Pentecostalism in North America

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Pentecostalism in North America

Among scholars of Pentecostalism there are two schools of thought as to the emergence of this religious phenomenon. The first school, identified with Vinson Synan, William Menzies, and James Goff, argues that Charles Parham (18731929) was the founder of the Pentecostal movement and that it began in Kansas in 1901. The competing school, which includes Walter Hollenweger, James Tinney, J. Douglas Nelson, Cecil R. Robeck, and Edith Blum-hofer, argues that the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles from 1906 to 1913 was the true beginning and William J. Seymour the pivotal person.

The second school focuses on Azusa Street and Seymour because they were the originating center of Pentecostalism throughout the United States and in Scandinavia, Great Britain, Brazil, Egypt, and India, where it spread. The revival defined Pentecostalism, shaped its interracial relations, and gave it its multicultural character. The first school designates Parham because he was the first proponent to link glossolalia with the biblical Pentecost event recounted in several chapters in the biblical book Acts of the Apostles and to define this experience as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In 1901 Charles Parham operated the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. A major religious experience for him was the baptism of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2. The Holiness Movement during the 1800s identified this experience as sanctification. The Wesleyan wing of the Holiness Movement defined the experience in terms of cleansing, while the Calvinist or Reformed wing saw it as empowerment for Christian living. Both positions understood the experience as subsequent to justification. The Reformed advocates described sanctification as a progressive process, while the Wesleyan advocates described it as an instantaneous event.

In the late 1890s Parham joined those who sought to categorize discrete experience beyond justification and sanctification. In January 1901 Parham identified glossolalia with the third experience and linked this experience instead of sanctification with Acts 2. He began preaching this new doctrine within Holiness circles in the Midwest.

In 1905 William J. Seymour, who was black, enrolled in Parham's school in Houston despite the white man Parham's enforcement of segregation laws that prevented Seymour from sitting with the white students. While Seymour adopted the new doctrine, he failed at the time to have the actual experience himself. In 1906 he carried the new doctrine to California in response to an invitation to become pastor of a small black Holiness congregation in Los Angeles headed by Julia Hutchins. Hutchins and the other members established a congregation of Evening Light Saints after withdrawing from the Second Baptist Church, which had refused to embrace their Holiness message. Hutchins, however, rejected Seymour's addition to Holiness teaching and barred him from the pulpit. Edward Lee and, later, Richard Asberry invited Seymour to resume preaching at their homes.

After Seymour and others began speaking in tongues, they outgrew the "house church," and Seymour secured larger facilities at 312 Azusa Street, the former sanctuary of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Seymour's revival on Azusa Street attracted the attention first of local whites and blacks, especially those involved in the Holiness community. But soon participants from the Holiness Movement across the United States converged by the thousands on Azusa Street to observe events, examine the new doctrine, and experience glossolalia. Within twelve months the Azusa Street Mission spawned an international movement and began a journal, Apostolic Faith. From 1906 to 1908, Apostolic Faith, the Azusa Street Mission, and Seymour held the loosely bound movement together and provided it with a center and leadership.

Like its Holiness counterpart, Pentecostalism was basically local and regional and headed by both blacks and whites, as well as both women and men. In many places local and regional movements took over entire Holiness congregations and institutions. African-American Holiness leaders who embraced Pentecostalism along with all or some of their associated congregations included W. H. Fulford (d. 1916), William Fuller (18751958), Charles Harrison Mason (18661961), and Magdalena Tate (18711930).

Early Pentecostalism emerged as a strongly interracial movement and struggled with its interracial identity at a time when American society was segregated. Frank Bartleman, a white Azusa Street participant and reporter, stated that at the revival "the color line was washed away in the blood [of Jesus Christ]." While Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Holiness people lived in racially segregated congregations, associations, and denominational structures, the black and white Pentecostals pastored and preached to and fellowshipped and worshipped with each other between 1906 and 1914, and many joined the predominantly black Pentecostal-Holiness group, the Church of God in Christ. The Pentecostal leadership was strongly antiKu Klux Klan and was often the target of Klan terrorism because of their interracial sympathies.

