Pentecostalism, Politics, and the Prophetic: Renewing the Public Square II?

By: Amos Yong
Friday, December 27th, 2013

dc-protestersIn my previous blog on “Prayer, Pentecostalism, and the Political,” I suggested that the anticipated growth of global pentecostal-charismatic Christianity in the 21st century had the potential to impact, even transform, the public square as these Christians take their faith from out of their private and ecclesial lives into the political domain, broadly considered. Here I want to reflect further on how such convergence might unfold, and how pentecostal-charismatic spirituality might register its commitments within a public arena that is both post-secular on the one hand and yet post-Christendom on the other. In particular I wonder if pentecostals prayer might move them to a more prophetic form of interface with the sociopolitical?

What does “prophetic” mean in this context? In the biblical and Christian theological traditions, prophecy can involve either the fore-telling of a future otherwise unknown to human beings or the forth-telling of a divine message for a specific place, time, and situation. Both are presumed to be achieved under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Whereas pentecostal-charismatic prophecy has more often proceeded in ecclesial contexts and thus been between individuals, New Testament texts like the book of Revelation purport to be about an otherwise obscure future. While such apocalyptic passages also existed in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, more prominent there is that the prophets of ancient Israel warned kings and governments, questioned existing sociopolitical developments, and advocated for the poor, women, and other oppressed groups, often challenging the status quo.

In these senses, pentecostal-charismatic Christians do not hold any monopoly on prophetic engagement with the public square. In some way or other, such has been occurring for the last 2000 years, following in the footsteps, of course, of the Hebrew prophets. How have pentecostals and charismatics fared then amidst and against the backdrop of this rich tradition of prophetic responses to the political?

Whereas the first generation or two of modern pentecostal and charismatic instincts were to draw a sharp line between the sacred and the secular and treat the political as part of the latter domain which was to be avoided, in the last thirty years or so, things are changing. Our emerging post-secular time has witnessed pentecostal believers ascend up to some of the highest positions of political leadership around the world. In Guatemala in the 1980s, Zambia in the 1990s, and Nigeria in the 2000, presidents have been installed in part under the sanction of their own pentecostal or charismatic churches, sometimes on an explicitly theological platform and other times attempting to implement pentecostal or charismatically inspired ideas. Ideally, such leaders would have been in a prime position to enact policies in the line of the prophets of old or according to the scriptural horizons more generally, although the results – hotly contested – have not been distinctively pentecostal or charismatic in any sense.

What about more clearly counter-cultural stances and practices by pentecostal-charismatic churches? The pacifist witness of those like the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), for instance, was marked early on by a definitive resistance to the powers of the polis and followed by imprisonment in a few cases; yet unlike many other pentecostal churches and denominations who have shed their pacifist commitments along the path of upward social mobility and wider cultural acceptance, COGIC has retained this way of life on biblical, theological, and, more importantly, pentecostal grounds regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17) and the correlative claim that God was no respecter of persons to withhold the Spirit (Acts 10) and that this pertained even to one’s enemies. The point here is not to defend COGIC pacifism (or that of other historic Christian churches) but to observe how this might reflect just one example of a prophetic pentecostal approach to the public square.

To be sure, pentecostals and charismatics have certainly collaborated prophetically with evangelicals and other Christians on all kinds of issues and in resistance to various sociopolitical initiatives. Arguably, there are a range of prophetic pentecostal and charismatic postures, stances, and activities that vary depending on the existing political climate. Pentecostal pragmatism across the global context is often motivated to discern how to live out their biblical faith in appropriate and varying ways depending on that is entailed in their situation. In this light, we ought to be alert to observing shades of prophetic pentecostal and charismatic interaction with the public realm going forward.

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Amos Yong
This entry was posted by on Friday, December 27th, 2013 at 5:00 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Renewal Studies, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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