April 8, 2013

Race, Sex and Liberation: Pentecostal Studies President Steers Society in New Direction

Society for Pentecostal Studies President Paul Alexander of Palmer Seminary. (Photo: Evangelicals for Social Action).

Society for Pentecostal Studies President Paul Alexander of Palmer Seminary. (Photo: Evangelicals for Social Action).

By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)

(Note: this is the first in a series of articles covering the 2013 meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies that met March 21-23 at Seattle Pacific University).

The largest and most prominent academic society within the Pentecostal tradition should be open to the promotion of homosexual, transgender and intersex “realities” as faithful representations of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, according to an address given by the society president.

Society for Pentecostal Studies President Paul Alexander’s address was suffused with liberation theology themes in which he denounced “white racing,” “male sexing” and urged gathered Pentecostal academics to accept “LGBTQI realities” in their churches and seminaries. Alexander also outlined his vision for an essentially interreligious society open to non-Christian members and leaders and unbound to any historic “capital-P” Pentecostalism.

Central to Alexander’s address was a liberation theology reading of the Exodus that portrayed both oppressive Biblical Egypt and later freed Israelites inhabiting the Promised Land as “the construct of Whiteness.” The Palmer Seminary professor described whiteness as a “super-ordination that subordinates the other.”

Alexander, who is a licensed Assemblies of God minister, cited inspiration by mujerista (feminist Latina) theologians, among others. He declared “we’ve been raced by a system” and argued that a “collective confession and repentance” was needed to redress “systemic and ingrained violence that has been such a consistent part of the American experience.”

Alexander argued for deconstruction of norms within Pentecostalism:  “All manifestations of lighter skin privilege and silent conflations of whiteness with superiority and the norm must be openly challenged and dismantled.” Alexander applied this liberationist hermeneutic to various issues, claiming manifestations of “whiteness” within Pentecostalism included male privilege, acceptance of violence in war, and boundaries regarding doctrine and sexual ethics.

“LGBTIQ Realities”

In his address to the society, Alexander noted that some Christians who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex” are also Pentecostals and Charismatics, urging that the society should openly discuss “our diversity of perspectives” without “fear of reprisal.”

“Some of these LGBTIQ — and whatever other letters come along – Pentecostals attend Pentecostal universities and seminaries and worship in Pentecostal churches,” Alexander stated. “Some Pentecostal churches believe that homosexuality is a sin and oppose civil and human rights for LGBTIQ people. And some do not. Some members of SPS think homosexuality is a sin and some members of SPS think homosexuality is not a sin and want to work against heteronormativity and heterosexism.”

The SPS president left little doubt that he was among those in the latter category, detouring into a scolding about how an SPS member who presented a controversial paper on sexuality at the 2012 annual meeting experienced difficulties with her denominational officials after her presentation was brought to their attention.

Charging that SPS was not “a place where anyone uses fear to limit discourse or argument” Alexander revealed that the incident inspired the SPS executive committee to consider adopting a civility statement and alleged that informing the leadership of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies of Canada of the academic work of feminist theologian Pamela Holmes constituted bullying. As the SPS president argued society scholars should be welcome to research and write about sexuality “in whatever ways they prefer” a “no bullying” advertisement was flashed on the screen behind him. [IRD’s Julia Polese reported on Holmes’ presentation from 2012 that can be viewed here.]

Alexander asserted that “pentecostalisms” and SPS members had a diversity of hermeneutical methods and understandings of scripture and tradition.

“We do not even agree on the Trinity or the lack thereof,” the SPS president noted, in a nod to Oneness Pentecostals who have been invited to join the society. “I am hopeful that we can thrive as a society even as we argue civility and charitably about Biblical, theological, ethical, historical, philosophical, practical, ecumenical, missional and cultural perspectives regarding LGBTQI realities both within and beyond the pentecostalisms we experience and study. SPS should continue to be an open space for the presentation of research and argumentation regarding the many issues of sexualities, of faithings, of genderings and of racings.”

