Pentecostal

More U.S. Latinos Shift and Drift Outside the Catholic Church

Fernando Alcantar could be the latest Pew Research report come to life. Photo: Andrew Sutton, courtesy Fernando Alcantar.

A new report on the “Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos” reads very much like a biography of Fernando Alcantar.

Like six in 10 Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., he was born in Mexico, where “you are Catholic as much as you are Mexican. You like jalapenos and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe,” he said.

But once he moved to California after high school, his faith journey diverged — and derailed. Today, Alcantar, 36 calls himself a humanist.

The Pew survey report released Wednesday is subtitled: “Nearly One in Four Latinos are former Catholics.” And Alcantar is one of them.

The Hidden History of Pentecostal Pacifism

WHEN I FOUND out years ago that most early Pentecostal denominations had been committed to nonviolence—including the Assemblies of God, the denomination of my heritage—I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Not kill for the United States of America (or any country)?

Then I stumbled upon the Pentecostal Evangel, a weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God (USA), which published these revealing words during World War I:

From the very beginning the [Pentecostal] movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man.

This was new to me. I was reared in a U.S. Pentecostalism that taught intense loyalty to the United States and deep pride in combatant military service. Where did this hidden history of Pentecostal nonviolence come from?

Reading other early accounts of Pentecostal peacemaking prompted me to further examine where it had gone and whether it could re-emerge. It would also challenge and deconstruct my understanding of Christianity.

In the 1930s, the Pacifist Handbook actually listed the Assemblies of God as the third largest church in the U.S. that “opposed war.” Although not universal, Pentecostal conscientious objection and noncombatant service in the U.S. continued into World War II and beyond.

One day when I was at my grandparents’ home in east Texas, they asked me about the subject of my dissertation. With nervous hesitation, I shared that the Assemblies of God used to be a pacifist denomination and that I was researching the history of pacifism’s emergence and eventual decline in U.S. Pentecostalism.

“Well, of course, we know that,” my grandmother responded.

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Pentecostal Pastors in Africa Push Prayer, Not Drugs, for People with HIV

Some church pastors have HIV-invited infected people to prayers and pronounced healing. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

At prayer healing services in some Pentecostal churches, pastors invite people infected with HIV to come forward for a public healing, after which they burn the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declare the person cured.

The “cure” is not free, and some people say they shell out their life savings to receive a miracle blessing and quit taking the drugs.

“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” said Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of Nairobi. “We usually guide them. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.”

But the controversial ceremonies are raising red flags as believers’ conditions worsen, and a debate has opened over whether science or religion should take the lead in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.

Australia's Hillsong Church Exports Its Influence Through Praise and Preaching

Senior Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston in prayer at Hillsong Church. Photo via RNS/courtesy Hillsong Church

The ubiquitous praise song “Shout to the Lord” can be found in many churches across the U.S. on any given Sunday. What fewer people realize is that it comes from a church in the outskirts of Sydney, with a Hillsong brand that is spreading across the globe.

Hillsong Church has combined Christian rock, charismatic energy, and Australian accents to create a winning combination in major cities across the globe. On Sunday at their main campus just outside of Sydney, children and adults swarmed a petting zoo for children and coffee stations outside the glass entrance as volunteers gave out balloons celebrating the 30th anniversary of one of the most globally influential churches.

What Does the World Church's Geographical Shift Mean for Christianity?

Earth interconnectedness illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com
Earth interconnectedness illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com

A global leader in ecumenical movement has alerted participants to the forthcoming World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, to be aware that they meet in rapidly changing times for world Christianity.

He says there are consequences for all church institutions, including the WCC itself.

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, in a book timed to coincide with the gathering, says so fundamental are the changes now shaping the Christian world that the WCC will need to "commit to deep change."

It they don't, he says, they could remain largely isolated from the dynamic and growing parts of the church, especially from the global South.

His perceptions are likely to strike a chord at when the World Council of Churches meets in Busan from Oct.30 to Nov. 8 for its 10th Assembly, the highest decision making body of the grouping that represents some 560 million Christians.

Granberg-Michaelson, is a former member of the main governing body of the WCC, its central committee, and worked on the staff of the organization for six years, originally as director of the Church and Society programme.

He says the book, From Times Square to Timbuktu, is an attempt to describe the "growing gulf" occurring in world Christianity, primarily between the burgeoning Pentecostal and evangelical churches in the global South and the declining churches of the global North.

New & Noteworthy

Cleats and Dignity
The civil rights struggle for African Americans happened in every sphere of life. Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights, by Samuel G. Freedman, tells of two great black coaches in the tense year of 1967. Simon & Schuster

Catching Fire
One project of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture is the Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative, which funded research in more than 20 countries. PCRI resources include the informative recent report, “Moved by the Spirit: Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in the Global South.” crcc.usc.edu/pcri

Hope and Healing
The documentary film The Adventists 2 looks at health care in the developing world and Seventh-day Adventist medical missions in Haiti, the Amazon, Malawi, China, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. A sequel to the award-winning film The Adventists, which looked at the body-mind-spirit connections of Adventists. journeyfilms.com

A Light for the World
Get international and justice-minded perspectives on the Sunday scripture readings from Catholic sisters, priests, brothers, and lay missioners in A Maryknoll Liturgical Year: Reflections on the Readings for Year A, edited by Judy Coode and Kathy McNeely. Orbis

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'Break My Heart With What Breaks Yours'

High-octane contemporary worship with smoke, flashing lights, and words on huge screens energize and empower 3,400 Pentecostals from 69 countries filling the Calvary Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,. This is the 23rd Pentecostal World Conference, a triennial gathering of pastors, leaders, and youth from around the globe. I’m here as part of a delegation from the Global Christian Forum, warmly invited, seated right in the front, and including representatives from the Lutheran, Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mennonite, African-Instituted and Reformed church bodies, all members of the GCF steering committee. We’re easy to pick out of the crowd, since we’re the only ones who don’t spontaneously raise our hands in worship. I hope that image doesn’t make it to the big screens.

