Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Assemblies of GodGodly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism$

Margaret M. Poloma and John C. Green

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780814767832

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814767832.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 17 September 2019

Ushering in the Kingdom of God

Ushering in the Kingdom of God

Religious Values, Godly Love, and Public Affairs

Chapter:
(p.171) 8 Ushering in the Kingdom of God
Source:
The Assemblies of God
Author(s):

Margaret M. Poloma

John C. Green

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9780814767832.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter continues to explore the effects of charisma on benevolence as reflected through the prism of religious values and public affairs. It considers the impact of religious experience and traditional religiosity on public affairs, including activities such as charity and political action. It shows that the Assemblies of God (AG) faces a dilemma when it comes to public affairs. The “law of love” and the “love of law” pose different—and even contradictory—approaches to “ushering in the kingdom of God,” which has been the goal of Pentecostal benevolence. On the one hand, progressive Pentecostals represent an approach that stresses care-love, especially as it pertains to social welfare programs. On the other hand, the “cultural war” politics of the last several decades, with its active opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, also represent a departure from the Pentecostal apolitical past.

Keywords:   charisma, benevolence, religious values, public affairs, Assemblies of God

Historical arguments come and go. I make my case for crucifism theologically—as did the early Pentecostals—not based on a statistically verifiable number of my ancestors who believed a certain way. For the majority is often wrong about all manner of important beliefs and practices (slavery, segregation). The majority, might by numbers, does not make right. My historical arguments are simply historical—my theological arguments are much more important because they call us to a faithful way of living regardless of what our ancestors did.

(Alexander 2009a, 329)

Paul Alexander represents an example of recent efforts by young Pentecostals to understand the implications of their faith for public affairs. Here, as in other areas, the Assemblies of God confronts a dilemma between the “law of love” and the “love of law” that can encourage different—even contradictory—approaches to public life. On the one hand, distinctive Pentecostal religious experiences can promote a just and compassionate society. On the other hand, the traditional religiosity of Pentecostals can promote a society characterized by traditional moral values. As Alexander notes, these approaches among the Assemblies of God “come and go,” and every generation confronts this dilemma in a different context than in the past, often arriving at different conclusions.

The contextual nature of these approaches to public affairs provides an opportunity to investigate many of the theoretical issues raised earlier in this book. It is most relevant to the dilemma of power noted in O’Dea’s (1963) notion of the routinization of charisma. Simply put, the institutionalization of the AG now provides a number of opportunities to exercise influence in public affairs. Some of these opportunities may reflect the process of Godly Love, while others may reflect the impact of the traditional interdicts found in Pentecostalism. (p.172) While we cannot directly measure the processes of Godly Love or the interdicts, we can identify relationships between religious values and various forms of benevolence in public affairs that are consistent with each.

The AG and Contemporary Approaches to Public Affairs

A number of recent observers have found evidence of a renewed interest in poverty and social welfare policies among Pentecostals around the world. Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori (2007) have identified the emergence of “progressive Pentecostals,” who combine the traditional gifts of the spirit with outreach to the poor. One of the Assemblies of God congregations in our study, Rescue Atlanta, is an example of this approach. Going a step further, theologian Harvey Cox (1995), evangelist Tony Campolo (Campolo and Darling 2007), and young Pentecostal intellectuals such as Alexander, have identified the possibility for progressive politics among Pentecostals. This approach is often seen as a prophetic stance against poverty, racism, and war (Alexander 2009b), and appears to be especially common among African American, ethnic, and immigrant Pentecostal churches, especially in denominations other than AG, such as the Church of God in Christ.

For all these reasons, progressive Pentecostals may have an affinity for the Democratic Party in contemporary American politics, despite holding conservative views on cultural issues such as abortion and homosexuality. A good example of this approach is black Pentecostal minister Joshua Dubois, who was in charge of outreach to religious voters for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008 and then became director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the White House (Altman 2009).

Although some scholars claim that such a “pedagogy among the oppressed” was present from the very beginning of Pentecostalism (Johns 1993), most observers see it as new approach to public affairs for most Pentecostals, especially the Assemblies of God. For most of its history, Pentecostalism was largely apolitical and deeply skeptical of large-scale social reform. Indeed, some scholars see its “vision of the disinherited” (Anderson 1979) as discouraging political activity among its lower-status members, and thus supportive of the existing social structure. Even the pacifism of the early Pentecostals during World War I represented a self-conscious detachment from public affairs.