Way Down in Egypt Land

Quoting theologian George E. “Tink” Tinker of United Methodist Iliff School of Theology that “white American Christians need a liberation theology of their own to free them from the denial of their own past,” Alexander proceeded to offer his liberation reading of the Exodus.

Alexander identified Pharaoh and his son as the “sexed-as-male raced-as-white coercive voice and structures of whiteness.” Arguing that Pharaoh’s “whiteness” was irredeemable, Alexander charged it is a construct “that must be exited completely so that it can deconstruct into nothingness.”

“All white male constructs must die,” Alexander flatly stated, adding with a smile “and I’m a pacifist saying this, that’s crazy!”

Describing the son of Pharaoh as “the white Jesus” and “the only begotten son of empire,” Alexander interpreted that “the white Jesus must die if humanity is to be delivered from oppression and live in the Promised Land.” In the plague that killed Egypt’s firstborn sons, Alexander explained that “the construct of a white Jesus will die at the hand of God.”

The Assemblies of God minister then transferred the designation of “whiteness” to the “resurrected white male in the conquest of Canaan.”

“In the Exodus, God kills the son of whiteness and the white male drowns in the sea,” Alexander read. “In the subsequent conquest of Canaan led by the first Yeshua [Joshua], God kills the indigenous on behalf of this resurrected yet unnamed whiteness operating through Joshua. Just when it seems possible that whiteness has been exited, the coercive voice and structures are at it again. Exiting it and entering the Promised Land with the conquering Yeshua and the conquering God still does not yield the world beyond whiteness that humanity needs. Theories, methodologies and theologies raced by whiteness while in Egypt enter into a pseudo-promised land where the Canaanites are utterly destroyed because they are raced non-white.”

Declaring “we have to find another Yeshua” Alexander proposed looking to a “Cannanite Jewish Yeshua hermeneutic” that embraced faith in “Joshua the Christ” rather than “Joshua the conqueror.”

“I propose an intertextual reading of Yeshua the conqueror in which a Canaanite, Jewish Yeshua of the first century critiques the conquest of his namesake: a post-white liberation exodus from whiteness that imagines a world where liberation does not lead to conquest. Yeshua contra Yeshua, with the second Yeshua following the lead of the Hebrew midwives in disobeying God’s commands to the former Yeshua which was ‘you must utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.’”

Alexander offered an unorthodox interpretation Christ’s interaction with the Canaanite woman in Matthew Chapter 15 who seeks healing for her demon possessed daughter, charging that she did not come to worship Jesus, but to challenge him.

“The Canaanite woman’s reframing of the dog-bread metaphor elicited the transformation in Jesus that he needed to escape the confines of whiteness,” Alexander asserted. “He suffered the humiliation of the Canaanite woman and learned deeper obedience to God’s will.”

The SPS president seemed to deny Christ’s sinless nature, proposing that “in recognizing her humility and challenge, Jesus exited whiteness.”

“The story says that her daughter was healed that very hour,” Alexander noted. “Jesus was also healed from that hour.”


  • http://skotiad.wordpress.com skotiad

    Did I wake up in the middle of some creepy sci-fi movie? A so-called Pentecostal is urging us to “accept LGTBQ realities”???

    How about accepting GOD and CHRIST realities? Let’s do some prioritizing here. I’m getting used to taking “evangelical” with a grain of salt (or the whole shaker), now ditto for “Pentecostal” too. Sheesh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/clyde.m.hughes Clyde M. Hughes

    Though very saddened, as the leader of a small historic Pentecostal denomination, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to Jeff Walton and the IRD for this valuable critique. In the life of every movement, there comes forks in the road, choices provided by God, Himself; choices allowing us to take introspection from the mirror of the Word; opportunities for self-correction. We Pentecostals boast of the leading of the Spirit, yet, at times, we hear the Spirit the least. I am also saddened that the Institute for Religion and Democracy, created as a clarion call to Mainline Denominations to return to orthodoxy, now must turn their attention to once the most conservative of Evangelical movements. I only trust that God will forgive our arrogance toward other believers and most importantly, our arrogance in the distortion of God’s Word and turning our ears and hearts away from Almighty God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.swaringen Matthew Swaringen

