I’m not a Pentecostal. One might fairly call me a semi-charismatic Baptist. The peace organization to which I have the most loyalty and identification is the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (followed closely by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) (BPFNA). But I want to pay tribute and express gratitude to my friends in Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice (PCPJ).
Because the vast majority of contemporary Pentecostals (at least in the USA) are extremely militaristic and hyper-patriotic, it surprises many to find that when they began in the early 20th C., most Pentecostals were pacifists and several Pentecostal denominations retained pacifism in their official doctrines for decades (e.g., the Assemblies of God did not change their pacifism until 1967). That story has now been told in several places: e.g., Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among Pentecostals; Paul Alexander, Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God; Paul Alexander, Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage.
What is less known is that a group of Pentecostals and Charismatics are working to reclaim that heritage. Think how difficult that must be. But since Pentecostals are 25% of the world’s Christians, the potential for peacemaking if that reclamation is even partially successful is amazing. I have been privileged to meet some of these courageous Spirit-filled, on-fire fools for Christ.
I want to commend them to you. There are far more of them than I can list, but these are my friends in the PCPJ:
Paul Alexander and Deborah Alexander; Eric Gabourel; Marlon Millner and Diana Augsburg Millner; Arlene Sanchea-Walsh; Murray Dempster; Anthea Butler; Dallas Gingles; Terry Johns; Shelly McMullin; Christa Savely; Rick and Jan Waldrop. I’ve probably missed some and to them I apologize.
I hope many of you check out PCPJ, subscribe to their journal, Pax Pneuma, and, if you consider yourself Pentecostal or Charismatic and want to become involved in Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, BOLD peacemaking, think seriously of joining them. This Baptist fellow-traveler will be praying for their every success.
People connect to the work of peace and justice, if they do, at the heart of their personal identities. For most people, throughout history, the heart of their identities is intimately connected to their religious convictions. Even for the non-religious, some controlling philosophy or ideology substitutes for a religious identity. So, denominational peace fellowships developed early in the 20th C. as ways for people to connect their faiths to their work for peace. Many of these denominational peace fellowships are directly connected to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and others have informal connections. This history is for the U.S. scene, although there are denominational peace fellowships around the world..
The “historic peace churches” (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Brethren/Dunkers) have been normatively pacifist for centuries,but they were actually slower to develop peace fellowships than other denominations. Further, because each had strands of tradition that included “separation from the world,” they were often hesitant to join ecumenical or interfaith peace groups. Thus, the beginning of peace fellowships in the U.S. came from groups whose majorities were not pacifist–and could even be hostile to peacemaking activities. The peace fellowships of Protestant denominations came first. In the aftermath of World War I, a huge revulsion toward war swept through the U.S. and its churches, especially, but not only through its mainline liberal Protestant churches. It is safe to say that the years 1919-1940 constitute the period in which Christian pacifism came the closest to being the majority view of U.S. Christians. (Non-Christians in the U.S. also adopted anti-war views in larger numbers than at any time since the U.S.-Mexican War of the 1830s. Pacifists and near-pacifists would not be in the U.S. in anywhere close to the numbers between the World Wars until thel late 1960s as the Vietnam War dragged on seemingly forever.) One strong motivation for the formation of denominational peace fellowships was the protection of the rights of conscientious objectors. Most conscientious objectors to World War I were imprisoned for the length of the U.S. involvement in the war and the peace fellowships wanted to protect the rights of conscientious objectors if and when another war came. If you are not a member of one of the “Historic Peace Churches” (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Brethren), then participation in a denominational peace fellowship was one of the ways to show a military draft board that one objected to participation in war as a matter of religious conviction.
