The Common Good
June 2009

Public Spirit

by Paul Alexander, Marlon Millner | June 2009

Pentecostalism holds promise for a new intersection of faith and politics.

“We have holy-rolled our way up to the White House in our limo, but now that we’re there, what are we going to do with this extraordinary opportunity?” That’s how Morehouse College president Robert Franklin, speaking at a 2005 conference at Harvard University, described Pentecostal preachers being invited to the White House.

Now, just four years later, a Pentecostal preacher, 26-year-old Joshua DuBois, has rolled into the White House—as the director of its Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This office helps both faith-based and secular nonprofits that work to reduce poverty, support women and children, provide well-paying jobs, encourage responsible fatherhood, and foster interfaith dialogue. And President Barack Obama has announced that, in his administration, the office will also “work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.”

What does it mean that DuBois—who embraces a faith known more for emotional exuberance and financial excess than for public engagement on domestic and foreign policy—will fill this role? As a political appointee, DuBois will speak for the government, not for the Pentecostal tradition. But his Pentecostalism is evident in his interpersonal style, as he shares testimonies of transformation and speaks freely and joyfully of his faith in Jesus Christ.

In the wake of Obama’s election, which holds promise for a post-racial future, another positive side of DuBois’ Pentecostalism is his equitable approach. Like the early 20th-century pioneers of the Pentecostal movement, DuBois is shaped by an inclusive vision that empowers women as well as people of different races and economic backgrounds. Early Pentecostal convert Frank Bartleman wrote that, at the early Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, the “color line was washed away by the blood”: Men and women, black and white, wealthy and poor—all were filled with God’s Spirit.

PENTECOSTALISM ALSO can and should stand DuBois in good stead in his mandate to foster international interfaith dialogue. In a world where the image of the U.S. has been tarnished by its actions, often done in the name of Christianity, DuBois should be heartened by early Pentecostals’ critique of such hypocrisy. As Pentecostal bishop Robert Lawson incisively wrote in 1925 of American Christianity’s interaction with the Islamic world, “The darker races ... will not kindly accept a gospel of love and brotherhood when the denial of their essential [personhood] by Christian people [negates] the tenets which they are asked to accept.” Stanley Frodsham, an early Assemblies of God leader, wrote that “National[ist] pride, like every other form of pride, is abomination in the sight of God.”

Pentecostal Christianity today is well-positioned to engage in interfaith dialogue with followers of Islam. Both are experiencing exploding growth in Asia and Africa. Although this has sometimes led to tension, some Pentecostals—Mark Orfila in Kosovo, Sami Awad in Palestine, and Nick and Kimbra Stuva in Tanzania, to name a few—are actively developing grassroots interfaith relationships with Muslims to address human rights violations and produce sustainable development.

Indeed, in various religious and ethnic hot spots around the globe, the potential positive impact of Pentecostals could do much to build mutual respect, foster goodwill, and prevent costly, unnecessary wars. For instance, Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice—a group of progressive, Spirit-filled believers we gathered seven years ago—is facilitating dialogue and building relationships between American Pentecostal leaders and Palestinian and Israeli Pentecostals, Muslims, and Jews.

Pentecostalism, in America and around the world, holds promise for a new intersection of faith and politics in the public square, an approach that infuses public life with an immanent spiritual vision: God is so close we can feel God—and God wants us to work to end poverty, reduce abortions, and talk with our adversaries. There are literally hundreds of millions of Pentecostal-type Christians around the world, according to the best estimates, and a growing number of young, engaged, and politically astute Pentecostals at home in the U.S. They, and the Pentecostal heritage, support DuBois and challenge him to speak in new tongues of justice, fairness, and a politics of hope, at home and abroad.

—Marlon Millner and Paul Alexander

Rev. Marlon Millner and Dr. Paul Alexander are co-founders of Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice. Millner is with Patheos.com, which focuses on religion and spirituality. Alexander, a professor at Azusa Pacific University, is author of Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God.

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