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January/February 2008 · Historically Speaking 27 Pentecost for the Southland* RandallJ. Stephens The story of holiness and Pentecostalism in the U.S. South from the last quarter of the 19th century to the early 20th century remains largely untold , as does that of the greater significance of these movements in both the modern South and the nation as a whole. Yet they are hardly peripheral to modern American, and particularly southern, history. With millions of devotees in the South alone, holiness and Pentecostalism now rank second only to Roman Catholicism among the world's Christian denominations. The U.S. South is home to the headquarters of fiftyseven different Pentecostal churches and sects—including those of the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Such denominations, and born-again Christianity in general, have experienced phenomenal growth since the 1970s. Their numbers soared as liberal Protestantism in the South and elsewhere waned. Moreover, the recent politicization of conservative evangelicals, of whom southern Pentecostals make up a significant proportion, deserves special scrutiny. Believers are now more visible than ever before . Devout southern Pentecostals and those with connections to the tradition—including former attorney general John Ashcroft, conservative religious spokesmen Jim Bakker and John Hagee, country singers Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash, and rock and roll innovators Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley—are known throughout the world.1 Pentecostalism first took root in the South among anonymous zealots on the cultural fringes of society. The religious innovations and unusual beliefs of first-generation adherents were deeply offensive to genteel upper and middle-class Southerners . The unconventional attitude toward religious authority among those in the holiness and Pentecostal movements, as well as dieir views on race and gender during the height of the Jim Crow era, set them on an uncharted and dangerous course in Christian social life. These religious traditions first entered the South through die northern revival of perfectionism in the late 19th century and then through an exuberant 1906 revival in Los Angeles. Southerners who adopted die theology and religious practices of * Adapted and reprinted by permission of the publisher from The Fire Spreads: Holiness andPetecostalism in theAmerican South by Randall J. Stephens, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved . Holiness preachers Trena Platt, Rev. Mary Lee Cagle, and an unidentified woman in a revival tent, late 1 9th century. Courtesy of the Church of the Nazarene Archives, Kansas City, Missouri. those outside the region suffered the scorn of mainline southern Protestants. Hence believers played profoundly countercultural roles in the South in this early period. Adherents espoused a host of unusual beliefs regarding the end of die world, gifts of the Holy Ghost, and ecstatic worship. By 1906 devotees in the South had come to embrace the theology of premillennialism, a doctrine that stressed the imminent return of Jesus Christ, who would rescue the faithful from a corrupt, irredeemable world. Highly popular among contemporary American evangelicals, it was a belief almost unheard of in the turn-of-the-century South. The faithful looked to the heavens for their salvation and exalted sinless perfection. They also expected to receive the same "gifts of the Spirit"—healing, prophecy, miraculous "tongues speech"—evident in the Book of Acts, available again in the last days. Outside observers often dismissed holiness disciples and Pentecostals as a dispossessed minority, uneducated and fanatical. The later growth and prominence of holiness and Pentecostalism is all the more surprising, given the obstacles they once faced.2 Because holiness people were less bound by prevailing social codes than members of mainline churches, their meetings were frequently racially integrated, wild, and loud. At the same time, women assumed leadership roles often denied to them in other churches. This openness proved to be one of the most distinguishing marks of both the holiness movement and, later, Pentecostalism in the South. One female initiate from North Carolina expressed the sentiments of many when she denounced evangelicals who preached patriarchy. "Oh, how wily the enemy of our soul is," she declared. 3 By the end of the century, holiness dissenters had grown increasingly...


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pp. 27-29
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