Monday, July 13, 2015

Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?

On August 29, 2008 I wrote a post entitled "Does Sarah Palin Speak in Tongues?"  It remains one of the most read posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It was published simultaneously at Religion in American History and it did quite well there too.

If I remember correctly, I wrote this post a day or two after John McCain picked Palin as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. The piece was one of the first to raise the issue of Palin's Pentecostalism.

I thought about my Sarah Palin post last night as I sat down to read Jud Lounsbury's piece at The Progressive: "Speaking in Tongues Just Part of the Fun at Scott Walker's Church,"  

Here is a taste:

Meadowbrook is one of nine churches in the Milwaukee area that end in "brook," which sprung out of the Elmbrook megachurch in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin. The church is not affiliated with any organized religion and was started by an Englishman named D. Stuart Briscoe, who came to Wisconsin in 1970 and had no formal religious training.
A 1988 Milwaukee Journal profile of the church said the congregation is "almost all white, young, and affluent." And that "its critics say its emphasis is on saving souls while ignoring more earthly social issues, and its theology reinforceseven blesses the lifestyle of many of its members."     
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, "a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church."  In addition, "although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they've had 'born-again' experiences."  
"Many of those attending the church espouse an attitude that anyone that does not accept their born-again theology is not Christian," the Milwaukee Journal article also states.
Walker's branch, Meadowbrook, doesn't have any female pastors or "Elders," which are the governing body of the church. According to same Milwaukee Journal article, "the church has ordained female pastors, but cannot elect women to their Council of Elders because its constitution forbids it."  On the church's website, a similar note is struck when it states that women are the "weaker" partner and should obey the Bible’s teachings on submission to their husbands. 
In fact, church members believe that everything in the Bible is literally true and "without error" and that Christ's return (and the ensuing Apocalypse) is "imminent."   
They also speak in tongues. If you're not familiar with speaking in tongues, it’s when God supposedly speaks through a person. But God apparently doesn't speak any of the human languages, so it all comes out as gibberish. Luckily, if a trained man of God is nearby, he can translate it all for you.
Several things strike me about this article.
I was unaware that charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues were a prominent part of the Elmbrook network of churches, either under the ministry of Jill and Stuart Briscoe or their successor, Mel Lawrenz.  The Briscoes came from the Holiness movement, but I don't think their theology celebrated speaking in tongues.

Moreover,  a quick glance at the doctrinal statement of the Meadowbrook Church (including the section on the Holy Spirit) does not say anything about speaking in tongues.  In fact, the statement looks pretty boilerplate evangelical (non-Pentecostal).  The link in Lounsbury's article embedded in the  words "speak in tongues" is dead.  This link apparently connects Meadowbrook's former pastor John Mackett to tongues-speaking.
There is a Meadowbrook Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin that is Pentecostal and not affiliated with the Elmbrook network of churches. I do not think Walker attends this church.
I also found a similar piece written by Jud Lounsbury in The Progressive.  It is entitled "Palin Got Hounded for Her Pentecostalism, But Not Scott Walker."  In this piece Lounsbury once again tries to paint Meadowbrook as a Pentecostal church but provides no evidence on this front beyond a vague reference to a BBC website on Pentecostalism which states "It's not always easy to see if a church is Pentecostal because many Pentecostal denominations don't include the word 'Pentecostal' in their name."  Based on this, he concludes that Walker's Meadowbrook Church must be Pentecostal.
Both of Lounsbury's pieces reveal a general lack of knowledge of evangelical Christianity.  For example, in the "Speaking in Tongues" piece he quotes a 1988 Milwaukee Journal article on the Elmbrook Churches that is close to thirty years old and does not appear to have a very strong grasp of American religion.  Again, here is the paragraph from Lounsbury's article with the stuff from the Journal in quotes:
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, "a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church."  In addition, "although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they've had 'born-again' experiences."   
There are several problems with this:
1. The Journal's definition of Pentecostalism could apply to any conservative evangelical church in the United States. So could a similar definition of Pentecostalism he uses in the "Palin Got Hounded"
piece.  I don't think Lounsbury understands the difference between a Pentecostal evangelical and a non-Pentecostal evangelical.
2. Lounsbury seems to have no clue about the meaning of "nondenominational."  Nearly every nondenominational church that I know is an evangelical church that celebrates the "born-again" experience and will only marry those who have confessed to have had such an experience.  The idea that churches like this exist in the United States may be news to the readers of The Progressive, but there are millions of people who would embrace such a view of marriage and there are thousands of evangelical churches--conservative, moderate, and progressive--that would uphold these views.
While I am not fan of Scott Walker, I am a fan of accurate reporting on religion and politics.  It appears that this piece at The Progressive is an attempt to discredit Walker by connecting him to the religious beliefs of Palin.  (And even if he was connected to Pentecostalism in some way he would be part of one of the world's fastest growing religious movements).
As my 2008 post argued, Palin was a Pentecostal.  She attended an Assemblies of God Church--a historic Pentecostal denomination.  Walker may or may not speak in tongues.  And perhaps the Meadowbrook Church does have a certain charismatic flavor that the mother church--Elmbrook--does not.  But if this is the case, Lounsbury and The Progressive are going to need some better evidence.
Here is a much better piece on Walker's church.

ADDENDUM:  You should also check out Heath Carter's recent piece on Walker and evangelicalism at The New Republic.