Pentecostalism's Forgotten Nonviolent Roots
As I write this post, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Eugene, Oregon waiting for the Society for Pentecostal Studies conference to start. It's nice to have a day to myself. I'm thankful I was able to sleep in this morning, but I'm going to be honest with you -- I'm pretty nervous.
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Most of the people that will be attending have doctoratal degrees and are teaching subjects like history, theology, philosophy, and ethics on a university level. The most education I have is two years of a very fundamentalist Bible school, a third year school of missions, and a semester at a community college. I don't even have a bachelor's degree.
So why am I here chumming with Pentecostal scholars?
As someone who hasn't pursued high education, but decided to go the self-education route and take my non-credentialed Biblical knowledge straight to the mission field, it would be very easy for me to a) dismiss myself as someone that a Doctor of Divinity would never listen to or b) dismiss the Doctor of Divinity as someone who needs to jump off his intellectual high horse and try sharing a Bible story with a Senegalese villager.
Somehow I don't think that either of these approaches would be the right attitude. The fact is that Pentecostalism started out as a radical, non-violent faith that challenged -- not championed -- power structures that perpetuate poverty and ethnocentrism. Pentecostals (and their charismatic godchildren) today have done an absolute 180 and are, tragically, now some of the most militant Christians on the planet. Thanks to TV evangelists, the unholy fusion of Christianity, Zionism, and American nationalism is the status quo in most American Pentecostal/charismatic churches -- with very few exceptions.
I imagine that most of my Pentecostal/charismatic friends would be shocked to discover that the vast majority of Christians that experienced the revival at Azusa street (the revival that birthed Pentecostalism world-wide) also believed that the proper Christian response to war is conscientious objection. Most of the historic Pentecostal denominations that exist today started out as officially pacifist. As a matter of fact, the Assemblies of God didn't officially change its position until 1967. Perhaps even more shocking is that some of the Pentecostal pioneers were imprisoned and -- yes, it can happen in America -- tortured for their refusal to participate in World War I.
Most Pentecostal/charismatic Christians today, especially the younger ones, have no idea that their heritage is rooted in non-violence, but guess who are the ones that do know this? The scholars! Which is exactly why Pentecostal scholars need to play a larger role in shaping the Pentecostal movement for the 21st century. As a Pentecostal/charismatic Christian myself, but an outsider to academia, I'm here to rub shoulders with some of the most prominent Pentecostal scholars from around the world -- and to deliver a message to them. Tell our people about our heritage!
For the sake of God, our country, and the world, I hope someone listens.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with a Jihadist, scheduled to be released in mid-2009.