Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 20th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Things we saved our children from

Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee

Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you can imagine, when you rip away the “holler doors” and expose fundamentalism, especially the more pentecostally kind, people get upset.

One of the statements I made was in response to the event called “receiving the Holy Ghost.” I said it involved people beating it into you. This is not the same thing as “laying hands” on someone and having them “slain in the spirit” (perhaps common in charismatic churches) but actually shaking, touching, and other physical contact between the crowd (mass hysteria?) and the individual “under the power.”

If you aren’t familiar, or if you are and you don’t understand the systematic operation at play here, let me break it down to you. The person is standing in the middle of the crowd. Music is blaring. It is not merely theological music, but “praise” choruses sung over and over again. For some, people separate along sex lines. Women for women and so on. Sometimes, men are allowed to help their wives and vice versa but this is discouraged since you have to comingle in very intimate ways with the opposite sex.

You have the crowd, the loud music, the chanting, and the examples of others doing it right next to you. You will raise your hands and pray until you begin to cry. People will be yelling at you, suggesting you say this or that, or yelling the “Holy Ghost” into you (I guess). They will scream encouragement at you and so forth. Someone will hold up your arms (because you ain’t giving up that easily). The crowd is now thick around you. You are not moving except by the power of others.

The music gets louder. If you start to murmur, someone may start to tap your lips/chin to “loosen them up.” By now, many in the crowd are “speaking in tongues.” Some may whisper into your ear about hell and “where you be tonight if you died.” You feel the immediate necessity to be saved — because this, the “infilling/indwelling” is the moment of salvation. If you are lucky, you only have to do this once or twice a Sunday for a few months until a revival comes around and you have a larger crowd.

This is the church (if you’ve read the book…) in Dyersburg, TN. The person in the center is the pastor’s son (not sure if he is still the pastor or not). He was up at the altar for years “seeking.” I guess one night he got lucky. But, you will notice through the crowd the movement by others geared to “helping” him.

Please don’t think I am in anyway making fun of the children and others who have experienced this. I believe with every fiber of my being that these experiences are real because with mass hysteria, you can pretty much do anything and people will feel it and internalize it. However, I digress.

These videos are not the fullest extent of what I have seen but it does help introduce you to the world. Oddly enough, one of the leaders of the old organization (not sure it exists and I sure as heck ain’t calling him a bishop) declared that no one should physically rough house anyone “seeking the Holy Ghost.” The older folks got mad. His stance on that changed slightly. Regardless, the process of “getting the Holy Ghost” in this type of Church is a physical (and psychological) one. Indeed, it is the moment of salvation.

Keep in mind — my experience applies to the types of churches I attended and indeed, to many oneness pentecostal ones as well. Perhaps your oneness pentecostal church does not do this, or rather, perhaps you do not recognize it and cannot externalize what you believe actually occurred. However, it happens and happens with greater frequency than you would care to admit.

I really have no need to continue this conversation beyond a rudimentary exploration of why I will continue to serve God without enthusiasm.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

8 Responses to “Things we saved our children from”
  1. We briefly belonged to a fundamentalist church. At a ladies meeting which was very intensively wrought up like what you describe, I thought I was in the spirit until a woman started doing jumping jacks and half the room followed. I suddenly snapped out of it and while I didn’t laugh out loud, I was so surprised and amused that it was tempting to do so. Holy dancing soon followed. That was the last time I attended that church.

  2. The videos caused a visceral, emotional reaction for me because I’ve seen those practices firsthand. Once, when I was about 7 months pregnant, my husband’s granny wanted her pastor to lay hands on me and pray because I had horrible migraines and other complications. The woman pushed me. It was expected that I would be “slain” in the Spirit. My husband’s grandpa was one of the designated “catchers.” He whispered in my ear to “let go…I won’t let you fall.” I turned around right then and there and said, “I know, because I’m staying on my own two feet.” And then I turned to the preacher and told her that if she pushed me again, I was pushing back. 🙂

  3. So did I! I even, after 36 years, lost my marriage because of it (so what, Paul said it “let the unbelieving party go…).
    My kids, now 36, 33, 31, often thank me for it and that’s what matter to me!

  4. I did in more ways that you can imagine! Some things I witnessed would be surely censored here, but not only have I seen preachers getting to “enthusiastic” about “laying their hands” (and other parts of his body), with a bulge in a certain location of their silhouette, in women when “praying” for them in altar calls, but also… well… In the “spiritual” realm, I’ve witnessed things that were unbelievable. I could write a book if in those days we had the evidence gathering cell phones today; I can write a book anyway, but I don’t know if I turn it into a comic or a tragic book! Now, I am not referring to any particular preacher I worked with in my heydays on TV ministry… don’t jump to conclusions please…
    One “clean” example that I can cite here: A person whom everyone knew in town as someone who was in a wheelchair not because he couldn’t walk, but because doctors recommended him not to walk, was called by a famous preacher (whose staff knew the man; an important detail) to be “healed”. The preacher stretched forth his hands, said a bunch of gibberish, obviously in tongues, and order the man to “rise up and walk”. The audience went into a stupor of joy and hysteria when the man rose from his wheelchair, which he could do very well without no “spiritual” intervention, and walked across the platform. The offering plates were full that night… and the man was back at his wheelchair after the service… Is that “physical” enough?
    How about, in the altar call, while the choir sung three verses of ‘Just as I am without one flea’, in a humming mood, this guy took an imaginary sword and began to fence with the devil, as Luke and Darth Wader, which, obviously, caused the entire crowd in the altar to do the same… I didn’t know if I’d laugh or run away, get a real sword and crack everyone’s skulls and attempt to insert some “brains” in them… Man, this can be really long, and although it is REALLY entertaining, I have to save some stories if I decide to write a book on it… but the answer to your question is a “YES”.

  5. The personal issues are tragic. However, if you wait long enough, history repeats itself? Montanism?

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