The earliest denominational peace fellowship was the Methodist Peace Fellowship which formed in the 1920s. The founder of Methodism in 18th C. Britain, John Wesley, was not a pacifist (because he was too much a supporter of the Church of England as a state church), but he came close–considering war to be the most visible sign of human falleness and sinfulness. American Methodists, however, had been strong supporters of the American Revolutionary War and the influence of Wesley’s views on war and slavery (which he condemned in the strongest terms) was slim in the years when American Methodism strove to prove itself as a truly AMERICAN denomination. But the recovery of a Christian peace witness began with Methodist participation in the Abolitionist movement–thanks to the huge leadership of Quakers in that movement. After the Civil War, many Methodists saw pacifism as a natural outgrowth of Wesleyan emphasis on “holiness” or “entire sanctification.” (Indeed, numerous Wesleyan Holiness denominations split off from mainline Methodism out of a sense that the latter was losing this emphasis. Many of these Holiness offshoot groups, e.g., Free Methodists, the Church of God [non-Pentecostal], the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Brethren-in-Christ[a denomination that combined influences from Anabaptism and from Wesleyan Pietism], and the Evangelical United Brethren [a group that would, in the 1950s, merge with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church], were pacifist–at least at their beginnings.) The rise of the Boston Personalist movement in theology, and the Social Gospel, increased the rise of Christian pacifism among American Methodists until, by World War I, pacifism was ALMOST a majority view in American Methodism and the Methodist Episcopal Church was recognized as a “peace church” by the U.S. military. (The Methodist Episcopal Church–South, formed as a split in American Methodism over slavery, had fewer pacifists, but it was still a sizable minority.) The strength of the pacifist witness in American Methodism waned beginning with World War II, although numerous Methodist pacifists continue to this day. Still, the Methodist Peace Fellowship itself became increasingly weaker in the 1980s and died out altogether in the 1990s. Organizationally, the witness of gospel nonviolence in the United Methodist Church has been maintained by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, but many of the more evangelical United Methodist pacifists avoid joining MFSA because of its perceived theological liberalism–especially its strongly inclusive stance toward LGBT folks and its support for legal and accessible abortion as part of its commitment to women’s procreative choice. (Both are stands largely rejected by evangelical Protestants, including evangelical United Methodists.) A “Pan-Wesleyan” peace fellowship began in the 1980s to fill the gap left by the death of the MPF. Methodists United for Peace with Justice began in 1987 as a response to the United Methodist Bishops’ pastoral letter, In Defense of Creation, which condemned nuclear weapons and called for the development of theologies of “just peace.” Membership is open not only to United Methodists, but to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the African Methodist Episcopal Church-Zion (AMEZ), the Christian Methodist Church (CMC), the Free Methodist Church, and the Free Methodist Church. Because MUPJ takes no stand on LGBT issues or abortion, evangelical pacifists among these branches of the Methodist family are more likely to join it.
The oldest denominational peace fellowship in the U.S. in continual existence is the Disciples Peace Fellowship, founded in 1935 as the peace fellowship of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the more mainline liberal branch of the Stone-Campbell movement that grew out of the Second Great Awakening in 19th C. America. Many early leaders in this movement, such as Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) and David Lipscomb (1831-1917) were pacifist. As the movement splintered along both cultural and theological lines into the Churches of Christ, independent Christian Churches, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), pacifism was strong among all branches until World War II, though only the Disciples formed a denominational peace fellowship or took part in ecumenical efforts to end war or make peace. (Note, outside the U.S., denominations related to the Stone-Campbell movement are not divided along a liberal-conservative axis. In the UK and Australia, for instance, the Churches of Christ relate to the U.S. Disciples, as does the Evangelical Christian Church of Canada.) After World War II, pacifism declined sharply in all branches of the Stone-Campbell movement, though a strong pacifist minority remains in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). By contrast, the independent Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ have become some of the most militarist of all U.S. Christians, with few remembering the pacifist roots of many of their early leaders. (There HAS been an effort by Stone-Campbell movement historians to recover this early witness, the major result of which has been the beginnings of a peace studies program at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN (related to the Churches of Christ), though most of the professors teaching in the Institute for Conflict Resolution do not share the pacifism of David Lipscomb.) One strength of the Disciples Peace Fellowship is its program of “peace interns” who spread gospel nonviolence to youth at church camps.
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship began in 1939 and today connects with the global Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.
