The Spirit That Makes Us (Number) One

The Spirit That Makes Us (Number) One

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected



Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420

The Spirit that Makes Us (Number) One Racism, Tongues, and the Evidences of Spirit Baptism

Chris Green

Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida


Charles Parham’s racism is well known, but the relationship between his racism, his ecclesiology,andhisdoctrine of Spiritbaptismand “missionarytongues”isstill notfully appreciated. Early in the pentecostal movement, Pentecostals rejected Parham and quickly abandoned his doctrine of xenolalia alone as “the Bible evidence” of Spirit bap- tism. But Ashon Crawley’s recent work suggests that the logic of Parham’s racist/colo- nialist doctrine left a lasting mark on (white) pentecostal theology and practice. In the first parts of the article I explore the effects of racism and colonialism on Pentecostal- ism, and in the final section I respond to that history by proposing, in conversation with William Seymour’s teachings, a doctrine of mission and tongues-speech that purpose- fully contradicts the “white-settler” logic of Parham’s teachings.


glossolalia – xenolalia – racism – ecclesiology – Charles Parham – William Seymour

The responsibility for promoting racial healing rests with all Americans, but especially with the Church; and especially with those Christians for whom Pentecost is the metaphor that defines their vision.

Bishop Ithiel Clemmons

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2019 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04103029




What makes ‘white’ theology ‘white’ is that it does not do its work pente- costally.

J. Kameron Carter

1 Introduction: Parham’s Supremacist Vision

Charles Parham’s racism is well documented.1 What is perhaps still not fully appreciated is the relationship between his racism, his ecclesiology, and his doctrine of xenolalia. In his Blackpentecostal Breath, Ashon Crawley makes much of the distinction between xenolalia, as Parham understood it, and glos- solalia, a distinction that Crawley believes too few pentecostal theologians and practitioners appreciate.2 Xenolalia is “white,” Crawley argues, and glossolalia is “black.”3 As proof of this contrast, he points to the history of Pentecostalism and, in particular, to the differences in the teachings of its two founding figures: Parham and William Seymour.

Parham’s view is easy enough to summarize. A white supremacist, he be- lieved tongues-speech to be necessarily xenolalic. Glossolalia, in his view, was primitive, animalistic, and spiritualist—obvious racist code. Reflecting on what he found at Azusa Street, Parham pronounced his disgust at “white peo- ple imitating unintelligent, crude negroisms of the Southland and laying it on the Holy Ghost.”4In hisThe Everlasting Gospel, published just a few years after his confrontation with Seymour, he rages:

1 See, for example, Allan Anderson, “The Dubious Legacy of Charles Parham: Racism and

Cultural Insensitivities among Pentecostals,” Pneuma 27, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 51–64; Leslie

D. Callahan, “Redeemed or Destroyed: Re-evaluating the Social Dimensions of Bodily Destiny

in theThought of Charles Parham,”Pneuma28, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 202–227; Aaron Friesen, “The

Called Out of the Called Out: Charles Parham’s Doctrine of Spirit Baptism,”JEPTA(2009): 42–

54; and Douglas Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

2 Ashon T. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (New York: Fordham

University Press), 207.

3 Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 235.

4 The Apostolic Faith(April 3, 1925), 9–10.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


I have seen meetings where all crowded together around the altar, and lay- ing across one another like hogs, blacks and whites mingling; this should be enough to bring a blush of shame to devils, let alone angels, and yet all this was charged to the Holy Spirit … all our public services should be for the edification of the church, not to get worked up into an animalism cre- ating magnetic currents tending to lust and free love rather than purity.5

And a little later, in an Apostolic Faitheditorial:

Men and women, whites and blacks, knelt together or fell across one another, frequently, a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big “buck nigger,” and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame!6

From the beginning, he found the same to be true of those who had abandoned the doctrine of entire sanctification, teaching instead “the finished work of Cal- vary”: “Many of the missions are dead and abandoned. Those still running are as dead and formal as any old-line church, except when they are able to stir up a fleshly animalism, similar to the working up of the power in an old-fashioned negro camp-meeting in the South.”7After his failed attempt to take over leader- ship of the Azusa Street mission from William Seymour in 1906, he established a competing congregation a few blocks from the mission, and began promoting himself as the movement’s true leader. He and his aides advertised their meet- ings in explicitly prejudicial terms, seemingly intended to discredit Seymour and the interracial mission congregation:

We conduct dignified religious services, and have no connection with the sort which is characterized by trances, fits and spasms, jerks, shakes and contortions. We are wholly foreign to the religious anarchy which marks the Los Angeles Azusa street meetings, and expect to do good in Whittier along proper and profound Christian lines.8

5 Charles F. Parham, The Everlasting Gospel (Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic Faith Bible College,

1911), 72–73.

6 The Apostolic Faith(December 1912).

7 Parham,The Everlasting Gospel, 119.

8 Quoted in Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global

Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 127.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




It is important to note that Parham’s racism was ideologically divisive and hierarchical. He was not simply prejudiced; he had a scheme. He separated humanity into three classes: the descendants of Abraham, “Gentiles,” and “the heathen.” The first class, which alone is constitutionally capable of acquiring “experimental salvation and deep spiritual truths,” includes: “the Hindus, the Japanese, the high German, the Danes (tribe of Dan), the Scandinavians, the Anglo-Saxon and their descendants in all parts of the world.”9Only these peo- ples are capable of living a full spirituality. The second class, made up of “the Russians, the Greek, the Italian, the low German, the Spanish and their descen- dants in all parts,” are “formalists,” rarely able to understand either Luther’s teaching or Wesley’s—much less the full-gospel pentecostal message.10 These peoples are religious, to be sure, but they are not intellectually or morally equipped to live the spiritual life as fully as the descendants of Abraham are. The lowest class, “the heathen,” which includes “the Black race, the Brown race, the Red race, theYellow race,” can hardly be converted to the faith at all; “in spite of missionary zeal and effort [they] are nearly all heathen still.”11 It is difficult, if not impossible, for these peoples even to be religious, much less to be deeply spiritual.

