SPS Day Three

Friday night I stopped by the student reception following the evening plenary. I got to say hello and meet fellow students but folded early. Saturday was the final day of the conference and just as packed with interesting papers and exciting connections. There was an early conversation I’m sorry I missed called #pentecostalsisterstoo: Pentecostal responses to #MeToo. Apparently it was a continuation from a conversation started last year in response to #MeToo for women in Pentecostal contexts. All were welcome. I heard from a couple of women who attended that it was a powerful space for honest sharing.

The final plenary was delivered by Mark Cartledge, SPS President. His presentation was “Being Human and Sex Trafficking: A Theological Response in the Light of Pentecost.” Cartledge noted that he had never heard a Pentecostal theological response to human trafficking; instead, Pentecostals are assumed to fall under the North American evangelical umbrella response. As a British Anglican clergymen, he found this regrettable and inaccurate. He touched on the problematic nature of American evangelical attitudes to this issue, but most of his time was spent detailing a richer ecclesial response rooted in the Lukan understanding of Pentecost. He provided thoughtful insights.

The student caucus luncheon followed. This was a valuable time for making connections with students like myself pursing their Master’s degrees as well as those in PhD programs. Many schools were represented. From the Methodist family, I saw students from Duke, Iliff, and Asbury (though not UMC, I gather it is a common school for Methodists). I spoke to one Duke student about the attitude on campus following St. Louis. We shared the pain our friends were going through and discussed how it might be addressed at SPS next year.

I will conclude with some wisdom that was shared, both among women and students pursuing academics in the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions:

Find your voice and use it.

Find your people and be with your people.

There are some people you cannot persuade. Stop wasting your energy on them and focus on working together with those who will listen.

Do something creative that is not school related–anything that gets your brain to change gears. Playing an instrument. Crocheting. Coloring is easy and fun.

Find a balance between productive anger and alienating anger. You cannot stay long enough to make change in your churches and institutions if you push back so hard you get thrown out of them.

SPS was an amazing time. Thank you again to MTSO for providing a grant for me to attend. I hope to go back next year if I can!

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SPS: Day Two

Day Two of the conference began with the Women’s Caucus breakfast. This was a space for women to connect, share our experiences, and learn from one another. We also got a chance to find out who was in each interest group (Biblical Studies, Christian Ethics, Ecumenical Studies, History, Missions/Intercultural Studies, Philosophy, Practical Theology, Religion and Culture, and Theology). Only two other women were in my interest group (Theology). This is a rich field for the development of women’s voices in this tradition.

The afternoon plenary was delivered by Robert Berg. He spoke on the reception history of the phrase “All Men Are Created Equal” in differing times and circumstances. He noted how the Pentecostal understanding of this phrase in the United States changed between 1917 and 1945. Early Pentecostalism was aligned with the “peace churches” as part of their theology; it was only later on that this shifted. Understanding reception history allows for a different understanding of this phrase today.

After the plenary the interest groups gathered to talk about directions for presentations for 2020. I joined with the Theology group to discuss next year’s theme: “This is My Body: Addressing Global Violence Against Women.” I followed this with a talk on Pentecostal Pneumatology, then the evening plenary. Kimberly Alexander’s topic was “Receiving the Spirit in the Early Pentecostal Body: Sanctification, Spirit Baptism, and the Lamb Slain for All Sinners.” She focused on people’s written accounts of their embodied experiences of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit across different times. Early Methodist accounts were included. I found some interesting crossovers with Dr. Lobody’s Spiritual Autobiography in the Methodist Tradition class. In fact, Dr. Alexander even called early Methodists proto-Pentecostals! As a Methodist seminary, it is important for us at MTSO to remember we share common roots with today’s Pentecostal and charismatic tradition. It is interesting to study the turns that path has taken.

So much for Day Two. Tomorrow I’ll cover Day Three. Take care!

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SPS Conference: Day One

My incredible seminary, the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, graciously provided me with a student enrichment grant to attend the annual conference of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Thank you, MTSO, for supporting students in our vocational journeys! This year the conference was held at the Marriott in College Park, Maryland, from February 28th to March 2nd. Estrelda Alexander was our host. She is the author of numerous texts on the Pentecostal movement, including Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism. This year’s theme was Reception History: Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Traditions.

I appreciated that all of the academic material is presented from an ecumenically informed and engaged Pentecostal and charismatic perspective. In my experience, this tradition is often misunderstood and mischaracterized. So I hope to provide some insights into this branch of the Christian family while sharing what I learned. The conference was three days packed full of papers, worship, prayer, and connecting with other charismatic and Pentecostal traditions across a wide spectrum. There were breakout sessions throughout the day along with a plenary session on Thursday and Saturday, and two on Friday. Of course I experienced much more than I can cover here. If you want to hear more, please ask!

On Thursday I arrived in time to attend an afternoon session. I got to hear a fascinating paper by Anna Droll, a PhD student from Fuller Theological Seminary. She spoke on the role of dreams and visions in early Pentecostalism and how these phenomena are understood scripturally by segments of the global church today. Then I got to hear Skyler Reidy from USC speak on the experience of embodied sanctification in Southern California in the period preceding and including Azusa Street. I am especially interested in embodied spirituality, so I found his work fascinating. In the early evening breakout session, Rodolfo Estrada III spoke on what it means to be “born of the Spirit” in the Age of Trump. He noted that many Christians have placed native birth in the U.S. ahead of our new birth in the Spirit and noted the scriptural problems with and sinfulness of this understanding.

