It has taken thirty years, but my newest book has just been published by Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock. Here are a couple of excerpts from the first chapter of Ethics in the Age of the Spirit: Race, Women, War, and the Assemblies of God:
A trilogy of issues—black-white relationships, women in ministry, and attitudes toward war—were what Dempster suggested, a means of getting at the whys, looking beyond a specific issue—race relations—to see larger patterns of ethical behavior and thinking in the fellowship. Much as a surveyor might propose three points to gain perspective, the three topics could point to something bigger: an ethical posture of an entire denomination.
These issues were not chosen because they had necessarily been self-evident concerns within the movement. Race relations was little more than a footnote embedded in Assemblies of God mythology, while pacifism, which dominated the attention of the denomination in its earliest years, disappeared from memory within a generation. In the twentieth century, few social-oriented topics ever achieved significance among either the leadership or the constituency. Occasional intrusions into political discussion were made by editors and leaders, as when the nation was “threatened” with a Roman Catholic for president. Only the topic of divorce and remarriage with its implications for church and family were of perennial concern. Otherwise, ethical discussion was limited to personal behavioral standards and to encroaching secular humanism.
As I began my research, I was warned I would find little useful material. On the contrary, each of the three issues proved to be a study in itself. But nothing, not even the idea of considering the very ethical foundations of the movement, was as controversial as the sole topic of racism….
When I reached the office of the general secretary, his receptionist ushered me in without delay. Short, thin, his balding head fringed with white hair, Joseph R. Flower invited me to sit and we briefly chatted up mutual connections. We had several, our family histories intersecting at various junctures, such connections perhaps my passport into this inner sanctum.
Abruptly and yet calmly he invited me over behind his desk, opening a right-hand drawer filled with file folders. “Much of this,” he said, “has never before been seen. I am entrusting it all to you.”
Brother Flower was a son of J. Roswell Flower, the first general secretary and a founding father of the Assemblies of God. A man of few words, all softly spoken, the son was intimidating only in title. As with everyone else on that floor, he served in the shadow of larger-than-life Thomas F. Zimmerman, general superintendent of the fellowship.
I was on a quest, my holy grail the moral core of my wing of American evangelicalism, the Pentecostal movement, particularly the Assemblies of God. The beginning of the fellowship is well documented: how a small gathering in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, founded what would become a worldwide movement of fifty million adherents by the end of the century.
My quest had little to do with that gathering and even less with the phenomenal growth that was to follow. I wanted to understand how the Assemblies came to shift its moral ground—more than once—over the intervening years.
For some reason, Flower trusted me to walk out of that room with a box full of heretofore top-secret files, files that gave witness to a strange history of ecclesiastical shadow dancing and strict racial segregation. I could barely contain myself to get those files home and pour through them. Flower had told me he wanted them turned over, once I was finished, to the denomination’s archives (now known as the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in honor of his family). The archives were under Flower’s oversight, but I was to have first review of these records and for as long as I needed. And he expected me, a mere youth, to live up to his trust. What was in these files?
I invite you to find out. Read the book.
There are several ways you can get a copy:
And if you’d really like a hard cover edition, the publisher will also sell you one – just contact them directly.