    So sad :( I used to know Paul Alexander as a professor at my university. He was a pacifist but was always interesting and I believe he truly believed the gospel at that time. But this is a mess, a profound mess, and this is what happens when you allow your beliefs to be warped by social gospel nonsense from the likes of the Sojourners.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.voelz.9 Don Voelz

    Psalm 119:89 Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Kind of says it all!)

  • formerroadie

    I am glad Dr. Alexander came out as an ally for LGBTQI people. It’s about time Christians in the states wake up to the realities of Christ and the false interpretations they have laid on scripture.

    • http://gregpaley.wordpress.com gregpaley

      Sooo, when the Bible makes it clear that something is a “sin,” you’re saying it is definitely NOT a sin?

      Well, thanks for clearing that up. I think I’ll go rob a convenience store now that I know that “Thou shalt not steal” means “Thou shalt steal.” Your revelation about the real meaning of the Bible is a real life-changer. Where did you get this deep insight into the Bible, and how was it that for 2000 years Christians have gotten it wrong? Isn’t it a coincidence that no one discovered the “false interpretations” of the Bible until gays and lesbians became a very loud and obnoxious and aggressive political force? I guess it takes loud and obnoxious political activists to get to the deeper meaning of the Bible, huh? I mean, it’s not like they’re BIASED, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.pyle David Curtis Pyle

    “Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools,” (Rom. 1:22, NLT) describes this travesty. I am all for a well-considered faith – in fact, I object when “childish” faith is represented as “childlike.” But the concept that the church has to open itself to new ideas and new constructs is anathema to one grounded in The Faith. In conclusion, “. . . Evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.” (2 Tim 3:13, NLT) “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but TEST EVERYTHING THAT IS SAID.” (emphasis mine) “Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” (1 Thess. 5:16-22, NLT) ‘Nuff said.

  • http://lisettedefoe.wordpress.com Lisette Defoe

    And this is why judgement is coming to America. Same sex marriage, I used to think, was something unbelievers rallied for. If ministers are this deceived and are misleading whole congregations and a whole nation, how can we escape the wrath of God??!! For these 2 abominations America is going under… Same sex marriage and obortions which is innocent bloodshed! http://lisettedefoe.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/judgement-is-coming-america/

    • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com Michael Snow

      Sad to say, but I believe you are correct about America going under. When the salt loses its savor, there is no use left for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.r.mcginnis Michael R. McGinnis

    Liberation Theology is the Secular Humanist/Politically Correct/ Relativistic antithesis of the Sanctifying Grace and Persaol Salvation of Christianity. Poor souls like Mr Alexander believe that enlightened elitist thinkers like himself are going to create a Utopian Brotherhood of Mankind populated by properly educated human brothers. It does not occur to him that bringing to life the Holy Spirit, Christs Love, in your life is the only way the Human family will become a true Brotherhood.

  • http://apcroft33.wordpress.com apcroft33

    This Pentecostal pastor is doing a 1970s retro, which unfortunately is true for a number of “evangelicals” also. Does he realize that his humanistic interpretation of Exodus is not exactly new, it was the big thing in liberal seminaries in the 1970s, the sugarcoated Marxism called Liberation Theology, which is by no means dead in the mainline denominations, it just metamorphed into feminism, gay activism, all the other trendy isms. Not only is this Alexander guy totally wrong in his biblical interpretation, he’s making a fool of himself, like showing up in bell-bottom jeans and hoping he looks really “groovy.” It is sorta sad but sorta funny too, watching conservative Christians suddenly “discover” these theological fads that were already stale 20 years ago. When a Pentecostal starts quoting a professor at ultra-lefty Iliff School of Theology, red flags ought to be popping up everywhere.