The denominational peace fellowship I know best, of course, is also the peace organization with which I have been most deeply involved:The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. In its current form, BPFNA was founded in Louisville, KY in 1984 out of a meeting of Southern Baptist peacemakers with American (Northern) Baptists who belonged to the (Northern) Baptist Peace Fellowship which was founded in 1940. The BPFNA is a grassroots Baptist peace fellowship that has members in at least 15 different Baptist denominations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. It also has strong ties to the British Baptist Peace Fellowship (founded in 1941) and similar groups around the world. One does not need to be a pacifist to be a member of the BPFNA, just committed to the call on all Christians to be peacemakers, but it is safe to say that BPFNA gathers together more Christian pacifists in Baptist life than any other organization. BPFNA has ties to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and is represented on the boards of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.
Other Christian peace fellowships include: Adventist Peace Fellowship (formed in October 2001 as a recovery of earlier–mostly lost–pacifist convictions among Seventh Day Adventists and in response to American militarism following the attacks of 11 September 2001), Brethren Peace Fellowship (1946, the ecumenical and interfaith peace witness of the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic peace churches), The Catholic Peace Fellowship (1965, renewed in 2001, with a primary focus on protecting and spreading conscientious objection to all war among U.S. Catholics), Church of God Peace Fellowship (1964 with roots in the Interracial Fellowship founded in the 1930s and deeper roots going back to the initial pacifist witness of the Church of God [Anderson, IN–Non-Pentecostal] in the 19th C.), Lutheran Peace Fellowship (1994–members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the USA), Orthodox Peace Fellowship (founded during the Vietnam War and re-launched in 1984; connects Orthodox Christians globally in peacemaking. Pacifism is not required, but active work for peace is seen as “not optional” for Christians), Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice (founded in 2002 as The Pentecostal Peace Fellowship and quickly expanding to the Pentecostal and Charismatic Peace Fellowship, the current name was adopted to stress both the essential connection of peace and justice in the gospel, and to avoid confusion with another peace group listed below; early Pentecostals were pacifist but this witness was progressively lost after World War I. PCPWJ attempts to recover, deepen, and expand the radical nonviolence of early Pentecostalism.), Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (1940s).
Noticeably missing (considering the peace witness of their roots) is any peace fellowship of Moravians, the Evangelical Covenant Church, or the Evangelical Free Church, or the Church of the Nazarene. Also noticeably missing (considering its many pacifists) is a peace fellowship related to the United Church of Christ.
Of the Historic Peace Churches, only the Church of the Brethren has a Brethren Peace Fellowship, but it is small these days and has no website. The peace witness of the Church of the Brethren is most strongly expressed organizationally in On Earth Peace, the official peacemaking program of the Church of the Brethren. Likewise the Mennonite Central Committee (founded in 1920), which unites many different Mennonite and Amish groups in the U.S. and Canada on matters of missions, hunger and disaster relief, development aid, and peacebuilding, performs many of the functions of a grassroots peace fellowship in traditions that are not rooted in a historic peace witness throughout all parts of the Mennonite identity. In the largest of these groups, the Mennonite Church, USA, there is also a Mennonite Peace & Justice Support Network, linking and supporting the peace work of Mennonite congregations, much like peace fellowships do in other traditions. Among Friends/Quakers, the American Friends Service Committee , whose history I sketched briefly in an earlier post in this series, acts as a peace fellowship and is an official affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
After World War II, the horrors of the Holocaust (with its roots in centuries of Christian anti-Semitism) awakened ecumenical Christian pacifists to the need for interfaith peace work. The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) broadened its identity and membership basis from Christian pacifists to interfaith pacifists–as did several of IFOR’s national branches such as the U.S. FOR. (Other branches, such as in the UK, remained specifically Christian.) This led to “denominational” peace fellowships connected to the FOR (USA) from other world religions, beginning with the Jewish Peace Fellowship (founded in 1941 to support Jewish conscientious objectors). Today, such peace fellowships in other faiths include The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (1968), The Muslim Peace Fellowship (Ansar as-Salam, founded in 1994), and the Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship. (Both Unitarians and Universalists began in the 19th C. as liberal Christian denominations and several prominent Unitarians were among the founders of the U. S. branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. But UUs today do not widely consider themselves to be Christian, but an interfaith collection of “free congregations” with Christian roots. So, I list the UUPF in this interfaith section and not among the Christian denominational peace fellowships.) To date, I know of no Hindu peace fellowship, no Jain or Sikh peace fellowship, no Ba’hai peace fellowship, Other interfaith peace groups with less connection to the FOR and Christian denominational peace fellowships will be profiled in future posts.
