Monday, September 08, 2008

Bible Thump: Redux

We need to be on the same page here. I'm not trying to teach anybody about their religion, just getting a few terms defined for the purposes of this post.

The term Pentecost, in modern fundamentalist religion in America, refers to the spiritual awakening and gifts that the individual receives when "born again" or baptized in the holy spirit, often during a spastic episode followed by a refractory trance. The gifts can be manifested in many ways. Most commonly, the individual speaks in tongues. Sometimes the gift of healing is imparted. Less often, the gift of foresight or prophesy is bestowed. There are no real limits to the gifts possible. It is important in the Pentecostal faith, that the true Christian undergoes a traumatic spiritual rebirth, rather than simply believing in God and learning about the faith through membership and participation, in the Christian community. There are many controversies about the beginnings of Pentecostal religion. Some believe it began as early as the late Eighteenth Century in Appalachia. Some believe it sprang out of a Bible study group at Bethel Bible College, in the late Nineteenth Century. Many in my area, insist it started in a storefront church in Los Angeles in 1901. In any case, by early in the Twentieth Century, there existed around America, a small and growing number of churches that were Pentecostal in nature, in that they shared this concept of an epiphaneous spiritual awakening, as a requirement for true Christian faith. This was a departure from most Christian sects, at the time.

This concept of spiritual awakening, proved very attractive. Very soon, congregations of many Christian Churches adopted it into their practice of Christianity. Just as the genetic structure of a retrovirus becomes a permanent part of its hosts DNA, the longed for spiritual awakening became part of established churches. These hybrid churches were dubbed "Charismatic".

The last term we need to get straight is Fundamentalism. This is the belief in the absolute, literal veracity of Holy Scripture, New Testament and Old, as the revealed word of God, despite minor inconsistencies due to errors in translation, transcription or interpretation down through the centuries.

All Pentecostal churches are Fundamentalist. Not all Charismatic Churches are Fundamentalist and not all Fundamentalist churches are Charismatic.

Now, let's go back to the origins of the Pentacostal Church. In the beginning, all Pentacostal churches shared another common trait. All were Pacifist. This goes right back to the issue of speaking in tongues and the belief that in the end of days, God would reveal himself to all men and all men would understand each other literally and spiritually. There would be no violence, killing or war from that time forward. The United States government, not infrequently engaged in wars, had real problems with pacifist churches. As long as the members of these churches paid their taxes and were willing to send their young men off to perform non combatant duties, they grudgingly accepted this. This was not always the case and many young men of Pentecostal faith spent time in Federal prison. There was also social ostracism and peer pressure put upon Pentecostals by the general population. Being a young faith and still relatively plastic in their beliefs, pacifism quickly became a matter of individual preference and soon after World War I, a negligible practice. Another early belief among Pentecostals was an adherence to feminist principals. On the West Coast, the majority of the early Pentecostals were women and many of these were not only congregational leaders but doctrinal authorities, clergy and evangelists. Over time, women were pushed back into more traditional roles, that did not involve leadership or doctrinal authority. Just as Pentecostal beliefs were adopted by pre existing denominations, so were they influenced into reversing some of their early, important, progressive stances, when they became unfashionable.

Now, one last delving into the not so far past history of the American Pentecostal movement. Within this church that spawned such World renowned feminist leaders as Aimee Semple McPherson and Kathryn Kuhlman, there existed thousands of mature, feminine, church leaders, that believed in communal pacifism and miraculous healing. It was common for them to minister to young girls, in time of personal crisis, that men did not understand. If the girl was found to be blameless or the circumstances warranted, she could be healed, made whole again and the "problem" would be made to vanish, leaving her to go on with her life in Christ. Indeed, this experience was not uncommonly the catalyst for the girls subsequent Baptism in the Spirit and the beginning of her lifelong personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not saying these feminist heroes of the Pentecostal faith are all gone now but they are, at the very least, driven far underground. I'm not saying that religion should be anything that you want it to be but if God takes the time to speak to you, listen. If God chooses to speak to the ladies about different things than you, maybe it's none of your fucking business.

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