    I know lots of Pentecostals, and they’re more grounded in theology than this character. I hope his career as a loose cannon is brief.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jhovemeyer Joe Hovemeyer

    Thankful for the courage Paul Alexander has to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I see the rending of garments has already commenced.

    • http://apcroft33.wordpress.com apcroft33

      The Holy Spirit is leading this guy to preach Liberation Theology, a thoroughly discredited and unChristian ideology from thirty years ago? I think not. In my personal experience with the Holy Spirit, I don’t think that white males wallowing in fake guilt is on His agenda. And, btw, it is hardly “courage” to conform your religion to the world’s standards, that is an act of someone who wants to be approved by unbelievers instead of approved by God. Sounds more like the Unholy Spirit, who goes by several other names.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.blanchard2 Josh Blanchard

    I’m thankful fo Dr. Paul too. If it were not for his courage and willingness to respond to the gospel in away that is not white and not male, than I would not be a believer today. I am a United Methodist Pastor an member of SPS. I grew up AG, attended AG College and was credentialed AG. I also lost my faith in the AG. Paul helped me see that God was more than any white mans interpretation. God bless Paul Alexander! And God damn closed minded, raced white, sexed male, oppressive systems of coercion like the Assemblies of God!

    • nateelarton

      So you want people who believe like you damned? man that doesn’t sound Christ-like.

      • nateelarton

        I mean “People who do not believe like you.”

    • http://skotiad.wordpress.com skotiad

      This Blanchard fellow packed so many liberal cliches into his tantrum that there wasn’t any room left for love – oh, wait, that’s the definition of liberalism is, isn’t it?

      Sincerely,
      Heterosexual white male (but no guilt!)

      • http://ericvlytle.wordpress.com ericvlytle

        You have to wonder about any pastor who chooses to represent himself with an equal sign, as if homosexual “marriage” is the center of his gospel. To be that much under the control of the secular culture that you no longer have the slightest concern about God and what he revealed about his will for mankind, but can only rubber-stamp whatever the Hollywood elite says is the Cause of the Week. I wonder if they really believe that the Son of God came to earth so that two men or two women might “marry.” That is a very bizarre view of the Incarnation.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rob.wastman Rob Wastman

    Is he like Issachar in Chr 12:22 “understanding of the times that we are in” or is it more like 2 Timothy 3?.

    • nateelarton

      I almost cut and pasted 2 Timothy 3. Honest.

  • nateelarton

    I honestly can’ believe some of the things I just read. I am very saddened. What is next? What can the unbelieving world influence the church to compromise in next. Can the Body of Christ have no standards anymore? Can we not promote morality, God’s plan for mankind, biblical values? The “angel of light” is very busy. I can only pray I will stay discerning with the Holy Spirit, and not be deceived by the arguments of culture. Help your church O Lord.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sharon.Rose.Boyd Sharon R Boyd

    As a Pentecostal with 2 graduate degrees, I consider myself to be a thoughtful individual, open to new ideas. However, what God has clearly declared to be wrong, is STILL wrong. I believe that as Pentecostals we must love and clearly express our willingness to allow those outside the faith and those in sin to attend our services and explore their questions. However, we should never, ever accept their lifestyle choice. Let me repeat, this is a lifestyle choice not a genetic certainty. God would never condemn something that is impossible to avoid. I have researched the extant literature on this issue and there is no genetic or DNA mandate for this lifestyle. If someone has hormonal issues or other birth defects, they should be supported medically and loved regardless of their situation.

  • http://livelywood.wordpress.com rrlively

    This is unreal. This guy is not following the Holy Spirit on any of this and for those of you that think his is are Deceived. Jesus said “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand”. Jesus never said to accept the sinful lifestyle people where engaging in but rather He showed them a way out of the lifestyle. God does not hate gay and lesbian people but he hates the sin because brings separation between Him and those he loves as well as it opens the people up to diseases that affect the mind and body, as well as opens the person that is engaging in this sin to oppression as well as possession by demonic spirits.