Parham’s ecclesiology was similarly structured. He separated “the church” from Christianity, “the Bride” from the church, and “the Man-child” from the Bride.12 And for reasons that are not entirely clear, he separated “the Saints” from all of the above. The Bride, Parham argued, needed to be a “distinct com- pany” from the church because Christ would not “marry his own Body.”13 In other words, not all Christians could enjoy full intimacy with Christ. In the same way, the “Man-child”—those who “reach the highest perfection attain- able for human beings planned by God through the atonement of Jesus Christ”—must be distinct from the Bride because they alone are destined to rule with Christ over all the nations in the Millennium.14They alone are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.”15They are the “children,” so to speak, of Christ and his “Bride.” In the last days, only the Bride and the Man-child— the 144,000 of prophecy, sealed by the Holy Spirit—escape “the power of the


10 11 12 13 14 15

Charles F. Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 1902), 106.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 107.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 107.

Friesen, “The Called Out of the Called Out,” 42–54.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 86.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 90.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 90.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


Anti-Christ as well as the plagues and wraths.” That means that those believers who do not experience a “personal Pentecost”—that is, who are not filled with the Spirit and speak in “other tongues”—must either surrender to the Beast or die as martyrs.16

For Parham, it was Spirit baptism, evidenced by speaking in xenolalic tongues, which separated the Bride from the church and made possible the “birth” of the Man-child. More than anything else, then, Spirit baptism was the divinely appointed means of identifying the ruling remnant of believers. It is surprising to find that, in spite of the fact that he insisted on the need for “mis- sionary tongues,” Parham had relatively little interest in the Spirit empowering believers for mission.17 Instead, he focused on Spirit baptism as a “seal”—the way in which God identified and elevated “the upper echelon” of Christians (who, by virtue of their nationality/race, were already, of course, the upper ech- elon of human beings).18

Spirit baptism, for Parham, wasnotabout salvation, holiness, peace, inspi- ration to preach, ability to teach, feelings of joy, compassion, love, devo- tion or giftedness. Spirit baptism was about separating the called out from among the called out.Within Parham’s schema, speaking in tongues func- tioned as the dividing mark of separation between the Bride of Christ and all other Christians.19

In summary, then, Parham’s ecclesiology, his racist anthropology, and his doc- trine of xenolalia are inseparably bound up together. Although he was at points inconsistent,20 it is clear, first, that Parham believed that racial differences

16 17

18 19 20

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 123.

See Edith Blumhofer,Restoring the Faith:The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and Amer- ican Culture(Urbana,IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 52.

Friesen, “The Called Out of the Called Out,” 48.

Friesen, “The Called Out of the Called Out,” 48.

For example, in one sermon he describes the Bride, and in another, the Man-child, as the prophesied 144,000. And he is unclear about whether the Bride and the Man-child together, or the Man-child alone, will reign in the Millennium. More important, he is apparently inconsistent about the possibility of salvation for “the heathen.” Crawley (Blackpentecostal Breath, 213) says that Parham “never fully committed to even the idea that blacks could be saved, must less filled with the Spirit.” But Parham in one place does claim that “the heathen” will be given to Christ as “an inheritance”—although without giving any sense of what this means. In another place, he acknowledges that there “seem- ingly will be people from all races” in the Body and in the Bride, but then explains that this is only because through intermarriage they will have the “blood of Abraham in their

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




were primary factors in determining who could be sanctified and Spirit bap- tized,21 and second, that sanctification and Spirit baptism determined who would share in Christ’s millennial rule over the nations. What he called “the sovereignty of the Anglo-Saxon race”22was preparatory for and bound up with the sovereignty of the Bride and the Man-child. Hence, because glossolalia was “primitive” and spiritualistic (read: “black”), it could never be the evidence of “the seal.” Only “a real sane reception of the Holy Spirit in baptismal power,” evidenced by xenolalia, was appropriate for the ruling people of God (read: “white”).23 In brief, then: Parham was convinced that history proved beyond question that “certain races had more spiritual insight and ability than others,” and that “in both the church and the world at large, it was thus clear that the better races were to rule and the lesser races were to follow.”24 Hence, if the “better races” spoke the languages of lesser peoples, it was only to secure the racial hierarchy that God had designed. So, in the end, xenolalia, for Parham, was a sign of high (that is, ruling) culture and a means to the triumph of that culture over others.

2 The Logic of Racism and the Spirit of Colonialism in Pentecostal


It is tempting to dismiss Parham, either to downplay the ugliest parts of his teachings or simply to disregard them as uncharacteristic and so irrelevant to the pentecostal theological tradition. And perhaps it is easy to dismiss Craw- ley as well. Surely he makes too much of the difference between xenolalia and glossolalia? But as studies have shown, pentecostal history, at least in many

21 22 23


veins.” In the same passage, he even says that “the blood of all races” flowed in Christ’s veins, but, again, does not explain what he means.

Callahan, “Redeemed or Destroyed,” 221.

Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 115.

David DanielsIIIargues that the “constructing of racial identities in early Pentecostalism preceded the invention of white as a racial category that described the people of Euro- pean descent … During this era, nationality and language were the key markers of race. In the conversations, politics, and scholarship of the time, the term race was nearly syn- onymous with nationality.” But that tells only half of the story. Parham did use “white” as shorthand for “the descendants of Abraham” and clearly regarded “the black race” as “hea- then.” See David Daniels III, “God Makes No Difference in Nationality: The Fashioning of a New Racial/Nonracial Identity at the Azusa Street Revival,”Enrichment Journal (Spring 2006), n.p.; available online:‑2006, accessed October 23, 2019.

Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 34.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


parts of the world, is inextricably bound up with—and in some cases, perhaps even carried along by—prejudice, discrimination, and racism.25Therefore, it is incumbent upon white Pentecostals both to acknowledge this history in all of its horrible detail, and to begin to make restitution for the wrongs done to their brothers and sisters. In part, that restitution requires finding less inadequate language for pentecostal experiences and convictions.

With that in mind, Crawley is right, I believe, to suggest that in subtle and not-so-subtle ways the logic of Parham’s ideology (or some similar racist/colo- nialistideology)continuedandcontinuestoinfluencepentecostalthoughtand practice. We cannot scapegoat Parham and then act as if his ideology has been thereby eradicated from the movement.

The Pentecostal movement that began in Los Angeles in 1906 was inter- generational, interreligious, interracial, and internationalist in its compo- sition.Women and men preached and prayed together, white men glorify- ing in the fact that black women and men prayed for them—laid hands on them even—and they worshipped together. Children spoke in tongues, prophesied, and interpreted the meaning of such words with boldness, conviction, and clarity.26

But as everyone knows, this reality did not hold for long. And that had little, if anything, to do with Parham.