The explosive growth of Pentecostalism is an astonishing chapter in the story of world Christianity’s modern history. In 1970, Pentecostals (including charismatics in non-Pentecostal denominations) totaled about 62 million, or 5 percent of the total Christian population. In the four decades since, Pentecostals have grown at 4 times the rate of overall Christianity, and 4 times faster than the world’s population growth. Today they number about 600 million — one out of every four Christians in the world, and one out of every 12 people alive today. Most of this growth has come in the global South, in places like Africa, South America, and — yes — Malaysia.

The Pentecostal World Conference doesn’t look much like a typical denominational or ecumenical assembly. It’s more like a global revival service. Several of the world’s best-known Pentecostal preachers and leaders deliver stirring messages, complete with altar calls for those seeking the fresh empowerment of God’s Spirit in their lives and ministries. It’s a far cry from a Reformed Church in America General Synod, which I facilitated for many years. But these keynote speakers, along with the workshops held each day of the conference, open a window into global Pentecostalism’s present trends, challenges, and directions.

In writing From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, I found that one of the most intriguing questions I encountered is how rapidly growing forms of Christianity in the global South deal with social and economic issues within their societies. So in Kuala Lumpur, I was especially attentive to what might be said by the world’s Pentecostal leadership about the biblical call to justice and mercy. And I heard a lot that I wish I could now go back and add to my book.

'Courage! Your Faith Has Made You Well'

JASON COOPER LOOKS out at the audience gathered in Restoration Church and asks, “Is it God’s will to heal?”

The former art school classroom, where the Pentecostal Dover, N.H., congregation meets, is nearly full, even though it is a Thursday evening in April. In addition to the 70 or so regular members who have come to hear Cooper preach, there are nearly a dozen visitors. One woman leans heavily on a cane. Another can’t turn her head from side to side and needs neck surgery.

They are casualties of slow research and expensive health care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health-care policy think tank, health expenditures have increased 10-fold in the past 30 years. Though some health- care increases can be attributed to longer life spans, the high costs of drugs, hospital stays, and doctor visits have been compounded in the wake of the recession.

A young woman tensely watches Cooper as if he might explode at any minute. No one knows exactly what he will do. The audience fidgets in response to his question. Cooper, with his soul patch, slick black haircut, white button-down shirt, and stone-washed jeans, looks a little like a Vegas magician.

But Cooper is a traveling faith healer.

Restoration Church is a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that believes faith healing is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to all Christians. It is a modern church of about 170 members, with a worship team that includes electric guitar players, a bassist, and a drummer. Its logo, a stenciled yellow “R” on a black background, is as trendy as an Apple icon.

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Uncertainty's Graces

JUST A FEW dozen pages into Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I've Crossed, evangelical pastor Jay Bakker pens what may be the best explanation for the Christian emphasis on church community that I've ever encountered. Noting that doubt can be "hard and scary," Bakker writes: "That's why we have one another, why we have community. We can go through those days of doubt together. I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the people who have been there with me as I question everything."

Many writers have grappled with the challenge that doubt poses for religious believers. But in this honest, searching, and ultimately uplifting book, Bakker pulls doubt out of the shadows where many believers wrestle with it on their own and instead presents it as a reality that Christian communities can and should address together.

Bakker's approach to the often-taboo topic of questioning—or, as he puts it, "the sense that faith is crap, life is meaningless, there is no God, the Bible is a fraud, Jesus was just a charismatic man turned mythological figure if he existed at all"—is shaped by his childhood in a Pentecostal environment that left no room for doubt. As Bakker ruefully notes in the book's introduction, "I will probably be 80 years old and still introduced as Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye." That unusual background only provides the impetus, however, and not the substance for this book, which reads mostly as the stream-of-consciousness meditation of a man pushing and pulling at his faith to see if it holds up.

The beliefs that pull Bakker up short, that cause him to question what he's always been taught about his faith, aren't that different from what many of us are told in our own religious communities. Our membership is often contingent on accepting a certain concept of God, a certain idea of eternity and where people get to spend it, a certain understanding of the Bible. Above all, many communities demand certainty.

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Snake Handling Pastor Dies of Snake Bite

Rattlesnake. Image via http://bit.ly/KMHG5x.
Rattlesnake. Image via http://bit.ly/KMHG5x.

Pastor Mack Wolford — an eccentric snake handler and Pentecostal minister — was bitten by a deadly rattle snake at an outdoor service (or “evangelistic hootenanny”) at Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Va. He died shortly after, surrounded by friends and family, which, coincidentally, is the same way his father (also a pastor and snake handler) passed away nearly thirty years ago.

According to The Washington Post, “Wolford [like his father] believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God -- and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.” As the article points out, Wolford comes from a niche tradition in where the gospel words in Mark 16 are taken literally (and somewhat peculiarly), to “take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them…”

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