1On the day of Pentecost [a] all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. 2Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. 3Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. 4The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak. 5Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. 7They were excited and amazed, and said:
Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? 8Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? 9Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.
12Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?”
13Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”
14Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:
Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say! 15You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,
17“When the last days come,
I will give my Spirit
Your sons and daughters
Your young men
will see visions,
and your old men
will have dreams.
18In those days I will give
my Spirit to my servants,
both men and women,
and they will prophesy.
19I will work miracles
in the sky above
on the earth below.
There will be blood and fire
and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will turn dark,
and the moon
will be as red as blood
before the great
and wonderful day
of the Lord appears.
21Then the Lord
will save everyone
who asks for his help.”
22Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this. 23God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross. 24But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power. 25What David said are really the words of Jesus,
“I always see the Lord
and I will not be afraid
with him at my right side.
26Because of this,
my heart will be glad,
my words will be joyful,
and I will live in hope.
27The Lord won’t leave me
in the grave.
I am his holy one,
and he won’t let
my body decay.
28He has shown me
the path to life,
and he makes me glad
by being near me.”
29My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here. 30But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king.
31David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay. 32All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life!
33Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side [b] of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing. 34David didn’t go up to heaven. So he wasn’t talking about himself when he said, “The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side, 35until he made my Lord’s enemies into a footstool for him.” 36Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.
37When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “Friends, what shall we do?”
38Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. 39This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live.”
40Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, “I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people.” 41On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized. 42They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread [c]and prayed together.
43Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. 44All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. 45They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. 46Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread [d] together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, 47while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.
Acts 2 Contemporary English Version. I’ll reserve commentary for a post tomorrow. Today, let the Word speak.
Paul Alexander, Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God (C. Henry Smith Series) (Cascadia, 2009).
I first met Dr. Paul Alexander, 5th generation Assemblies of God minister, in Dallas in 2005. I was the Outreach Coordinator/Field Director for Every Church a Peace Church (an ecumenical Christian renewal movement attempting to recall all Christians and churches back to the nonviolence of Jesus and the early Church) and Paul was teaching theology and ethics at Southwest Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in nearby Watahatchie, TX. Paul had come to Dallas to attend an ecumenical peace church conference which I had helped organize. He was the first Pentecostal pacifist I’d ever met–although, thanks to Paul, I’ve now met many more.
My early experiences with Pentecostals and Charismatics during my teens in the 1970s were not pleasant. I won’t rehearse the details here, except to say that the Pentecostals I first encountered were legalistic, judgmental in the extreme, anti-science and anti-scholarship, racist, sexist, and, especially, filled with ultra-nationalist militarism. By the time I met Paul Alexander, I had somewhat overcome the prejudices toward Pentecostals (especially Assemblies of God folk) that flowed from those early experiences. I knew that Pentecostals in Europe and Latin America were often leaders in movements for social justice. I had even read Jay Beaman’s Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among the Pentecostals (repr. Wipf and Stock, 2009) which showed how the first generation of Pentecostals (in the opening years of the 20th C.) were almost all pacifists, but that this pacifism quickly eroded after the start of World War I. By 2005, I had met several Assemblies ministers who knew of the pacifism of their denominational past, but they were all embarrassed by it. Paul Alexander was the first Assemblies minister I’d met who wanted to revive the Assemblies peace heritage!