Jake Jacobsen has drawn attention to the anti-racist theology of Robert Law- son and his book, The Anthropology of Jesus Christ Our Kinsman (1925), which attacks racial prejudice directly as “the greatest enemy of mankind.”27 Obvi- ously, the fact that such a book needed to be written at this point in the move- ment’s history is telling. “The darker races” were right, Lawson argued, to refuse to accept a supposed gospel of reconciliation and peace so long as they were expected to accept the denial of their essential humanity. So, it was nothing short of blasphemous that white churches remained captive to the same prej- udice that enthralled the unbelieving society at large. In Lawson’s view, God had raised up the pentecostal movement just to cast out the demons of racism. But they were not fulfilling this calling.


26 27

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. “The Past: Historical Roots of Racial Unity and Division in American Pentecostalism,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 14 (May 2004); avail- able online:, accessed May 18, 2018. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 39.

Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 260.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




When God poured out his spirit here some fifteen years ago, culminat- ing [in] the movement, called “The Apostolic Faith” we thought surely if ever there were a people of God that would love one another, regardless of race, color or nationality, these were the people, namely, The Pentecostal People, the possessors of the faith of the Apostles. We thought surely that now had come upon the stage of action a people who would rise above prejudice, and measure up to the high ideals of the “Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” regardless of color, or race.We thought sure that wherein the other churches had failed upon the issue of the “color line” and had divided into race and national groups … the pentecostal people would teach these a wonderful lesson by example in showing that the true people of God are one regardless of what nationality or race they may belong … We trusted that the pentecostal people would rise to redeem man by example and precept.28

Lawson’s hopes ended in disappointment. Indeed, at least some Pentecostals at the time believed that the Spirit wascreatingracial division. In a 1915Weekly Evangel article, W.F. Carothers, who had in the past worked closely with Parham, insisted, “this intensified racial impulse is mistaken by many outsiders for prejudice, or a work of the devil, when in truth it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit, and as such is binding upon all Christians.” Carothers insists that his own racist impulses are holy because he knows he had been sanctified and so made “incapable of prejudice.”29 The editor of the Pentecostal Holiness Advo- cate, G.F. Taylor, at times spoke out in support of the Ku Klux Klan. And when he did denounce them, it was not for their racism but for their secrecy.30In the mid-1920s, Taylor’s Pentecostal Holiness Church passed a resolution prohibit- ing its members from participation in the KKK, but, again, this apparently had to do more or less entirely with convictions against secret societies. Such deep- seated prejudice remained strong in the following decades as well. To cite but one of many possible examples, in 1950 the Advocate’s Q&A section included this question, “Did the negro receive his complexion from the mark set on Cain in Gen. 4:15?” and this answer:

There is not any evidence to the effect that the black race came from the mark set on Cain. I believe the most reasonable theory is, that the colored

28 29 30

Quoted in Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 267.

Weekly Evangel103 (August 14, 1915), 2.

See Pentecostal Holiness Advocate7, no. 21 (September 20, 1923), 4–5 and Pentecostal Holi- ness Advocate7, no. 28 (November 8, 1923), 9.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


man came from Ham, one of the sons of Noah. The descendants of Ham were, as a consequence of the curse pronounced upon him because of his irreverence, to be an inferior and servant-like people (Gen. 9:24, 25). Also, his posterity is found in the country which we know to be the home of the black race.31

Whatever else it does, Lawson’s work draws attention to the fact that many Pen- tecostals of his time had wholeheartedly (if unconsciously) embraced “white- ness,” rejecting their roots in and indebtedness to the “negro spirituality” that Parham had so vehemently despised. Within a few years of the Azusa Street phenomenon, it was clear that the “color line” had not, in fact, been “washed away in the blood” or burned away by the fires of revival. Racial prejudice and colonialist supremacy continued over time to poison the movement in vari- ous ways. I suspect that what Leonard Lovett said in the aftermath of the so- called “Memphis miracle” in 1994 could be said of most if not all of the other attempts at racial healing, whether official or unofficial, major or minor: “In hindsight what took place in Memphis was no more than cosmetic to say the least … [R]acial reconciliation within the pentecostal movement is nowhere near realization in our time. The dialogue was no more than a temporary ‘peak of progress,’ a short-lived miracle that will eventually slide into irrelevance as racial patterns within the pentecostal-charismatic movement adapt in ways that maintain and give credence to white dominance.’”32 Or, in the words of Frank Chikane, “The real blind spot for Pentecostals … has been the readi- ness of the Movement to settle with the demon of racism rather than exorcise it.”33 Sadly, even where they have rejected racism, at least in its more obvi- ous forms, some Pentecostals have continued to hold to the elitism seen in Parham’s scheme. B.H. Irwin’s claim that the sanctified and Spirit baptized peo- ple will “constitute the inner circle of the aristocracy of heaven” represents an ambition born of the colonialist ideology that has haunted pentecostal self- understanding right from the beginning.34 Now, as much as if not more than then, “whiteness” has us in its grip.





Earlier, when asked “Where did the first Negro come from?” a similar answer is given. See Pentecostal Holiness Advocate31, no. 45 (March 11, 1948), 8.

Leonard Lovett, “Looking Backward to Go Forward,”Pneuma 18, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 122– 125.

Frank Chikane, “The Blessings of Azusa Street and Doornfontein Revivals and Pentecost’s Blind Spot,” in Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., and Harold D. Hunter, eds., The Azusa Street Revival and its Legacy(Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 259–276 (267).

Daniel G. Woods, “Daniel Awrey, the Fire-Baptized Movement, and the Origins of the Church of God: Toward a Chronology of Confluence and Influence,” Cyberjournal for

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




3 The Specter of Whiteness

Willie Jennings has identified “whiteness” as the aim of the modern project of making humanity more mature, more cultured, more civilized, more author- itative. It emerged, Jennings argues, as the driving, governing force in the “new order of things unleashed by colonialism.”35Said differently, ‘“whiteness’ emerged as white people came to flourish by way of complicity with suprem- acist social processes and to reap the wealth that came from embodying such practices.”36 As colonialism spread, “whites” came to understand themselves as God’s co-creators.37 That is exactly what we see in Parham’s teachings. “Parham’s ongoing misrecognition of negro capacity for knowledge and his aspirations toward xenolalia both articulate a general desire to, even when led by the spirit, fully cognize, fully know, fully conquer. It was another articulation of settler colonial logic.”38In Jennings’s words,

European Christians, from the Iberians through the British, saw them- selves as agents of positive, if not divine, change, as it were, the markers of creaturely contingency. They saw themselves as those ordained to enact a providential transition. In so doing they positioned themselves as those first conditioning their world rather than being conditioned by it … The relation between the colonizers and the colonized does show mutual con- ditioning, but that mutual conditioning was mitigated by God-like action in which the relation became as those conditioning to those conditioned, European to native. What is decisive here is that a creative authority, a creative regime, gets channeled through white presence.39

This way of living in the world, this way of making sense of things, “grew inside of Christianity” like a cancer, mimicking the truth of the gospel so that over time many communities begin to “confuse racial assimilation with Christian



37 38 39

Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 19 (January 2010): n.p.; available online: http://www, accessed August 1, 2018.