Other scholars have a more positive view of the “social witness” of early Pentecostals (Wacker 2001), but agree that they stressed voluntary charity to needy individuals and abstention from involvement in “worldly” matters. (p.173) This “Pentecostal individualism” was closely related to evangelism and missionary work, so that “social uplift” paralleled “spiritual uplift” among converts. In this regard, Pentecostals have contributed to the dense web of civic associations that are an important feature of public affairs in the United States (Smidt et al. 2008). A good contemporary example is the involvement of the Assemblies of God in the “Convoy of Hope,” a network of private charitable activities directed at helping the poor (see www.convoyofhope.org). Many of the congregations in this study exhibit elements of this approach.

However, Pentecostals are much better known for another recent innovation in public affairs: active support for traditional morality. Historically, “moral uplift” among converts paralleled “social uplift” and “spiritual uplift” for Pentecostals, a pattern that still finds expression in the traditional Pentecostal values described in the previous chapter, including the strictures against dancing, movies, gambling, and alcohol. In the late 1970s, concern with such traditional values led Pentecostals to play a prominent role in public opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage (Wilcox and Larson 2006). Such “culture war” politics led to engagement in elections, including mobilizing voters within congregations, involvement with the Christian Right, and support for the Republican Party. Good examples of this approach are charismatic televangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and Republican presidential candidate in 1988, and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the son and grandson of Assemblies of God pastors (Green 2004). This pattern has led scholars to describe Pentecostals as the “ultimate conservative Christians” (Greeley and Hout 2006). Some of the congregations in this study illustrate elements of this approach as well.

This chapter uses our survey of the AG laity to investigate the relationship between religious values and various approaches to public affairs. One focus is the impact of religious experience (divine presence, prophecy, and glossolalia) on benevolent attitudes and behaviors in public affairs. These relationships are often consistent with the process of Godly Love in that they are associated with greater benevolence. Another focus is on the impact of traditional religiosity (doctrinal orthodoxy and church activity) on these same benevolent attitudes and behaviors. These religious variables are related to the traditional interdicts that are part of Pentecostal identity.

In this regard, we will first consider the relationship between the religious values and six measures of benevolent attitudes: belief that Christians should work for social justice, and that Christians should emphasize making converts to solve social problems; support for congregational benevolence and congregational engagement in politics; and attitudes on social welfare programs (p.174) and cultural issues. These benevolent attitudes will then be included in a second analysis that assesses the impact of the religious measures on four measures of benevolent behavior related to public affairs: volunteering to help the needy; membership in voluntary organizations; participation in politics; and alignment within the broader political system. (See appendix B for more details on all the measures used.) As in the previous chapters, we will describe these relationships using multiple regression analysis (see chapter 6; the full results of these analyses are reported in appendix C, tables C.4, and C.5).

Benevolent Attitudes: Social Theology

A good place to begin is with measures of “social theology” among the Assemblies of God laity, that is, attitudes that connect religious faith to society and politics (Guth et al. 1997, 69–70). Social theology can undergird the various approaches to public affairs by religious people. One example of social theology is relevant to the progressive Pentecostals: “Christians must work to make society more fair and equitable for everyone” (hereafter referred to as the “equitable” measure for ease of presentation). Agreement with this statement, akin to the social gospel long advocated by liberal Christians, implies an active approach to benevolence in public affairs. In contrast, another example of social theology is relevant to Pentecostal individualism: “If enough people were brought to Christ, social ills will take care of themselves” (hereafter referred to as the “social ills” measure). Agreement with this statement puts an emphasis on evangelism and implies a more passive approach to benevolence in public affairs.

Overall, 67 percent of the AG laity agreed with the equitable measure, while 12 percent disagreed (with the remaining 21 percent expressing no opinion). In contrast, 50 percent of the respondents agreed with the “social ills” measure, while 30 percent disagreed. Views on these two statements were negatively related to each other, with those agreeing with the equitable measure tending to disagree with the social ills measure—but perhaps less strongly than one might expect.1 In fact, 33 percent of the respondents agreed with both statements. It is tempting to see such a combination as contradictory, but it need not be: after all, bringing people to Christ could, in fact, make society more equitable. But if not contradictory, the relationship between these two social theology measures reveals a source of the dilemma regarding approaches to public affairs: the Assemblies of God laity holds attitudes that can encourage both the progressive and conservative approaches to public affairs.

