By Aaron D. Taylor
I was born and raised a Pentecostal/charismatic Christian. While I don’t attend a charismatic church right now, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement remains the backdrop through which I interpret the Christian faith. I believe in speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and healing the sick. I attended one of the flagship Pentecostal Bible schools in the country, and I spent years traveling the world propagating charismatic Christianity. To give you an idea of my immersion in Pentecostal-speak, one time, a friend of mine was explaining to me how an electric device works, and in order to speak my language, he used an analogy comparing how electricity flows through a cable to how the Holy Spirit flows through us as vessels. He knew I’d understand the Holy Spirit part.
Though I treasure my Pentecostal heritage, these days I feel like an outsider looking in, because though it started out as a pacifist movement in the early 20th century, today Pentecostalism (at least in America) is largely known as a religion that spawns extremist movements that trumpet militarism and bigotry.
Chief exhibit: The Call
Founded by Lou Engle, the Call is a movement that regularly holds massive prayer events in stadiums across the country. Engle is part of a network called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes that God is raising up an end- times army of apostles and prophets to take over earthly governments before Jesus comes back. A few of its prominent leaders are Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner, and Mike Bickle. Though the end-times theology of these individuals may vary, the underlying principle that binds them together is the idea that Christians are called to dominate earthly governments and civil society, and that apostles and prophets are supposed to pave the way to make that happen.
While they fashion themselves as champions of racial reconciliation, the reality is the leaders of the Call have traded one form of bigotry for another. They lure African Americans, Latinos, and other racial minority Christians into their program by conducting ceremonies of repentance for past sins, but then they use their expanded platform to demonize Muslims and gay people, and promote an extreme Christian Zionist agenda. While I don’t mean to suggest that they’re being intentionally dishonest, the language, terminology and ideas promoted by leaders of the Call and the New Apostolic Reformation provide for some bizarre ironies.
I believe the movement’s leaders are sincere when they symbolically repent for the historical sins of slavery and native American genocide, yet the same people teach that Jews and Arabs will always fight (until Jesus comes back) because Jews are sons of Isaac and Arabs are sons of Ishmael. That sounds a lot like the black-people-are-under-the-curse-of-Ham argument that white racists used to justify slavery.
Irony #2: A big part of the prayer agenda of this movement is to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, but the funny thing is that when they “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, they’re not actually praying for peace. What they actually mean is “pray that Jerusalem will stay in the hands of Jews, and that if the Jewish majority is ever threatened in a political settlement, pray that the U.S. will side with Israel in a future war.” Peace = War. Doublespeak.
Irony #3. Leaders of the Call routinely cast themselves in the role of the persecuted minority, but they use their “persecuted minority" status to demonize—minorities .
For example, in a conference call leading up to the recent Call Detroit event, “ex-terrorist” Kamal Saleem made the absurd claim that Obama wants to impose Sharia law on America, implying that the listeners should be afraid of a group of people that represent a fraction of the U.S. population. Another example is even after the secular media raised concerns about the so-called “kill the gays” bill in Uganda, Lou Engle organized a rally in conjunction with key sponsors of the bill. And in the irony of all ironies, in another conference call leading up to the event, state senator Mark Jansen was invited to weigh-in, the same man that voted to attach a “religious freedom exception” to Michigan’s anti-bullying legislation, essentially saying that it’s okay to bully a gay kid—as long as it’s for religious reasons.
It takes a serious persecution complex to side with conspiracy theorists, kill-the-gays legislators, and high school bullies, but such is the nature of extremism. I’m sad that it has come to this. I pray that American Pentecostalism will find it’s way again…before it’s too late.