Paul’s story is a remarkable one. For most of his (still young) life, he’d conformed to much of the stereotype of my early experience with Pentecostals. A 5th generation Pentecostal minister, he’d been raised in an Assemblies parsonage, gone to Assemblies camps, an Assemblies-run college (SAGU) where he’d cheered on the Gulf War I (’91), gone to the denominational seminary and been employed to teach theology at his college alma mater. It was during his Ph.D. studies (at, of all places, Baylor University–a Texas Baptist university not known for friendliness toward Pentecostals or pacifists!) that Paul discovered his denomination’s pacifist heritage. He found it intriquing and decided to write his doctoral dissertation on the origin and gradual abandonment of pacifism (gospel nonviolence) among the Assemblies of God. To Paul’s surprise, he found himself convinced by the biblical and theological arguments of the early Assemblies ministers for Christian pacifism. What began as a merely academic inquiry led to a second conversion–a baptism into the Christ-centered, mission oriented, Spirit-empowered, gospel nonviolence of the early Pentecostals.
This book is the published form of Dr. Alexander’s dissertation. It shows early Assemblies ministers with remarkably global perspectives, very resistant to jingoistic nationalism (far more aware of national sins and critical of claims to American righteousness), whose pacifism was deeply rooted in the New Testament, an “unfolding revelation” approach to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and well-informed by the history of the pre-Constantinian Church. These Assemblies pacifists were not cowed either by charges of lack of patriotism, or by pragmatic arguments that would call gospel nonviolence “unworkable,” especially since they were used to “the world” dismissing other aspects of the Spirit’s work–in tonque-speaking, miraculous healings, the breakdown of racial barriers. In the lead-up to World War I, jingoistic war fever gripped much of the nation (although fundamentalist lay-preacher and perpetual Democratic nominee for president, William Jennings Bryan, who was serving as Secretary of State for Woodrow Wilson, resigned when Wilson broke his campaign promise to keep the U.S. out of the war). Assemblies ministers pushed back against the war fever, despite the legal pressures the government brought against dissenters. Believing they were living in the End Times, these Assemblies ministers expected to be persecuted for their faith–including their faith in gospel nonviolence.
The official Assemblies statement on war and peacemaking from 1917 until 1967 was sent to President Woodrow Wilson as follows:
Therefore, we, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare that we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.
Despite the erosion of Assemblies pacifism after WWI to the point that, by WWII, the majority were no longer conscientious objectors, and despite a major debate over the statement in the lead up to WWII, the statement went unchanged until 1967 when it was modified to:
As a Movement we affirm our loyalty to the government of the United States in war or peace. We shall continue to insist, as we have historically, on the right of each member to choose for himself whether to declare his position as a combatant, a noncombatant, or a conscientious objector.
The contrast in statements is startling. Several things leap out in comparison, many of which are detailed and analyzed by Alexander: 1) Whereas the first statement affirms a Romans 13-influenced affirmation of loyal citizenship such as most Christians in most countries could and have affirmed over the centuries, it draws a line where such loyalty would demand unfaithfulness to the gospel as the Assemblies perceived it. The second statement, despite the fact that a majority of Assemblies members are from outside the U.S., affirms loyalty specifically to the U.S. government–and without any qualifications. 2)The second statement claims a historical position of allowing liberty of conscience on the matter of military position–when such liberty of conscience was NOT the original position of the denomination. In other words, the second statement makes a historically false claim. As Alexander makes clear, on no other moral issue does the Assemblies simply leave the decision to the individual member–without even any biblical guidance. 3) The Assemblies, like most Pentecostals, are strong biblicists–backing nearly every theological and ethical position with biblical warrants. This is true of the first statement, which, even in a public letter to the President of the United States, claims Scripture as the sole basis of authority. The second statement doesn’t even mention Scripture and no biblical warrants are given for the position–in contrast to every other theological or ethical matter on which Assemblies takes a denominational position. It is clear that an uncritical nationalism (a form of idolatry) has overwhelmed the Assemblies on the matter of war and peace.
Alexander shows many of the reasons that this has happened. A major factor in the erosion of Assemblies’ pacifism is the strong desire to minister (especially in evangelistic outreach) to members of the military. This desire, as part of the larger evangelistic orientation of the Assemblies, was there from the beginning. Evangelism was frequently cited as a reason for refusing to kill, too, but the desire to reach out to soldiers eventually eroded the nonviolence. He also shows shifts in Christology, pneumatology, and eschatology worked to erode early Assemblies pacifism.