(p.175) What kinds of respondents agree with these measures of social theology? The multiple regression analysis reveals that both non-white respondents and those less active in church were more likely to agree with the equitable measure, but respondents who scored high on the divine presence scale were the most likely to agree.2 Something of an opposite pattern occurred for the social ills measure: the multiple regression analysis reveals that older respondents were more likely to agree with the social ills measure, but people who scored high on the doctrinal orthodoxy scale were most likely to agree.3

We can thus conclude that religious experience is associated with the belief that Christians must work for a more fair and equitable society, while traditional religiosity is associated with the opposite view. In contrast, traditional religiosity is associated with the belief that bringing people to Christ will solve social ills, while religious experience is not associated with this attitude at all. These findings suggest that the process of Godly Love and traditional interdicts each may play a role in these forms of social theology.

Benevolent Attitudes: Congregational Benevolence

As noted previously, the AG laity is extensively engaged in the life of their congregation, and one form of such engagement is benevolent activities on behalf of people inside and outside of the congregation. Our survey respondents were asked how important it was that their congregation be involved in four such activities: serving the poor and needy; providing services to members; being a leader in the community; and working to improve the community. Overall, 51 percent said it was “extremely important” that the congregation “serve the poor and the needy,” and nearly as many, 46 percent, said it was “extremely important” that the congregation “provide services to its members.” In addition, 39 percent said it was “extremely important” that the congregation should be “a leader in the community,” and 32 percent gave the same response to “work to improve the community.” On all four questions, adding in the “very important” responses produced large majorities of the survey respondents.

These four questions form a valid scale of attitudes toward congregational engagement in benevolent activities (“congregational benevolence”; see appendix B). If nothing else, this scale reveals the impact of Pentecostal religiosity on public affairs—namely, the provision of assistance, services, leadership, and change in the local community. In addition, this form of benevolence is quite consistent with Pentecostal individualism because of its stress on voluntary assistance of individuals by other individuals via the (p.176) agency of the local congregation. In this regard, it is worth noting that the most individualized responses (helping the needy and members of the congregation) were markedly more popular than the more collective responses (being a community leader and improving the community). But whatever its motivation, congregational benevolence is certainly consistent with the official positions of the Assemblies of God.

Who supports congregational benevolence? The multiple regression analysis reveals that younger and less well-educated respondents were most supportive of these types of congregational activities, and so were those who scored high on the divine presence scale. Interestingly, frequent engagement in congregational (religious) activities was negatively associated with support for congregational benevolence.4 This pattern may reflect a traditional bias toward individual salvation and moral behavior over communal benevolence of any kind—even voluntary, faith-based efforts at the local level. In sum, religious experience is positively associated with congregational benevolence, while traditional religiosity shows the opposite pattern. These findings are consistent with the process of Godly Love in that religious experience enlivens both benevolence and the traditional interdicts that remain in Pentecostalism.

The survey respondents were also asked how important it was that their congregation be engaged in political activities that have been common in recent times (Guth et al. 2006). Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said that it was “extremely important” that their congregation “pray for the nation’s leaders”; 36 percent said it was “extremely important” that their congregation “work for legislation with Christian morals”; 27 percent reported it was “extremely important” that their congregation help “elect Christians to political office”; and 19 percent gave the same response on “help people register to vote.” These four items formed a valid scale of “congregational politics” (see appendix B).

These attitudes on congregational politics raise the issue of political activity by Assemblies of God pastors, who can encourage or discourage such activity in their churches. A 2000 survey of Assemblies of God clergy (Green 2004) found a high level of political activity and a desire for greater personal and denominational engagement in the political process. The clergy were largely focused on cultural issues, on which they personally held very conservative views. These pastors also held conservative positions on government social programs and foreign policy, and were strongly aligned with the Republican Party. In the 2000 election, 68 percent of the clergy surveyed urged their congregation to register and vote; 55 percent prayed publicly for a candidate; 44 percent spoke out on a political issue; and 7 percent actively campaigned for a candidate.5

(p.177) The official position of the Assemblies of God encourages political participation by individual members of the denomination, lay or clergy:

From this position the Assemblies of God encourages its members and adherents to influence society and the political process by voting, maintaining strong moral convictions and holy lifestyles (Matthew 5:13), praying for government officials (1 Timothy 2:2), encouraging and promoting legislation that strengthens the nation morally, and speaking out both corporately and individually against any political issue that would have an adverse affect upon the kingdom of God or His moral absolutes

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/contempissues_10_politics.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010).