Willie Jennings,The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 63.

Jennifer Harvey, “Which Way to Justice? Reconciliation, Reparations, and the Problem of Whiteness in US Protestantism,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 31, no. 1 (2011): 57–77 (61).

Jennings,The Christian Imagination, 61.

Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 216.

Jennings,The Christian Imagination, 60.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


formation.”40 The aim of missions and the aims of colonization became less and less distinguishable, and, inevitably, those who thought they were act- ing on God’s behalf “imagined their flesh (white flesh) to be saved and saving flesh.”41

Without doubt, Parham did believe that white flesh—civilized, cultured flesh—was saved and saving flesh. As we have seen, this belief decided his doc- trine of tongues-speech, his theology of creation, and his practice of mission. The harder truth to reckon with is that the same colonialist logic shaped pen- tecostal praxis broadly and deeply, even after the movement distanced itself from Parham himself. As Anderson has argued, in spite of the fact that early pentecostal missionaries “were not as closely associated with colonial govern- ments as their attitudes and activities were probably not as greatly influenced by imperialism and colonialism,” they were hardly free from this influence alto- gether.42Yong puts it much more bluntly: from the beginning, pentecostal mis- sions were “unavoidably intertwined with colonialism” and the missionaries were “undeniably children of their times”:

Their missionary sensibilities were thus shaped by the wider missionary beliefs and practices characteristic of their era. For the most part, they were insensitive to the indigenous cultures among which they worked, as well as rather uncharitable in their views of local populations as “pagans” or “heathen.” Hence, the missionaries brought with them not just the gospel from the West, but also in many instances believed and then imposed their Western version of the gospel on those being evangelized. Somehow, the supremacy of the gospel was translated also to mean the supremacy of Western (Euro-American) culture. Along the way, then, converts were socialized into rejecting their cultural heritage: this was presented as the essential meaning of Christian conversion.43

What Newberg says of early pentecostal missionaries in Palestine held true elsewhere, as well: whether missionaries understood it or not, whether they


41 42


Willie Jennings, “To Be a Christian Intellectual,” n.p.; available online: https://divinity.yale .edu/news/willie‑jennings‑be‑christian‑intellectual, accessed July 8, 2018.

Jennings, “To Be a Christian Intellectual,” n.p.

Allan Anderson,To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity(New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 63.

Amos Yong, “Many Tongues, Many Practices: Pentecost and Theology of Mission at 2010,” in Ogbu U. Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia, eds., Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 43–58 (45).

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




actively colluded with it or not, the interests of Western powers directly impacted much if not all of their missionary work.44AsYong says, “though most [pentecostal] missionaries did not spend much time defending the details of the colonial project, they did believe that the colonial enterprise was provi- dentially arranged by God for the purposes of worldwide evangelism … Hence, Pentecostal missionaries were patronizing, imperialistic, and even racist, often- times without even being conscious of either their attitudes or their concomi- tant actions.”45

To be sure, some voices in the early literature lament the “terrible barrier of race distinction,” but often at the same time betray a besetting prejudice. For example, one writer celebrates that “God is working in the dark lands today as never before” and then remarks that God is saving “even the black race.”46 Others outright praise “the white man with his Bible”47 penetrating the “hea- then darkness.”48 And colonialist rhetoric appears at every turn, especially in descriptions of missionary activities. Joseph Blankeney, a missionary to the Congo, recounts how God promised him “the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession,” and rejoices that he now has the opportunity among these “black-skinned people” to “invest in real estate for eternity.”49 An early Pentecostal Evangel article warns of impend- ing “black dominance” in South Africa, which is akin to the “Yellow Peril” that threatens whites elsewhere.50In the summer of 1921, the Pentecostal Holi- ness Advocate published an article by the General Secretary of the American


45 46



49 50

Eric Newberg, The Pentecostal Mission in Palestine: The Legacy of Pentecostal Zionism (Eugene,OR: Pickwick, 2012), 63.

Yong, “Many Tongues, Many Practices,” 45.

The Pentecost 1, no. 7 (June 1909), 1; The Latter Rain Evangel 2, no. 6 (March 1910), 12; The Church of God Evangel30, no. 9 (April 29, 1939), 6.

The Bridegroom’s Messenger 4, no. 94 (September 15, 1911), 4. For example, see the long, winding history of racism in the Church of God of Prophecy as described in Harold Hunter’s “A Journey toward Racial Reconciliation: Race Mixing in the Church of God of Prophecy,” in Robeck and Hunter, eds., The Azusa Street Revival and its Legacy, 277–296, and the similar history of the early Church of God in H. Paul Thompson, Jr.’s “‘On Account of Conditions that Seem Unalterable’: A Proposal about Race Relations in the Church of God (Cleveland,TN) 1909–1929,”Pneuma25, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 240–264.

This is a tragically familiar phrase in the early literature. See, for example,TheBridegroom’s Messenger 5, no. 107 (April 1, 1912), 1; Confidence 3, no. 9 (September 1910), 223;The Latter Rain Evangel 4, no. 4 (January 1912), 12; Word and Witness 9, no. 9 (September 20, 1913), 2; The Weekly Evangel 131 (March 18, 1916), 12; The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 1, no. 3 (May 17, 1917), 13.

The Bridal Call4, no. 8 (January 1921), 10.

The Pentecostal Evangel 658 (July 31, 1926), 9.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


Branch of the Sudan United Mission, which contrasts Islam, described as “anti- progressive in its essence,” with Christianity, which is assured to be beneficial for the native peoples. It is, the Secretary argues, “the most natural religion for the child, and for the child-races.”51 Many, many other examples could be given, but the point stands: early pentecostal theology and practice were deeply marked by racial prejudice and colonialist idioms and ideologies.52 And this enmity, this language, and these ideas continued—and continue—to shape the movement down through the years.53

Now, the question at hand is this: what can and should be done about this history of racism/colonialism? Even more pointedly, and more personally, what can and should be done about this by those of us who are complicit with “whiteness,” whatever our pigmentation, who benefit in countless ways from its privileges? As I have already suggested, we must name these evils for what they are, doing what we can to make reparations for them. And that includes, I believe, providing a theology of church and mission, as well as a doctrine of tongues-speech, that truly stands as counter-witness to the thoughts and prac- tices that emerged from supremacist ideologies. And it only makes sense that such a counter-witness would begin with the work of William Seymour.

