It would though be a big mistake to dismiss Pentecostals as just a bunch of nuts who speak in tongues and believe in faith healing. According to the 2014 report 2014 report from the Pew Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Evangelicals and Pentecostals are the fastest growing group of Christians in the United States today, with 170-plus denominations and churches in a number of different spiritual traditions.
Watching Kim Davis’ release from jail last week, and her “victory for Christians” speech, all I could think was, “Victory for Christians? I’m a Christian. Not a victory for me ‘cause I support the separation of Church and State.” All week, and into the weekend I wondered what the deal was with so many of these “Christians” speaking so loudly for their “values.” And what makes them think that We the People want a country that creates policies based strictly on their interpretation of “Christian principles?”
The American Religious landscape is a place most of us know little to nothing about, outside of the denomination in which we were raised. If you were raised in a Mainline Protestant or liberal-thinking Roman Catholic or Anglican tradition, you might think that in the Davis case, keeping Church and State separate (by doing your state job while keeping your church faith) would be easy enough. However, you might be a bit out of step with the thinking of some of the fastest growing religious groups out there: the Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
Davis herself is a member of the Solid Rock Church, a Pentecostal church in Moreshead, KY. This church is part of a group known as Oneness Pentecostals. It’s a denominational offshoot of the Pentecostals movement that began with the Azusa Street Revival, which ran from 1906 to 1915.
Most of us have never heard of the Azusa Street Revival. Many Americans don’t even know about The Great Awakening (ca. 1730 – ca.1860) which, in its third phase, spawned the Church of Latter Day Saints. So many don’t know that the Azusa Street Revival created the Pentecostalism, which then gave birth to a number of varying Pentecostal denominations (sects) and non-denominational affiliated Pentecostal churches. If we’ve even heard of Aimee Semple MacPherson, one of the most recognizable Pentecostal preacher names, it might only have been in conjunction with the founding of Foursquare Church because we watched something about her on PBS.
It would though be a big mistake to dismiss Pentecostals as just a bunch of nuts who speak in tongues and believe in faith healing. According to the 2014 report 2014 report from the Pew Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Evangelicals and Pentecostals are the fastest growing group of Christians in the United States today, with 170-plus denominations and churches in a number of different spiritual traditions. By contrast, there are only 65 denominations in the Mainline Protestant traditions, and 8 different types of Catholics, as well as Orthodox Christians and Coptic Christians (the latter two are small minorities in our religious landscape.)
The Pew study also found that most Americans do not stay in the denomination in which they are raised. While Evangelicals and Pentecostals are growing, the numbers of the “Unaffiliated” are, surprisingly, growing as well. This could account for the strange numbers that come up in surveys on moral issues and government intervention.
Tobin Grant of the Religion News Service created a fantastic graphic that helps make sense of where Americans are in the political landscape, based on their religious affiliation, culled from the data in the Pew study. What Grant found is that while Catholics really are the biggest Christian denomination in the country, they are divided in their thinking on whether or not the government should be legislating morality, and if so, if there should be more government services or fewer. If you click through to Grant’s graphic, you will see that Pentecostals and Evangelicals agree on wanting more legislation of morality, but are divided on bigger or smaller government. Mainline Protestants on the other hand, fit squarely into the mindset of “less morality protection/legislation and smaller government.”
Where the “Unaffiliated,” Agnostics and Atheists fall in the scheme of things is unsurprising. Many of the Unaffiliated (no declared religion) as well as the Atheists and Agnostics are solidly for less government intervention in morality, but are somewhat divided on the question of bigger or smaller government.
Another interesting tidbit: in all the talk about Christians, Evangelicals and Pentecostals have historically held the view of Catholics as “Papists” or in some other negative light. Doctrinal differences abound, and they are often at odds in their missions work. Yet, in the modern American political landscape, they have become “strange bedfellows” on issues such as the abortion issue and gay marriage. This, however, does not mean that if the goals of overturning the Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion and gay marriage are reached, that Catholics won’t be thrown out of the political bed the morning after, left to do a walk of shame back to the land of Nod (or Vatican City.)
If we consider the data we currently have on the American Religious landscape, we can make a good argument that Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee might want to hold off celebrating the same way that Ted Cruz was held off the podium. Many Catholics may want to side with Davis, and even consider her some kind of martyr, but even though Catholics are still the largest denomination, not all of them are of the same mind as Pentecostals on political issues. They certainly are not on the same page on doctrines and who’s more Christian than whom.
Then should we, the liberal-thinking Unaffiliated, Catholics, Mainline Protestants and others who firmly support a separation of church and state – especially on moral issues – be concerned by the rhetoric of Pentecostals and Evangelicals? Quite a few journalists who write about those who want to create a Christian Republic on American soil would say there is definitely something to worry about, and to closely monitor how every election turns out. It is indeed possible that with every election, as Millennials who have been homeschooled by Pentecostal parents retain their Pentecostal faith (there are currently no numbers on how many leave the denomination) and begin voting, that the momentum might swing towards policies that will police our bedrooms more than our boardrooms. So, if increasing numbers of Evangelicals and Pentecostals sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they march to the voting booths and towards merging church and state, those of us who believe in keeping the two separate need to be marching as well, and to whatever sort of music will get us there.
Tish Grier is a writer and longtime blogger living in Easthampton, MA. Even at middle-age, Tish is still a girly girl who enjoys blogging about fashion and beauty. She also writes essays about her formerly dysfunctional life and wants to let everyone know that things change. You can read her at High Fashion Average Woman. Tish is also a contributor to Midcentury/Modern on Medium.
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