatics are in other denominational movements. For instance, there was a charismatic movement that started out here in the San Fernando Valley with the Episcopal priest back in the ’60s, Bennett. That was the beginning of the movement, so you see that cross into charismatic Catholics in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and charismatic movements among the mainline denominations.
There’s another kind of charismatic. There’s the charismatic that doesn’t connect itself to any sort of denominational construct. If you can start to think about these larger churches now, like Joel Osteen’s church, for instance, they are sort of a cousin to the Word of Faith movement, but they stand alone as a kind of charismatic church. They don’t necessarily see themselves as coming out of pentecostalism. That’s the simplistic way to put this for you to help you understand it.
QUESTION: I’m Sonya Geis from The Washington Post. And I have a question about social outreach and evangelization. Is social outreach part of how evangelization is done? Is it easier to bring people into the church when there is outreach going on in the community?
MR. LUGO: I’m directing that to you, Don, since you were studying the phenomenon of social ministry. To what extent is it a means to evangelism? Or is that something that also grows out of the church’s faith, but is not necessarily a means to evangelism?
MR. MILLER: Let me approach it indirectly. In a number of these very large churches – the five, ten, fifteen, twenty thousand-member churches — the way in which they deal personally with their faith and practice is by having weekly cell groups that typically meet in homes and may have anywhere from five to fifteen people. Within these cell groups, they typically study Scripture, they pray and they minister to each other.
One of the chief means by which people actually become new converts is that someone who’s a neighbor has invited them to one of these cell groups — often at a moment of personal crisis — and the cell group acts like an extended family that assists that individual, loves that individual and, from the perspective of the pentecostals, this is simply their expression of Christ’s love to the neighbor. So through that rather personal connection with a small group, individuals oftentimes then do make their way to the larger church and the Sunday celebration and so forth.
I would be very hesitant to say that social ministries are being done in a kind of calculated, strategic way in order to gain converts. I think that’s far too cynical and that’s not how I experienced it myself, having attended a number of these cell groups. Instead, there seems to be a genuine spirit of compassion towards others that sometimes gets instrumentalized in what we might call formal social ministries, but oftentimes it’s done at the highly informal level of neighbor relating to neighbor.
MR. LUGO: This is a major flashpoint sign throughout the world in minority Christian countries. Invariably what you will see, whether it’s a Muslim country or a non-Muslim country like Sri Lanka, which is tightening up on anti-conversion measures, is this argument that pentecostals and other Christian missionaries are using the social ministry component in a sort of underhanded way to evangelize people. They will use the term “proselytizing,” which a lot of Christians therefore run away from because they say, We’re not evangelizing, and we’re not proselytizing. But it’s very difficult to disentangle this.
We’ve gotten into this debate in this country about the president’s faith-based initiative with many of these social ministries. And those who do them are convinced that baiting them, as it were, with religious motivation and appeals, is a constituent development of making those things effective. How can the government support that without directly supporting religion? And so we get into that kind of debate.
On the way here I happened to be reading Deus Caritas Est, which is Benedict’s encyclical, and the second half of it deals with these issues. And he very strongly in one section comes down and says, the Church does not do its social ministry merely as a means to evangelism. But one paragraph later, he says, Nevertheless, the Church’s social ministry is not just a social welfare program; it’s also a witness of the love of Christ manifested through his Church. So what then is the difference precisely between evangelism and witness as the Pope described? Well, you read the encyclical and see if you can parse it. It’s very, very difficult to do. But this is a huge issue wherever we’re having legal and political problems with respect to evangelism.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.