4 Seymour’s Integrationist Vision

Long before the events of Azusa Street, Seymour revealed his desire for inter- racial worship. After moving to Indianapolis in 1895, Seymour attended Simp- son Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, which was racially inclusive, when he could have attended a nearby African Methodist Episcopal Church. In all likelihood, his experiences in this congregation affirmed Seymour’s confidence in the possibility of and need for mixed-race ministry. When the Methodist

51 52


Pentecostal Holiness Advocate5, no. 11 (July 14, 1921), 7.

In addition to other works already referenced in this article, see also Darrin J. Rodgers, “The Assemblies of God and the Long Journey toward Racial Reconciliation,”Heritage 28 (2008): 50–59 and Talmadge French, Early Inter-Racial Oneness Pentecostalism: G.T. Hay- wood and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014). This legacy is seen in the nonrepresentative leadership of the classical pentecostal denom- inations, whose nonwhite members have little political representation even though they outnumber the white membership significantly; the teachings of Zionist pentecostal tele- vangelists who vilify Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular; the exoticizing and appropriative tactics of pentecostal missionaries around the globe; and the ambivalence toward, if not outright support of, the white nationalist agenda that has emerged in recent election cycles in theUSA.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




Episcopal Church later divided along racial/ethnic lines, Seymour joined the “Evening Light Saints,” again due to their interracial commitments. Blacks and whites worshipped together as one, transgressing racial taboos with their mixed seating and shared leadership.54 When he finally arrived at the Azusa Street mission, Seymour enacted this vision, insisting upon it in his preaching and modeling it in his ministry. Later, in hisDoctrinesandDisciplines, he offered what was for him a characteristic exhortation:

Our colored brethren must love our white brethren and respect them in the truth so that the word of God can have its free course, and our white brethren must love their colored brethren and respect them in the truth so that the Holy Spirit won’t be greaved [sic].55

As Doug Strong has argued, what happened at Azusa Street—where, against all expectation, blacks held positions of leadership over whites, women preached to men, and children challenged their elders—happened because “Seymour believed wholeheartedly that God was drawing believers together and ‘mak- ing them one.’” In preparation for the Second Coming, God was, in Seymour’s words, “melting all races and nations together.” By his death, Jesus had “broken down the middle wall of partition” between all estranged peoples—including, of course, the wall that had divided whites from blacks and other minorities. Seymour’s message was simple: Jesus died to bring “all races and nations into one common family.”56

But Seymour’s vision did not long endure. He remained pastor of the Mis- sion until he died of a heart attack in September 1922, but the years after the revival—which effectively ended in 1909—were extremely difficult for him and his congregation. Besides the church Parham launched, other pentecostal ministries started in Los Angeles, most of which quickly outgrew Seymour’s dwindling flock. And his influence in the broader pentecostal movement was weakening as well. Eventually, racial tensions in his congregation showed their force. In 1911 Seymour and his community were caught up in a firestorm of conflict when the evangelist William Durham tried to take over the leader- ship role at the Mission. Two others (both white) had tried to wrest control




B. Scott Lewis, “William J. Seymour: Follower of the ‘Evening Light,’”Wesleyan Theological Journal39, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 167–183 (169).

William Seymour,The Doctrines and Discipline of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission of Los Angeles(Joplin,MO: Christian Life Books, 2000), 96.

Douglas M. Strong, They Walked in the Spirit: Personal Faith and Social Action in America (Louisville,KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 42–43.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


from Seymour previously—Parham in 1906 and Florence Crawford in 1909. But this time the would-be usurper had the favor of the congregation. So, Sey- mour, with his board’s support, padlocked the door. Durham responded by starting his own Full Gospel Assembly, taking the crowd with him, and claim- ing that Seymour had used his influence with “men of his own color” to force him out. After that split, the Azusa Street congregation would remain small and predominantly black. In the aftermath of the critical 1913 Apostolic Faith World Wide Camp Meeting in Los Angeles, to which Seymour was not even invited, the larger pentecostal movement began quickly to divide along racial as well as doctrinal lines. Seymour placed the blame for these divisions squarely on the shoulders of his “white brethren.” When the majority of white minis- ters in the predominantly black Church of God in Christ left that denomina- tion in April 1914 to form the Assemblies of God, Seymour finally lost con- fidence in his interracial vision.57 In 1915 Seymour wrote his Doctrines and Disciplines of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission in which he admitted his disappointment in the failed hope of multi-racial worship and ministry and instituted a rule excluding whites from leadership within his congrega- tion.58

We want all of our white brethren and white sisters to feel free in our churches and missions, in spite of all the trouble we have had with some of our white brethren in causing diversion and spreading wild fire and fanaticism. Some of our colored brethren caught the disease of this spirit of division also. We find according to God’s Word to be one in the Holy Spirit, not in the flesh; but in the Holy Spirit, for we are one body. If some of our white brethren have prejudices and discrimination, we can’t do it, because God calls us to follow the Bible. We must love all men as Christ commands. Now because we don’t take them for directors is not for dis- crimination, but for peace. To keep down race war in the churches and friction, so they can have greater liberty and freedom in the Holy Spirit. We are sorry for this, but it is best now and in later years for the work.59

Later in this passage, Seymour reiterates his love for his white brothers and sis- ters, acknowledging those who have remained within him in his work. And he

57 58


Robeck,The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, 317–318.

Matthew Waggoner, “Early American Pentecostalism: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Anticipation,” in Theodore Louis Trost, ed.,The African Diaspora and the Study of Religion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 193–212 (198).

Seymour, Doctrines and Discipline, 30.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




insists again that “Christ is all and for all.”60 Still, he refuses to relent. After all he has experienced, he is convinced that he cannot allow room for whites in leadership to cause more trouble for his congregation.

Two events in Seymour’s and Parham’s troubled relationship present, I think, a particularly revealing contrast. Parham, in his “visit” to the Mission, tried to commandeer the revival, his convictions driving him to take control of the min- istryawayfromtheunculturedblack preacher,the loud, one-eyedson of former slaves. But these two men had a relationship at all only because Seymour, for his part, had been willing years before to sit outside Parham’s classroom in Hous- ton, listening in on this strange new teaching. Seymour’s convictions allowed him to submit to learning even from someone who considered him a spiritual and natural inferior. Where Parham was overreaching and domineering, Sey- mourwasunassuming and teachable.These twoencountersseemtome atleast to epitomize the conflicting visions of these two pentecostal pioneers.