But this document also includes a cautionary comment about corporate political activity by congregations: “Historically, when the church has become involved in partisan politics, the outcome has been disastrous for both the kingdom of God and the system of government it promoted or attacked.”

Which respondents were most supportive of congregational politics? Respondents with lesser levels of education were the most supportive of such activities, but so were respondents who scored high on the divine presence and prophetic scale.6 Thus, religious experience influences attitudes toward congregational engagement in politics. These findings are consistent with the process of Godly Love in that religious experience encourages benevolent activities. But as will be discussed below, such political activity can take many forms, some progressive and some conservative. As we have noted earlier, benevolence often lies in the eyes of the beholder. To turn a popular cliché into a question: Is it more benevolent to provide fish for those who are hungry or to teach the hungry person to fish? The choice often rests on different underlying assumptions about the role of government in balancing individual rights with the common good.

Benevolent Attitudes: Social Welfare Issues

One characteristic of progressive Pentecostals is their support for government social welfare policies. Our survey contained four measures of social welfare policy that formed a consistent scale (“social welfare scale”; see appendix B). These policies included charitable choice (“Public funding should be available to churches to provide social services”) and national health insurance (“The government should provide health insurance to working people who are not insured”). About three-fifths of our survey respondents (61 and 59 (p.178) percent, respectively) agreed with both statements, while one-fifth (21 and 19 percent, respectively) opposed them. The additional measures in the scale more evenly divided the respondents, with 42 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed to increased anti-poverty programs (“The government should spend more to fight hunger and poverty”), and 37 percent are in favor of and 30 percent against environmental protection (“Strict rules to protect the environment are necessary even if they cost jobs”).

The strong support for charitable choice may reflect progressive Pentecostalism, but it also fits well with Pentecostal individualism; the health insurance item may reflect a similar situation, given its mention of “working people who are not insured.” And the more even division of opinions on anti-poverty programs and environmental protection items may reflect the collective emphasis of these items. The official positions of the Assemblies of God help account for this stress on Pentecostal individualism. A good example is the following statement on poverty found on the AG Website:

If one takes the sociological definition of poverty—below a certain percentage of average income—the number of poor in the United States is large and unlikely to decline, even though more money is dispersed from federal budget programs. The biblical definition of poverty, however, is different. The poor are those who lack minimal survival needs of essential food and clothing. That is why the biblical owners of grape vineyards were to leave some grapes for the poor to gather for themselves (Lev. 19:10), and why owners of grain fields were to leave some grain in the corners of the field for the poor to gather (Lev. 23:22). … The spiritual needs of the poor are of primary importance, though essential physical aid should never be neglected. In fact, aid to the needs of the poor can often open a door for meeting a spiritual need.

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/sptlissues_the_poor.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010)

This document goes on to acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit in addressing these needs:

[W]e have found the biblical balance of helping the poor to be a powerful means of fulfilling our primary mission. The Holy Spirit has promised to go with us and to equip us to do that great work. And with humble obedience to the Spirit, we can claim the blessing Jesus gave, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The poor in spirit should minister to the poor in physical needs—in the power of the Holy Spirit.

(p.179) Which respondents support social welfare programs? Younger respondents as well as those who score high on the divine presence scale were most likely to support these programs. Meanwhile, respondents who are engaged in church activity were less supportive.7 Thus, religious experience is associated with support for social welfare programs, while traditional religiosity is associated with opposition to them. These findings on religious experience are consistent with the process of Godly Love in that it enlivens benevolence as subjectively perceived. The traditional interdicts of twentieth-century Pentecostalism may still be at work to slow down the ongoing erosion of traditional Pentecostal values in twenty-first-century America.

Benevolent Attitudes: Cultural Issues

As we have seen, a distinguishing characteristic of Pentecostals is their conservative views on cultural issues. Overall, our survey of the Assemblies of God laity contained six measures of cultural issues that formed a consistent scale (“cultural issues scale”; see appendix B). Two of these are the “hot button” issues of same-sex marriage (“Marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman”) and abortion (“Abortion should be outlawed except to save the life of the mother”). Some 95 percent of the respondents agreed with the marriage statement, while only 2 percent disagreed; 74 percent agreed with the abortion item, while 16 percent disagreed.