The evening plenary session begin with a time of praise and worship. Then the talk was delivered by Lisa Bowens, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Bowens spoke on African American Pauline Hermeneutics, specifically the ways in which African American Pentecostals have taken the writings of Paul and appropriated them for their own liberation. She brought her analysis into the present, talking about the injustice of how black bodies are treated and how African American Pentecostals are using Paul’s words to speak back against these abuses. When I asked if churches were using scripture to engage with the Black Lives Matter Movement, she admitted that that is an ongoing conversation in the churches she is acquainted with, but it is a conversation.

Those are the highlights from Day One! Stay tuned for Day Two tomorrow!

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Atonement and Sexual Assault Victims: Redemption for the Sinned Against

Cross

The spate of recent headlines about sexual abuse and victimization in the Church have made clear the prevalence of these crimes. The revelation of decades of abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and complicity by denominational leaders is only the most recent example. Willow Creek Community Church is still addressing the reverberations of trauma surrounding accusations of harassment against women. Sexual abuse is rampant outside the church as well. According to statistics compiled by the Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women in the United States “has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).”[1] Much-needed discussion surrounding prevention and accountability in leadership is beginning to take place. Churches must also address how they treat women who have been sexually abused, both within and without the church.

In addition to these needed reforms, Christians must examine how our underlying theology may continue to damage victims rather than offer redemption. If what is preached from the pulpit, embodied in song and worship, and internalized by the congregation does not offer a message of hope and healing for those who have been most cruelly abused, it is not the good news of Jesus Christ. In particular, our understanding of atonement—how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings us into reconciliation with God—must be examined carefully.

Elaine Heath details how women who have suffered sexual abuse have been unable to find their churches’ conceptions of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) salvific. According to the presentation of PSA that I and many other Pentecostals and evangelicals in North America were raised with, Jesus takes on the punishment that we rightfully deserve as sinners by dying on the cross, thereby appeasing God’s wrath toward us. In naming the pain this view of God causes toward women who are sexually abused, Heath vulnerably names herself as a survivor:

“Many of us survivors have been steeped in the theory of penal substitutionary atonement…. Yet the logic never rang true or trustworthy or acceptable to us. Even when we sang the hymns and taught Sunday school and said the penal substitutionary formula about salvation, we were appalled. We knew that with all our human faults we would never subject our children to torture and murder in order to pay off someone’s offense. Could we be more loving and forgiving than God?… We had to leave the church because we could not stay in a religion that was built on punishment, wrath, and abuse. The God of that religion was exactly like our offenders, and we had to get away.”[2]

Clearly this understanding of the cross has not been “good news” for these victimized women. For those abused by clergy, not only is their connection to self and God broken, but they are robbed of a saving message in Christ to heal the brokenness. PSA is not only rooted in wrath and punishment; it is one-sided as well. There is freedom for the sinner. But what about the sinned against?

No council has ever declared PSA or any other atonement theory the sole explanation for the mystery of how Jesus’ death reconciles us toward God. Throughout Christian history, theologians have offered models that speak in life-giving ways to those from differing times and places. Those who have been abused can live more fully into the promise of new life in Christ when they can embody visions that heal rather than exacerbate their pain. Andrew Sung Park offers one such model.

Park, a Korean-American theologian, incorporates the concept of han into his understanding of atonement. Sin against a person results in “frozen energy,” a sense of helplessness. The states of sin and han are not mutually exclusive; sinners and the sinned against may experience both and perpetuate them in a vicious cycle.

According to Matthew 8:17, in his ministry of healing Jesus “took our infirmities and bore our diseases,” rather than our sin or iniquity. To Park, this represents his bearing of our han.[4] In Park’s soteriology, the Holy Spirit who had been present with Jesus throughout his life was also crucified and resurrected with him. This “wounded and resurrected Holy Spirit”[5] is the Paraclete who is now with us. Because the Holy Spirit underwent the crucifixion and resurrection with Jesus, she understands the depths of unjust suffering. Through the resurrection, the Paraclete becomes a “wounded healer,” tasked “to comfort the comfortless, to advocate for the rights of victims, to uplift the discouraged, to help the helpless, and to teach people about Jesus’ instruction.”[6] Because she underwent victimhood with Jesus on the cross, the Paraclete “knows our own unknowable and indescribable hurts of han, and heals them in us as we open ourselves to the Paraclete.”[7] She “makes victims well by empowering them also to become wounded healers.”[8] In their healing, victims move from a state of frozen immobility to regenerated beings, trusting in God and awakened to Jesus’ redemption for them.

This vision is also robustly Pentecostal. Rather than a model that makes atonement solely an exchange between Father and Son, the Holy Spirit plays a pivotal role. She both participates in the death and resurrection of Jesus and brings his healing into our lives as we open ourselves to him. In this view, sexual assault victims find not pain but healing through the cross. They are freed in the life of the Spirit to share the healing they have experienced outward, to all creation.

[1] Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network, “Scope of the Problem: Statistics,” https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem. Data from National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1998).

[2] Elaine A. Heath, We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011), 130.

[3] Ibid., 23.

[4] Andrew Sung Park, Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 43.

[5] Ibid., 62.

[6] Ibid., 67.

[7] Ibid., 68.

[8] Ibid., 67.

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