One factor that Alexander may have not seen (at least does not emphasize) is the restorationist nature of early Pentecostalism. Early Assemblies members, like early Pentecostals generally, believed that they were restoring primitive Christianity from a state of corruption. So, they were prepared to see aspects of the gospel that the older denominations missed. They expected governments and other powerful forces of “the world” to be opposed to them and they had a pessimistic view of the general morality of most so-called “Christian” nations, so they would be more likely to notice the gospel nonviolence of Jesus, the NT, and the early Church and identify with that rather than the military morality of the wider culture. But, today, Pentecostalism accounts for approximately one-fourth of all Christians in the world, and is the fastest growing form of Christianity. The Assemblies are a large part of this global growth and with numerical growth has come more acceptance. Yes, there is still prejudice against Pentecostals in academic and cultural elites, but nowhere near to the extent previously. Scholarly journals, classes on global Pentecostalism in non-Pentecostal divinity schools, famous Assemblies ministers in high government places (e.g., the late John Ashcroft, former Secretary of State in the Bush administration), are indications that the Assemblies have moved from the “disinherited,” to part of the established culture–especially the culturally and politically conservative part of that establishment. Pacifism, however, is quite at odds with that wider culture. When contemporary Assemblies members emphasize their “oddness,” their difference from “the world,” they are likely to restrict this to their tongue-speaking, belief in miraculous healings and other miracles, or the highly emotional nature of typical Pentecostal worship. If an Assemblies minister speaks about rejecting “worldly wisdom,” he is likely to be referring to the typical rejection of biological evolution or other generally accepted scientific theories that create tensions for simplistic forms of biblical interpretation, and not rejecting the nationalistic and imperialist militarism that pervades both major political parties. Any recovery of Assemblies pacifism, would seem to depend (among many other things) to a recovery of the restorationist primitivism of early Pentecostal ecclesiology.
This book is a sad story–and a cautionary tale. The historic peace churches (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, and Brethren) could easily lose their pacifism, too–and the process of erosion seems well underway. But the book is also a hopeful one–reminding us how often God raises up new voices of faithful discipleship where old institutional churches have ceased to be dynamic vessels of the gospel. Sometimes God renews older bodies, too, and that could well happen with the historic peace churches and/or with the Assemblies of God.
Alexander plans a sequel to this work which both argues the normative case for gospel nonviolence and which plots a way forward to a more faithful Assemblies of God, including recovering gospel nonviolence. Alexander is one of the founders of Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) (originally called the Pentecostal Peace Fellowship and, then, the Pentecostal and Charismatic Peace Fellowship). This vital and growing global organization includes individuals and congregations from many different Pentecostal or Charismatic denominations. It is multi-racial and multi-ethnic, cross-generational (and excites numerous younger Pentecostals and Charismatics–a hopeful sign) and suggests that the vibrant peace witness of the early Assemblies (and other Pentecostals) could be revitalized today.
As a historical study, Alexander’s work needs supplementing by others. We need similar denominational studies of the rise and fall (and rise again?) of pacifism in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), Apostolic Church of Christ, Apostolic Faith Mission Church of God, Church of God of Prophecy, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and numerous others. There should also be studies of the charismatic renewal movements within mainline Christian bodies (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) and whether these led to any peacemaking emphases.
This is an exciting work and I have only been able to touch on a few of the dimensions covered. I recommend it highly for all who are interested in the faithful renewal of the church universal.
My friend, Eric Gabourel, whom I met several years back at a conference of the Pentecostal & Charismatic Peace Fellowship (which has now become Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace and Justice) has begun his own blog, The Political Evolution of a Pentecostal Minister. I think it’s worth checking out. Eric is the pastor of Providence Community Church (a Congregation of the Church of God [Cleveland,TN]) in San Francisco which, because of its feeding ministry to the homeless is known in the neighborhood as “The Hot Dog Church.” Eric has just begun an autobiographical account of his conversion from nationalism to the Nonviolent Christ.
Give it a look, folks.