In addition, 85 percent of respondents agreed and 5 percent disagreed with the statement “Local communities should be allowed to post the Ten Commandments.” But only 56 percent agreed and 21 percent disagreed with the statement “The government should provide vouchers for private or religious schools.” The final two cultural issues are foreign policy matters with strong religious content: 64 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should give top priority to stopping religious persecution around the world,” and 59 percent agreed that the “U.S. should support Israel over the Palestinians in the Middle East” (12 and 11 percent disagreed with these statements, respectively).

These opinions fit well with the official positions of the Assemblies of God. Indeed, cultural issues have motivated much of the political activity of Pentecostals over the last three decades. Here is how the denomination officially describes this situation:

(p.180) In recent years in America … the relationship between church and state has become increasingly complex and estranged. The reason for this change is a growing trend in government to redefine and politicize moral issues. This wholesale sell-out of these once concrete and absolute moral values comes in direct opposition to the message of the church as found in Scripture. … The alarming shift from a Judeo-Christian philosophy to secular humanism as the foundation of American government has created profound problems for all Bible-believing churches. More and more, government is defying biblical principles and interpreting sinful behavior as civil rights, i.e. abortion and homosexuality. The church as the body of Christ is obligated to respond.

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/contempissues_10_politics.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010)

Which respondents held these culturally conservative views? Older respondents as well as those who scored high on doctrinal orthodoxy and church activity supported cultural conservatism. Interestingly, one of the religious experience measures, the prophecy scale, also had a positive association with cultural conservatism.8 Thus, traditional religiosity is associated with conservative positions on cultural issues, and religious experience is associated with such positions as well. From the perspective of traditional religiosity, these conservative issue positions could be interpreted as an expression of “love for sinners”—although many of the people who are the objects of such attention might not experience it as an expression of “love.”

One cultural issue included in the survey that did not scale with the other items was a measure of support for gay rights: the “Government should insure that homosexuals are treated the same as heterosexuals.” Here the opinion of the respondents was almost evenly divided on the question, with two-fifths agreeing that homosexuals should be treated the same as heterosexuals as a matter of government policy. This pattern represents a sharp contrast with the opinions on marriage, asked in the same battery of questions, which were nearly unanimous in favor of limiting it to traditional (opposite-sex) couples. It seems likely that the wording of the question mattered: the gay rights item was cast in terms of equal treatment of individuals in society rather than an affirmation of appropriate behavior, as in the case of the marriage question. Put this way, the question of rights of gays and lesbians fits with Pentecostal individualism. This unusual finding suggests that Pentecostals may have more complex attitudes on cultural issues than may at first be apparent, with traditional Pentecostal values sometimes generating more progressive policy attitudes.

(p.181) Benevolent Behavior: Volunteering and Membership in Voluntary Organizations

A prime example of benevolent behavior is private charitable activities, including volunteering to help the needy. This private activity has direct implications for public affairs because of its impact on society. The Assemblies of God’s official position on poverty highlights such charitable activities:

Throughout history literally hundreds if not thousands of local Assemblies of God churches have reached out to the poor through church food banks and clothing centers. Others are now operating “Dream Centers” to help the needy restart their lives—physically, spiritually and economically. Only the Lord knows the full impact that these wonderful ministries and others like them have in reaching the lost and helping the destitute. … Local churches form the backbone of this outreach ministry. In other smaller communities, the local churches have independent programs of reaching the poor with the gospel and a tangible expression of Christ’s love through help for the homeless and needy.

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/sptlissues_the_poor.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010)

Our survey of the Assemblies of God laity asked two questions related to charitable activities. The first was how often the respondents volunteered their time to “help the poor or other people.” Overall, 15 percent of the respondents reported volunteering once a week or more often, and another 18 percent claimed to volunteer once a month or more often. Meanwhile, 44 percent said they volunteered “occasionally,” and 23 percent reported seldom or never volunteering. On the related question, 54 percent of those who reported volunteering did so through their own congregation, 17 percent through another religious organization, and 20 percent through a non-religious organization.

Who reported such volunteering among the AG laity? The multiple regression analysis shows that respondents who scored high on the prophecy scale were most likely to report volunteering. In addition, respondents who scored high on the equitable measures scale also reported high levels of volunteering. And interestingly, respondents engaged in church activities were also likely to volunteer. Apparently participation in congregational life leads to volunteering, although it was negatively associated with support for congregational benevolence.9 In sum, religious experience and social theology are associated with volunteering, and so is traditional religiosity.