  • http://lwaddell123.wordpress.com lwaddell123

    After seeing where the photo of Paul Alexander came from (Evangelicals for Social Action) I was not surprised to read of his liberal bent toward theology. I used to associate with ESA in the 80′s. The leaders of their board included Jim Wallace and Tony Campolo. I was politically like minded at the time but was theologically conservative. I suppose a sort of cognitive dissonance developed in my mind and I came to the conclusion that political liberalism necessarily lead to theological liberalism, therefore I abandoned my politics and realigned my thinking to be more consistent with my theology. ESA, while well intentioned is more interested in societal acceptance than with promoting historical Christian theology. Welcome to postmodern Christianity.

  • http://twitter.com/DavisRBr Rich Davis (@DavisRBr)

    The paper sounds like standard deconstructionist fare. It’s too bad there isn’t a journal for pentecostal *philosophy* where some of these epistemologies can be given a proper critique. Unfortunately, journals such as PNEUMA don’t publish philosophical pieces.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynn.baslergrassmeyer Lynn Basler Grassmeyer

    Paul Alexander is being mis-resepresented here in innumerable ways. The slander and character defamation is unwarranted and cruel. I don’t know you Mr. Jeff Walton, but I would caution you~and those of you who claim Christ likeness~ to be very careful casting your stones. Jesus is not contained in your small AOG theology.

    • http://ericvlytle.wordpress.com ericvlytle

      The more people say “back off,” the more it appears there is something they wish to hide, all the more reason to keep the cameras rolling. Apparently the theo-liberals got wind of a heretic and can’t wait to rush to his defense. Looks to me like the quotes from this guy’s speech dont “misrepresent” him at all, he’s parrotting the liberal theology crapola that went out of style 30 years ago.

      Grassmyers, maybe you’re new here, this is not an AOG website, so do your homework before you put on your schoolmarm face and lecturing people about subjects you know nothing about. If you don’t think Jesus and the apostles had a lot of things to say about false teachers, maybe you ought to crack open that New Testament and give it a look. The old liberal sloganizing of “don’t cast stones” isn’t exactly deep thought and doesn’t work on people who take their faith seriously.

    • http://jandj6488.wordpress.com jandj6488

      How do you know Rev. Alexander is being misrepresented? Were you present for the speech? I am holding back reaching an opinion on all involved until I can read or hear what was said. That is all any of us can do. Meanwhile, I hope we can get a full transcript soon. Fair or not, this is becoming a rather significant issue.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.tapia.796 Michelle Tapia

    It’s really heartbreaking to read some of the replies on here. I don’t think that damning anyone or a group of people would help with anything. Whether you’re part of the Assemblies of God, Orthodox, Pentecost, or whatever group you are a part of, we are all still people whom God loves. Sin does separates us from Him so I hope that instead of saying such harsh words, we can approach each other in love and gentleness and keep each other in our prayers. I believe that what Paul Alexander said is nothing to fear. Honestly, I don’t support same sex-marriage but I lift them up in prayer and will smile at them if I pass them and when given an opportunity will speak to them which I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit can guide us in such conversations. We need the guidance of our Lord and be in prayer A LOT and trust that Our God is greater and stronger and that He is for us and not against us.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Sharon.Rose.Boyd Sharon R Boyd

      Michelle,

      I don’t believe the author of the blog or the majority of people who are commenting are suggesting we act hatefully towards anyone. We would agree that we must love, reach out, and use Godly wisdom. The issue is that we disappointed that someone as highly exposed to the Word of God as Dr. Alexander and someone who has known the power of Pentecost would resort to this form of theology. We do not need to accept the sinful behavior to love and care about people who are in homosexuality. We should be preaching the power of God to deliver not acceptance of this behavior. The fact is God is still strong and powerful to heal, save and deliver. If Dr. Alexander can no longer preach this, but has decided to throw in the towel and accept this lifestyle as a reality, he has forgotten the power of Pentecost.

  • Terry Wiles

    Judges 21:25