5 Whose Tongue? Which Evidence?

Crawley contrasts Seymour’s “black” view of tongues with Parham’s “white” view. He finds that like C.H. Mason and other black Pentecostals, and very much unlike Parham, Seymour was “willing to allow unknowability at the heart of the practice” of tongues-speech.61In a word, Seymour embraced the meaning- ful incoherence of glossolalia, thus breaking free of the “settler logic” that had enslaved his teacher. Crawley makes much of this difference. Xenolalia, speak- ing in so-called “missionary tongues,” is, he argues, necessarily restrictive and oppressive,usefulonlyfor“theproliferationof areligio-culturalnation-state.”62 In other words, “missionary tongues” are useful for making one’s own culture supreme. As Crawley understands it, xenolalia is inveterately xenophobic.

History shows that colonialists deploy language to assert dominance over native peoples, and Parham’s account of xenolalia instantiates that very same violence, leading to the “disappearance—as displacement and dispos- session—of the Other.”63According to Crawley, however, glossolalia functions (much as in another context Pidgin English did) as a kind of nonviolent protest against the spirit and logic of colonialism. Precisely so, Crawley contends, glos- solalia, by refusing to become violent speech, by speaking, not words, but “the

60 61 62 63

Seymour, Doctrines and Discipline, 31. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 215. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 222. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 222.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


very stuff, the materiality, from which words come,” effects radical transforma- tion.64For Crawley, glossolalia is pentecostal in a way xenolalia could never be.

Some will find Crawley’s hard-and-fast distinction between xenolalia and glossolalia mostly untenable, however interesting.65 But I remain convinced that it draws attention to a real and significant difference between Parham’s and Seymour’s teachings. For Parham, tongues-speech served as both a sign of and a means of establishing racialdivisionand white supremacy. For Seymour, it served as a sign of and a means to enacting racial integration in the family of God. Of course, Seymour did not denounce all of Parham’s teachings out- right. He certainly did not teach them, but we will never know what exactly he thought of his teacher’s xenophobic doctrines. Still, we can see that his vision of the Spirit-filled life stands over against Parham’s in drastic contrast. It is not so much that one is xenolalic and the other glossolalic as it is that one is divi- sive and hierarchical and the other integrative and familial. If Parham had his way, the world would fall into a racialized order in which white, sanctified and Spirit-baptized Christians rule over everyone else. If Seymour had his way, the races would come into a many-splendored unity in the freedom of God. For Parham, the order God purposes for creation is already, so to speak, written into the nature of things. But for Seymour, God’s order is breaking in like a thief, destabilizing and overthrowing the ways of the world. Perhaps, then, Crawley’s distinction does work in this sense: Seymour was open to God’s unmanage- ability and disruptiveness in ways Parham decidedly was not. It is this very conviction that led Seymour to refuse Parham’s doctrine of xenolalia as “the Bible evidence” of Spirit baptism. As he puts it in his Doctrines and Discipline,

So many people have made shipwreck of their faith by setting up a stan- dard for God to respect or come to. When we set up tongues to be, the Bible evidence of Baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire only [sic]. We have left the divine word of God and have instituted our own teaching.66

Although the leaders of the early pentecostal movement did not maintain Parham’s insistence on xenolalia, they did by and large hold to his belief that

64 65


Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 222–223.

Crawley (Blackpentecostal Breath, 221) says that “missionary tongues … appear to me to be a distinctly western theological-philosophical construction.” But, of course, there are many stories of xenolalia in the Eastern Christian tradition, as well as many in the West from long before the rise of what Crawley calls the “western theological-philosophical” tradition.

Seymour, Doctrines and Discipline, preface.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




speaking in tongues is the “evidence” of baptism in the Spirit.67 And many so- called classical Pentecostals, black as well as white, continue to affirm that doc- trine, without making a distinction between xenolalia and glossolalia. Needless to say, it would be a serious mistake to suggest that the practice of speaking in tongues and the “initial evidence” doctrine that is associated with it are inher- ently colonialist, elitist, or racist simply because that is how Parham under- stood them. Nonetheless, we do have to take seriously the various implications of these practices and doctrines, and, if we want somehow to uphold them, as I do, then we have to put forward an account that both repudiates the logic and spirit of Parham’s theology—and all of its many descendants—in no uncertain terms and offers an alternative that is truer to Seymour’s vision of the “mixed multitude” people of God.

6 Seymour’s Image of God

As I have already said, if we hope to construct such an account, we should fol- low Seymour’s lead. As seen in his sermons and articles, he envisions God as free, humble, and loving. And it is this image of God that enables him to articu- late such a different vision of the pentecostal life. And as we contemplate that image, perhaps our vision will change as well.

First and foremost, we should, like Seymour, emphasize the Spirit’s irrepress- ible freedom. We must avoid at all costs implying anything like a mechanical relationship between the infilling of the Spirit and tongues-speech. As Sey- mour reminds us, we cannot set “a standard for God.” The Spirit is infinite— illimitable, unmanageable, unpredictable. And glossolalia signifies that open- ness exactly. We also have to avoid fixation on the sign itself. After all, what happens in Spirit baptism happens for the good of others, not ourselves. And this, we might argue, is the meaning of xenolalia. And if glossolalia signifies the breaking open, then xenolalia signifies the bending down. As Jennings puts it:

It bears repeating: this is not what the disciples imagined or hoped would manifest the power of the Holy Spirit. To learn a language requires sub- mission to a people … Anyone who has learned a language other than their native tongue knows how humbling learning can actually be. An adult in the slow and often arduous efforts of pronunciation may be


See Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “William J. Seymour and ‘the Bible Evidence,”’ in Gary B. McGee, ed.,Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism(Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 1991), 72–95.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


reduced to a child, and a child at home in that language may become the teacher of an adult.68

Whether in xenolalia or glossolalia, therefore, the Spirit wisely affords us all the language we need to witness to the goodness of God for the good of our neigh- bor without coming to believe that our witness is what makes that goodness happen for them. As Jamie Smith has argued, at heart, tongues-speech in any form is the language of resistance.69 It says No to any and all false claimants to sovereignty. And just in that way it says Yes to the peaceable rule of God.