(p.182) The engagement of the Assemblies of God laity in congregational activity is an example of what Robert Putnam (2000, chap. 4) has called “bonding” social capital, that is high levels of trust within social organization. Through its religious organizations, the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal denominations have contributed to the civic life of the country. However, the AG laity was not characterized by a high level of “bridging” social capital, that is, high levels of trust between members of social organizations. This pattern can be seen in reported participation in voluntary organizations beyond the congregation. The survey respondents were asked if they are members of twelve types of civic associations, ranging from labor unions to youth groups. The most common group memberships were women’s, recreation, youth, professional, and labor organizations, each with about one-tenth of the respondents. However, more than one-half of the survey respondents reported belonging to none of these groups, and another one-quarter reported belonging to one such group. These figures are lower than for the overall population (Putnam 2000, 58–59). A simple additive scale of group memberships allows us to assess this kind of civic engagement in public affairs.

Who was most involved in voluntary association beyond the congregation? The multiple regression analysis shows that younger and higher-income respondents were the most likely to be active in more such groups, as were respondents active in church. However, respondents with high levels of doctrinal orthodoxy were less likely to participate, perhaps due to a continuing resistance to “worldly” matters. Religious experience was unrelated to the number of organizational memberships by AG laity.10 In sum, neither religious experience nor traditional religiosity encourages this kind of benevolent activity. Instead, organizational membership is a product of age and social class.

Benevolent Behavior: Participation in Politics

Another important measure of benevolent behavior is participation in politics. Our survey of the AG laity contains seven standard measures of political participation that can be combined into a simple addition scale (“political participation scale”; see appendix B). Overall, 63 percent of the respondents claimed to have voted in the 2004 presidential election, the most common of the political activities. In addition, 41 percent reported signing a petition, 25 percent said they contacted a public official, and 17 percent reported making a campaign contribution. Less than one-tenth claimed to have attended (p.183) a political meeting (9 percent), attended a demonstration (6 percent), or worked on an election campaign (5 percent). These activities were added together to measure the respondent’s level of political activity. Overall, 28 percent of the respondents reported engaging in three or more of these activities, while 28 percent engaged in none at all.

Who was most active in politics? The multiple regression analysis reveals that older, well-educated, white respondents who were raised Pentecostal were the most likely to be active in politics. In addition, respondents active in church and those who scored high on the prophetic scale were more active. In terms of attitudes, cultural conservatives were more active in politics, whereas supporters of social welfare programs were less active. Interestingly, support for congregational politics had no independent impact on the level of political activity.11 Thus, religious experience is a source of political participation, but traditional religiosity and cultural conservatism matter as well. These findings are consistent with the process of Godly Love, but also with the traditional interdicts in Pentecostalism.

These patterns may reflect the effects of the Christian Right in mobilizing Pentecostals to participate in politics. However, it is worth noting that relatively few respondents reported belonging to or being active in the movement. For example, 9 percent of the respondents belonged to a “Christian conservative” organization (4.1 percent were active members), and 5.8 percent claimed to be members of a “pro-family” group (2.3 percent were active members). Active membership in such groups was positively correlated with the political participation scale.

Benevolent Behavior: Political Alignment

Where does the Assemblies of God laity stand on general political attitudes, such as ideology and partisanship, which are central to broader political alignments? Political alignment is a strong measure of context, connecting the individual with broader political aggregations and organizations. A standard seven-point measure of these attitudes was included in our survey, with ideology ranging from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative,” and partisanship ranging from “strongly Democratic” to “strongly Republican.” Overall, 60 percent of the AG survey respondents identified as conservative, about 31 percent as moderate, and 9 percent as liberal. The figures for partisanship were very similar, with 60 percent identifying as Republicans, 26 percent and independents, and 15 percent as Democrats. As one might imagine, these two measures were closely associated.12 However, extreme positions (p.184) were somewhat rare: less than one-tenth of the respondents claimed to be “extremely conservative” and just one-sixth to be “strongly Republican.”