But racism came to counter the interracial nature of early Pentecostalism. Parham exhibited racist behavior and a patronizing attitude toward his black counterparts, especially Seymour; in 1908 blacks withdrew from the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church (later called Pentecostal Holiness Church); in 1913 another black group withdrew from the Pentecostal Holiness Church; in 1914 a white group withdrew from the Church of God in Christ; and in 1924 a white group withdrew from the half-black Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, which was led by a black minister, Garfield Thomas Haywood.

While segregation among Pentecostals came to follow the pattern of American Christianity after the Civil War, there were exceptions. Blacks and whites continued to struggle together to structure their interracial relationships during the height of segregation in the United States. In 1924 the Church of God in Christ adopted the Methodist model of establishing a minority transgeographical conference, specifically a white conference to unite the white congregations across the United States that belonged to the predominantly black denomination. In 1907 and 1931 several different groups of blacks and whites entered and withdrew from the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

Theologically, Pentecostalism split early into two camps over the doctrine of God: Trinitarian and Oneness. The Oneness doctrine, as opposed to the classic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, claimed that Jesus was the name of God and that God expressed Godself in the form of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but was not three persons in one. The Trinitarians confessed the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity and rejected the Oneness interpretation. While the existing black Pentecostal denominations, such as the Church of God in Christ, United Holy Church, and Church of the Living God, remained Trinitarian, many independent black Pentecostal congregations in the Midwest, especially those associated with Haywood, rejected Trinitarianism. Oneness denominations identified themselves as Apostolic churches.

Haywood and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World are the parents of most black Apostolic denominations in the United States. Significant leaders of the movement included Robert C. Lawson (18811961), who organized the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith in 1919; Sherrod C. Johnson (18971961), who organized the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith in 1930; and Smallwood Williams, who organized Bible Way Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ Worldwide in 1957.

While Pentecostal denominations opened more forms of ministry to women than other Protestant denominations, only a few granted women equality with men. Among black Pentecostals, full male-female equality existed only in denominations founded by black women. Magdalena Tate's denomination, the oldest Pentecostal denomination founded by a black woman, was among the Holiness groups that joined Pentecostalism after their establishment. During 1903 she founded in Tennessee the Church of Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth. The other major grouping of Pentecostal denominations founded by black women withdrew from the United Holy Church of America, which ordained women to the ministry but denied them the bishopric. In 1924 Ida Robinson founded the Mt. Sinai Holy Church to rectify this inequality. In 1944 Beulah Counts (d. 1968), an associate of Robinson, organized the Greater Mt. Zion Pentecostal Church of America.

Crossing Trinitarian and Apostolic divisions is a stream within Pentecostalism called the deliverance movement. The deliverance movement grew out of the white healing movement of the 1940s associated with William Branham that produced Oral Roberts, Gordon Lindsay, and A. A. Allen. The deliverance movement among black Pentecostals is related to Arturo Skinner (19241975), who expanded the traditional black Pentecostal emphasis on healing to include exorcisms and heightened the accent on the miraculous. In 1956 he established the Deliverance Evangelistic Centers, with headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Deliverance ministries emerged in traditional Pentecostal congregations such as Faith Temple Church of God in Christ under Harry Willis Goldsberry (18951986) in Chicago. In urban centers there emerged new independent congregations that competed with traditional black Pentecostals; Benjamin Smith (b. 1926), who founded the Deliverance Evangelistic Center in Philadelphia in 1960, and Richard Hinton, who founded Monument of Faith Evangelistic Center in Chicago in 1963, were two of the best-known leaders of these congregations.