We must not set a standard for God that limits his creativity any more than we set a standard that denies his freedom. Because the Spirit is infinitely wise, the Spirit is endlessly original. In this light, we can perhaps begin to reimag- ine “tongues” in figurative terms, as an expansive, dynamic category rather than a static, narrow one. So, “speaking in tongues” might involve any somatic expression—crying, laughing, dancing, trembling, silence—that bodies forth, that “speaks,” a sign of the Spirit’s activity. Along with speech (in languages known and unknown), any one of these expressions might be by the Spirit’s grace a “pure gesture,” pointing away from itself, directing attention to the mys- tery that embraces all things.70

We do not want to lose touch with the traditional pentecostal emphasis on tongues-speech as the “evidence” of Spirit baptism. But we also do not want to domesticate the sign or, worse, stifle the Spirit. How can a tamed sign witness of the untamable Spirit? And how can the Spirit draw us into the fullness of God if we quench or grieve the Spirit with our expectations and demands? Perhaps we should take more seriously the fact that in all the Lukan accounts of tongues- speech, people are left in wonder and amazement. The Spirit is nothing if not surprising, after all. We could even say that the Spirit is simply God surprising himself. Surely, then, the “evidence” of the Spirit’s fullness, if we are going to continue to talk in such terms, must be something not easily foreseeable and routinized? When the Spirit works, should we not be left in surprise?

Second, we should follow Seymour in identifying the fruit of the Spirit as the definitive “evidence” of the Spirit-filled life.




William J. Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press; 2017), 29–30.

James K.A. Smith, “Tongues as ‘Resistance Discourse’: A Philosophical Perspective,” in Mark Cartledge, ed., Speaking in Tongues: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 81–110 (107).

See Allen S. Weiss,Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and theTransformation of Lyrical Nostalgia(Middletown,CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 130.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




Tongues are one of the signs that go with every baptized person, but it is not the real evidence of the baptism in the every day life. Your life must measure with the fruits of the Spirit. If you get angry, or speak evil, or backbite, I care not how many tongues you may have, you have not the baptism of the Holy Spirit.71

Following Seymour’s lead, Steve Land has argued that speaking in tongues should be understood as only the initial evidence of Spirit baptism: love is the essential evidence and martyrdom the ultimate evidence.72 But if he is right, then we have to explain the relationship between these “evidences.” How do both “tongues” and self-giving love witness to the Spirit’s indwelling? Perhaps like this: where the Spirit “fills” a human life there is new aspiration, a spir- ited movement of attention “outward” and “upward” toward God and neighbor. “In those in whom the Spirit dwells there is the constant pressure to be one with God and one with the people of God of all cultures and nationalities.”73 Sometimes, in the Spirit’s wisdom, this “constant pressure” comes to expres- sion. That is, we “speak in tongues.” And precisely as expressions, as “tongues,” they bear witness to the fact that the Spirit is given to us only so that we can give ourselves to others. Taking the Pentecost-event as our defining metaphor, we remember that what begins in the Upper Room as prayer spills out into the Temple courts, into the crowded streets, as proclamation. We cannot con- tain the Spirit or keep the Spirit to ourselves. The Spirit frees—and breaks free.

Finally, we should follow Seymour in rejecting elitism and supremacism in any form, whether it is racially construed or not. The hard truth is, due to sensational religious experiences and mistreatment by “mainline” Christians, some within Pentecostalism have, from the beginning, embraced a posture of superiority and spiritual privilege.74 As Yong and others have noted, for a few, although not by any means for all, “belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit … evi-

71 72



The Apostolic Faith1, no. 9 (June–September 1907), 2.

Steven J. Land, “Filled with the Spirit: The Nature and Evidence of Spiritual Fullness,”Ex Auditu12 (1996): 108–120.

William Turner, “The Ideal: The Biblical Pattern of Unity,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal- Charismatic Research 14 (May 2005): n.p.; available online: cyberj14/turner.html, accessed July 31, 2018.

See, for example, Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 27–32, 113–114; Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostalism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark, 2013), 96–103; and Steven M. Studebaker, A Pentecostal Political Theology for American Renewal: Spirit of the Kingdom, Citizens of the Cities(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 4–5, 224.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


denced by speaking in tongues, suggests that those without such experiences are second-tier Christians (at best), if not members of non-vital churches from which they should depart (at worst).”75How then can we affirm the experience of Spirit baptism without sliding into the Parham-like logic of domination and superiority?

7 Conclusion: Imagining a New Pentecost

We can do so, I believe, in the first place, by reimagining what it means to be “empowered” by the Spirit (as promised in Acts 1:8). I am struck by the fact that Zechariah 4:6 contrasts the Spirit with power: “it is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” In some sense, then, to be filled with the Spirit is to be emptied of might, to be stripped of power.Withoutthe Spirit, we live by strength and force. But withthe Spirit, we are as vulnerable as Jesus. The Spirit inexorably presses us into Christ’s agony, strengthening us to endure his suffering with him. Christ offered himself to the Father for us through the Spirit (Heb 9:14), and we are called to make the same offering. Life in the Spirit, therefore, is a life of bearing the cross—always our own, and, often, that of oth- ers. If we conceive of Spirit-empowerment in these terms, elitism is rendered nonsensical—even blasphemous. And Parham’s vision, and all other visions like it, are seen for what they are.

We can also affirm an anti-elitist account of Spirit baptism by rethinking what is meant by the “Full Gospel.”76 Unfortunately, too many have come to believe that this Full Gospel is something they possess.77 What should have been received as a summons is being held as a privilege. Perhaps, then, it is time to consider the EmptyGospel? The focus of the gospel, after all, is not the believer’s experience but Jesus’s ministry: he is savior, healer, Spirit baptizer. And so he ismysavior, healer, and Spirit baptizer only so that I am freed to bring the good news of his ministry to you. This is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:




AmosYong, “From EveryTribe, Language, People, and Nation: Diaspora, Hybridity, and the Coming Reign of God,” in Chandler H. Im and Amos Yong, eds.,Global Diasporas and Mis- sion(Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 253–262 (259). Also, see David Perry,Spirit Baptism: The Pentecostal Experience in Theological Focus(Leiden: Brill, 2017), 25, 40, 71, 94. Andy Lord, “Good News for All? Reflections on the Pentecostal Full Gospel,”Transforma- tion30, no. 1 (January 2013): 17–30.