Political alignment is closely linked to the presidential vote, with conservatives and Republicans being more likely to vote for Republican presidential candidates, and liberals and Democrats being to vote for Democratic presidential candidates. Although our survey of the Assemblies of God laity did not ask respondents who they voted for in the 2004 presidential election, other evidence strongly supports the connection between the active alignment and the vote. For example, analysis of the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey found that four-fifths of the Assemblies of God voted for George W. Bush and one-tenth voted for John F. Kerry in 2004 (http://religions.pewforum.org/; accessed March 16, 2010). Other surveys show similar patterns and reveal that, like other evangelical Protestants, they have shifted toward the Republican Party over the last thirty years, which is reflected in their voting patterns in recent elections (Green 2007).

These strong political patterns are not officially endorsed by the Assemblies of God. Indeed, its position is quite different:

The Assemblies of God is apolitical; that is, it takes a neutral stance on purely political issues. The role of government and politics is different from the role of the church. While the church and government are both institutions ordained by God (Romans 13:1–7) and should respect each other, it is imperative neither institution overstep its given role. Both serve God’s purposes through separate functions.

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/contempissues_10_politics.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010)

While the Assemblies of God recognizes government as God’s provision and is not opposed to political parties as a part of the American political process, it refrains from becoming embroiled in party politics or promoting a particular system of government for many reasons…Today many Christians are members of different political parties in America. Certainly Christian involvement is appropriate and needed. But political affiliation, by its very nature, divides people into competing groups. There is no room for such division in the church. Therefore the church must never promote any party or system that would be divisive to the body of Christ, but rather contend for the faith that unites every tribe and tongue and people and nation into one glorious Church.

(www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/contempissues_09_government.cfm; accessed March 16, 2010)

(p.185) The AG stance is consistent with the historical position of most Pentecostals, so it is worth exploring the sources of the strong political stands of our survey respondents.

One useful way to assess these general political attitudes is to calculate a “political alignment” scale that combines ideology and partisanship into a single measure, with conservative Republicans at one end of the scale and liberal Democrats at the other. The multiple regression analysis shows that well-educated, white respondents raised Pentecostal were the most likely to be aligned with conservative Republicanism. In addition, respondents who scored high on church activity and doctrinal orthodoxy also tended to be conservative and Republican. Interestingly, religious experience in the form of glossolalia was also associated with a conservative alignment. In terms of attitudes, support for congregational politics and especially cultural conservatism were associated with the conservative and Republican alignment. In contrast, agreement with the equitable measure, support for congregational benevolence, and especially support for social welfare programs was associated with liberal and Democratic alignment.13

This analysis can be taken one step further by adding in the level of political participation to calculate an “active political alignment” scale. Here the political alignment scale is weighted by the frequency of political participation, so that the more active respondents’ views mattered more—just as happens in the real political process.

Based on this measure of alignment, 10 percent of the survey respondents could be labeled “hyper-active right” (that is, very active politically, very conservative, and strongly Republican); 25 percent could be labeled the “active right”; and another 22 percent could be called the “modestly active right.” Thirty-four percent were at the center of the political spectrum, reflecting their ideological moderation and partisan independence as well as lower levels of political participation. These centrist are essentially “nonaligned” in national politics. A total of 9 percent were in the analogous three groupings among liberals and Democrats, with very few in a “hyper-active left” category. This active alignment score showed the same basic patterns of association with the religious and political variables as the simple alignment scale.

In sum, traditional religiosity, support for congregational politics, and cultural conservatism are associated with active alignment on the right, while social theology, support for congregational benevolence, and support for social welfare programs are associated with centrist and active left alignment. Religious experience has a small, direct impact on rightward alignment.

(p.186) Summary

The evidence presented in this chapter reveals that the Assemblies of God faces a dilemma when it comes to public affairs. The “law of love” and the “love of law” pose different—and even contradictory—approaches to “ushering in the kingdom of God,” which has been the goal of Pentecostal benevolence. On the one hand, progressive Pentecostals represent an approach that stresses care-love, especially as it pertains to social welfare programs. Progressive Pentecostals, however, also represent a departure from the traditional Pentecostal individualism long exemplified by the AG. Much of this historic approach is still evident in the emphasis on charity being linked with evangelism among Pentecostals. On the other hand, the “cultural war” politics of the last several decades, with its active opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, also represent a departure from the Pentecostal apolitical past. This path reflects care-love for “sinners.”