Although Pentecostals are stereotyped as otherworldly, studies have shown a social activist stream within black Pentecostalism. A number of black Pentecostal denominations and leaders joined the Fraternal Council of Negro Churches and participated in the marches for black employment during the 1930s. Robert C. Lawson cooperated with Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and other leading Harlem ministers in campaigns for black employment. J. O. Patterson (19121990) of the Church of God in Christ and other ministers participated in local civil rights campaigns in Memphis, Tennessee, and other southern cities and towns in the late 1950s. Smallwood Williams led the legal battle against segregated public schools during the 1950s in Washington, D.C. Arthur Brazier (b. 1921), Louis Henry Ford (b. 1914), and other Pentecostal clergy were active in the civil rights movement in Chicago and other northern cities in the 1960s.

Studies of the black Pentecostal leadership note the occurrence of a cadre of black Pentecostals who identify with twentieth-century theological liberalism. Relations between liberal Protestantism and black Pentecostalism occur on a number of levels. A significant number of Pentecostals are graduates of liberal seminaries, some as early as the 1940s. They are graduates of schools such as Temple University, Oberlin, Union Theological Seminary (New York City), Duke, Emory, and McCormick. And the first accredited Pentecostaland only African-Americanseminary, Charles Harrison Mason Theological Seminary, is a member of Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), a consortium of African-American seminaries affiliated with mainline denominations. The Church of God in Christ, the sponsor of Mason Seminary at ITC, embraces theological liberalism from a black perspective in the preparation of an educated clergy. A number of black Pentecostal leaders are also involved in the ecumenical movement that liberal Protestantism embraces: Herbert Daughtry (b. 1931) participates in some World Council of Churches programs, and Ithiel Clemmons (b. 1921) participates in regional and local ecumenical councils.

Black Pentecostalism also includes leaders who identify with evangelicalism. Black Pentecostals associated with the evangelical movement are often graduates of evangelical seminaries such as Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Leaders such as William Bentley (b. 1926) and George McKinney (b. 1932) are active members of the National Association of Evangelicals along with the National Black Association of Evangelicals.

During the 1970s black Pentecostalism intersected with the "Word of Faith" movement spurred by Kenneth Hagin and his message of healing, prosperity, and positive confession. Fredrick Price (b. 1932) emerged as the Word of Faith leader among black Christians after establishing Crenshaw Christian Center of Los Angeles in 1973.

During the 1970s Pentecostalism influenced the historic black denominations, especially the AME Church. Neo-Pentecostal ministers occupied some major AME pulpits. The focal point for the movement during the early 1970s was St. Paul AME Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the pastorate of John Bryant (b. 1948). During the period, college campuses became centers for the growth of Pentecostalism among black students, particularly through the college gospel choir movement.

Black Pentecostals have been leaders within the black religious music movement since the early 1900s. Black Pentecostalism became the carrier of black religious folk music, noted for its call-and-response, improvisation, polyrhythms, and diatonic harmonies. By the 1920s Arizona Juanita Dranes (b. 1905) and Sallie Sanders were popular gospel singers. Dranes and Sanders began the tradition of the Baptist and Pentecostal leadership of the gospel music movement. By the 1980s black Pentecostals such as Andraé Crouch, Edwin Hawkins, Walter Hawkins, Shirley Caesar, the Clark Sisters, and the Wynans dominated the gospel music movement.

From its beginning at the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, black Pentecostalism has grown to become the second-largest religious movement among African Americans and one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the United States and around the globe, especially in the Third World.

See also Christian Denominations, Independent; Holiness Movement; Protestantism in the Americas; Religion


Burgess, Stanley M., and Gary B. McGee. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, 1988.

Dupree, Sherry S., ed. Biographical Dictionary of African-American Holiness-Pentecostals, 18801990. Washington, D.C.: Middle Atlantic Regional Press, 1989.

Jones, Charles Edwin. A Guide to the Study of Black Participation in Wesleyan Perfectionist and Glossolalic Pentecostal Movements. Metuchen, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1987.

Sernett, Milton C. Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997.

david d. daniels iii (1996)
Updated bibliography