See Wolfgang Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (London: T&T Clark, 2018) for an example of the “Full Gospel” language used discerningly and creatively.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

If Christ emptied himself to bring the fullness of God to us, then it seems we must be emptied in order to receive that fullness (Phil 2:5–11). That is, we are filled with God’s fullness only by also being emptied by Christ’s emptiness. As Paul puts it elsewhere, it is just as we share in Christ’s poverty that we are made rich (2Cor 8:9). Or, as J. Kameron Carter has put it, reflecting on Maximus the Confessor’s meditations,

The site of God’s wealth is Jesus’ poor and enslaved flesh. Having taken on the form of poverty and the form of the slave, God in Christisthe impov- erished slave. As such, God enters into the hurts of those who suffer so that from inside those hurts, being fully identified with them to the point of communicating his divinity through them, he heals them. It is the poor slave, one might say, who is closest to God and so reveals God.78

Jesus says that the poor in spirit are blessed. So why do we imagine Spirit bap- tism in terms of status and wealth rather than lowliness and poverty?

Of course, we are always already “poor” in the sense that we are sinners. But the emptiness that the Spirit gives us creates the room in our lives for God and neighbor to dwell. By the Spirit’s grace, as we devote ourselves to the way of life that God has given us, a life of agonizing prayer and fasting, a life of sacri- ficial hospitality and menial service, we find that our attention, our awareness, is more and more given to others rather than to ourselves. In this way, we begin truly to see others, really to hear them. They are no longer auxiliaries to our lives, minor characters in a story that is really about us. Instead, they become increasingly the focus of our care and concern. We find ourselves contemplat- ing them just as we are contemplating God. We live for them, just as Christ lives for us. “As he is, so are we in this world” (1John 4:17).


J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 368.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


the spirit that makes us (number) one


No one embodies this vision of the Spirit-filled life like Mary, Jesus’s mother.79In Luke’s Gospel, she is not the first one filled with the Spirit. Instead, she is the one who bears the one who fills others with the Spirit. At the begin- ning of Luke’s story, Mary, having received the impossible word that she is to be the mother of God, flees to her cousin, Elizabeth, for support. But even in her desperation, when Mary greets her cousin, Elizabeth is immediately bap- tized in the Spirit and filled with joy, and her child, John, leaps in her womb (Luke 1:39–45).80 Luke leaves no doubt: Mary is chosen to bear God in the flesh precisely because she is a “lowly” virgin—impoverished, powerless, fright- ened. Unlike Zechariah, who responds to the Word of the Lord from a place of assumed privilege, Mary genuinely cannot believe that she is chosen. Thus, he is silenced and she is moved to speech. The powerful are always brought low and the rich sent away in need, because God always exalts the humbled and fills the emptied (Luke 1:50–53).

A Marian theology of Spirit baptism, then, emphasizes our emptiness and our responsibility to bring the fullness of the Spirit to bear in the lives of oth- ers both-at-once. Like Mary, like the formless void (Gen 1:2), like Sinai (Exod 24:16), like the mercy seat (Exod 25:20), we are called simply to be the site of God’s action. With this in mind, it is crucial, I think, that Mary was not trying to bless Elizabeth. She was simply being herself, running to family to help her in a time of need. The blessing happened without her intent. And as with her, so with us: we do not have to take it on ourselves to fill others with the Spirit. Participation in the Spirit’s work of emptying us out and opening us up to God and to neighbor creates the room needed for God to act in us and through us.81

At heart, a Marian theology of Spirit baptism holds that our concern should not be for our own spirituality, our own maturity, and our own standing, but for the joy of others. “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (1Cor 10:24). In spiritual things, too, “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Like Mary at the wedding of Cana, people of the Spirit are troubled that “theyhave no wine” (John: 2.3). And that troubledness carries them to Jesus on




As Land has argued, Christ and the Spirit are uniquely “fused” in Mary’s body. Hence, it is not without reason that Jarena Lee, the first woman ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, understood herself and her call in Marian terms. See Carter,Race, 339– 342.

Luke makes sure to mention that Mary is present on the Day of Pentecost as well (Acts 1:14).

This does not mean, of course, that we do not have toworkfor justice and peace. Of course we do. And that work is costly, requiring sacrificial intention and action at every turn. But our work has to arise and be carried along by God’s strength, not our own. And God’s strength is perfected only in weakness.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420




the others’ behalf. And like Mary at the foot of the cross, Spirit-ed believers are concerned that there are those standing with them who have no one to care for them (John 19:25–27). There, at the foot of the cross, Jesus makes John a member of the family, drawing him into his own relationship with his mother and his own relationship with the Father. A Marian theology of Spirit baptism, therefore, calls us to have the same relation to our neighbor and to God that we have to Christ.

In Parham’s scheme, and others like it, I seek Spirit baptism because it empowersmeto rule over you, promoting us over them. According to this logic, we draw near to God precisely to distance ourselves spiritually from others, to maintain or reinforce our natural superiority. The ultimate aim of the spiri- tual life is to rise into the privileged number of the called out of the called out. But if Parham envisions an aristocracy identified by racial difference and spir- itual gifting, Seymour envisions a household. “The Blood of Jesus Christ is the strongest in the world. It makes all races and nations into one common fam- ily in the Lord and makes them all satisfied to be one.”82 In Seymour’s vision, God desires to make us one because God is love, and God is able to make us one because God is free. Therefore, in redeeming us, God frees us from all the powers that keep us divided—that is, as Seymour would have it, he sanctifies us—and fills us with his own nature—that is, he baptizes us in Christ’s unify- ing Spirit. It seems clear to me that the heirs of the pentecostal movement need to decide once for all for Seymour’s vision and against Parham’s—without fail- ing to honor the good that came from his work, corrupted as it was by white supremacy and as destructive as it was for so many. He deserves, so to speak, an honorable burial.83Above all we need to be filled, again and again, with the Spirit of Mary’s lowly Son. Or, as Seymour would say it, we need a new Pente- cost, one that fills us with all the emptying fullness that is God’s self-giving love and binds us to each other in covenantal life:

The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit. Pentecost means to live right in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, which is the standard … Pentecost makes us love Jesus more and love our brothers more. It brings us all into one common family.84

82 83


The Apostolic Faith1, no. 7 (April 1907), 2.

As Rickie Moore has argued in his (unpublished) comments on the Rizpah story (2Sam 21), even King Saul, the tragically unfaithful one, deserves an honorable burial. Surely the same holds true for Parham and others like him?

The Apostolic Faith2, no. 13 (May 1908), 3.

Pneuma 41 (2019) 397–420


Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.