The distinctive religious experiences of Pentecostalism are an important part of these values. We have seen that divine presence and prophecy are commonly associated with benevolent attitudes and activities exhibited in public affairs, including the equitable measure of social theology, support for congregational benevolence, and support for social welfare programs that are consistent with the process of Godly Love. However, religious experience is also associated with congregational politics, political participation, and political alignment in ways that are less consistent with the process of Godly Love. They are, however, more consistent with the traditional interdicts found in Pentecostalism, where the “love of law” has at times eclipsed the “law of love.”

Indeed, other factors matter for public affairs. Measures of traditional religiosity, including congregational activity and doctrinal orthodoxy, are also frequently associated with attitudes and activities related to public affairs. These variables are associated with the “social ills” measure of social theology, opposition to social welfare programs, support for cultural conservatism, volunteering, political participation, and political alignment. Taken together, this evidence is consistent with the traditional interdicts found in Pentecostalism.

In terms of practical politics, attitudes on social welfare and cultural issues help structure the active political alignment of the Assemblies of God laity. Although the magnitudes of these effects are comparable, the overall political alignment of the denomination is presently oriented to the right. This pattern can be seen in our typology of congregations. The evangelical and (p.187) alternative AG churches are the most aligned with the Republicans, reflecting the combined impact of cultural conservatism, political engagement, and their higher social status. The charismatic/renewal and traditional AG churches were markedly less firm in their alignment with the Republicans. Ethnic congregations were the least likely to align with Republicans, and in fact were mostly centrists and thus effectively “nonaligned.”

However, this pattern of alignment may well reflect the salience of cultural issues in national politics over the last thirty years. Social welfare issues could receive higher priority in the future, thus shifting the political alignment of the AG shift to the center and even the left. If so, then the traditional interdicts would be less important, and the process of Godly Love could offer a powerful resource for such a change. As one student of Pentecostalism has argued: “As Pentecostals struggle to develop a mature and authentic Pentecostal identity in the face of rapid accommodation and institutionalization, they must include a concern and a burden for the poor and the oppressed within that Pentecostal identity” (Smalridge 1998).

As with Pentecostal practice and praxis, in matters of politics the AG remains at the crossroads in forging an identity that retains its distinctive primitive qualities while facing the pragmatic demands of the twenty-first century.

Notes:

(1.) For all respondents, the correlation between the equitable and social ills measure was −.17.

(2.) The multiple regression analysis of the equitable measure shows that race (beta = −.11), church activity (beta = −.16), and the divine presence (beta = .20) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .06).

(3.) The multiple regression analysis of the social ills measure shows that doctrinal orthodoxy (beta = .14) was statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = −.05).

(4.) The multiple regression analysis of the congregational benevolence scale found that age (beta = −.11), education (beta = −.13), divine presence (beta = .23), and church activity (beta = −.14) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .12).

(5.) See chapter 4 for similar information from another survey of AG clergy taken in the same time frame.

(6.) The multiple regression analysis of the congregational politics scale found that education (beta = −.23), the divine presence (beta = .19), and prophetic scales (beta = .13) were statistically significant (adjusted R-square = .16).

(7.) The multiple regression analysis of the social welfare scale found that age (beta = −.18), divine presence (beta = .22), and church activity (beta = −.23) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .18).

(8.) The multiple regression analysis of the culture issue scale found that age (beta = .18), prophecy (beta = .17), doctrinal orthodoxy (beta = .24), and church activity (beta = .18) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .21). (p.237)

(9.) The multiple regression analysis of the four-point volunteering measure found that prophecy (beta = .18), church activity (beta = .16), and the equitable measure (beta = .10) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .13).

(10.) The multiple regression analysis of the organizational membership scale found that age (beta = −.11), income (beta = .22), and doctrinal orthodoxy (beta = −.14) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .13).

(11.) The multiple regression analysis of the political participation scale found that age (beta = .17), having been raised Pentecostal (beta = −.11), race (beta = .14), education (beta = .23), prophecy (beta = .12), church activity (beta = .13), social welfare (beta = −.19), and cultural issues (beta = .11) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .29)

(12.) The correlation between ideology and partisanship was .66.

(13.) The multiple regression analysis of the political alignment scale found that having been raised Pentecostal (beta = .10), race (beta = .18), education (beta = .10), praying in tongues (beta = .08), doctrinal orthodoxy (beta = .09), church activity (beta = .10), the equitable measure (beta = −.10), church benevolence (beta = −.10), church politics (beta = .17), social welfare (beta = −.29), and cultural issues (beta = .35) were statistically significant (adjusted R-squared = .48).