by Mark Tooley
Reacting to IRD’s Jeff Walton’s report on then Society for Pentecostal Studies’ President (SPS) Paul Alexander’s controversial address at the recent SPS annual meeting, the new SPS president, Lee Roy Martin, defended Alexander’s “metaphorical language.” And Martin warned: “The internet is not an appropriate venue for debating controversial matters, especially when serious accusations are involved. If anyone objects to the content of an SPS paper, the proper response would be for that person to present his or her argument in a paper at the next meeting.” Here is Martin’s statement:
April 10, 2013
A Letter from SPS President, Dr. Lee Roy Martin
We recently completed a wonderful time of scholarship, fellowship, and worship at the Annual Meeting of SPS. However, several of our friends and constituents have been troubled by the claims of recent online blogs in reference to the SPS presidential address that SPS is losing its biblical moorings. As your new president, I want to offer a word of counsel to our members and friends.
I would begin by saying that we cannot take seriously what we read on internet blogs. The internet incorporates no supervision or accountability, and anyone can write anything about anybody. With that said, a few other points are in order:
1. Regarding the authority of the SPS Executive Committee.
It is not the domain of the SPS Executive Committee to enter into the particular debates raised by individual speakers but to ensure that the discussion is conducted according to scholarly conventions, which include civility, honesty, and other ethical practices of research and scholarly work.
2. Regarding the role of the SPS Presidential Address.
It should be understood that the powers of the SPS President are very limited. Unlike other institutions, the direction of SPS is determined not by its president but by its membership and its constitution. The SPS constitution ensures that no single person or denomination gets control of the Society. Neither the Presidential Address nor any other of the more than 100 presentations at the annual meeting represents an official stance of the Society. SPS members are independent scholars, and their views do not necessarily represent their institutions or the SPS. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that any Presidential Address sends the Society in a new direction.
3. Regarding the content of Paul Alexander’s 2013 Presidential Address.
There is something of a recent history of more provocative presidential addresses; therefore, Paul Alexander’s address is not out of the ordinary. The fact that it is controversial, however, does not justify recent misrepresentations, misquotations, and misinterpretations. I was present for Paul’s address, and what I heard him say was that Christians should work toward peace, justice, and kindness toward all people, regardless of their color, ethnic background, culture, or gender. He argued that all Christians who are part of the privileged culture (in USA it would be white protestant male) must be willing to give up our privilege for the sake of those who are oppressed, just as Jesus gave up his power and humbled himself, even to the death on the cross (Phil. 2). I would assume that all Christians can agree with these basic teachings of Christ.
4. Regarding the methodology of Paul’s address.
Paul used metaphorical language to get his point across, and it must be interpreted in that light. The metaphor was clearly indicated when Paul spoke of the Egyptians as “raced-white”, a fact that Paul knows is not historically, literally accurate. The Egyptians were Semitic and were not “white”. Thus, from the beginning, the hearers understand that “whiteness” is a symbol for the privileged or dominant culture. I would advise anyone who is interested in Paul’s address to read it for themselves when it is published in Pneuma this year (in either the summer or at the latest, the fall issue).
5. Regarding charges of heresy.
I would remind us that throughout our history we Pentecostals have been called heretics; we have been persecuted, maligned, and abused by the dominant religious establishment. Our so-called subversive doctrines and practices have been called “the last vomit of Satan” by prominent Christian leaders. I am very disturbed that Pentecostals are now willing to utilize the same unchristian tactics against one another, particularly against someone whose primary goal is the pursuit of “peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14), a goal that I would not consider subversive; but in today’s politically charged environment, the pursuit of peace and justice is apparently very subversive.
6. Regarding the nature of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.
SPS is an academic society, and honest, open debate over controversial issues is a vital part of such a society. At SPS, almost every speech is challenged and debated face-to-face. SPS includes a broad range of perspectives, with members from a range of traditions including Protestant, Catholic, Trinitarian Pentecostals, Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatics, etc. Yet within this context of diversity, the SPS discussions are “family talks”, which are not meant to spill over into public display (i.e. internet) until the presenters are ready to publish their final versions of their papers. Before publication of their papers, authors almost always include changes based upon the feedback obtained at the SPS meeting.
7. Regarding the appropriate Christian forum for deciding controversial issues.
The internet is not an appropriate venue for debating controversial matters, especially when serious accusations are involved. If anyone objects to the content of an SPS paper, the proper response would be for that person to present his or her argument in a paper at the next meeting. At that point the two persons can debate the strength of their arguments. I repeat, internet gossip is unchristian, and no good can come from it. The use of misquotations and sound bites, though a common strategy in today’s media, will not illuminate the truth; it will only inflame conflict. Therefore, the SPS Executive Committee will not be debating anyone over the internet. In conclusion, there is no reason for anyone be alarmed by ominous internet posts. The SPS is a strong society of scholars who are firmly committed to the Kingdom of God. In fact, I would insist in the strongest terms that our scholars are more devoted to the Pentecostal faith than are Pentecostal laity and ministers in general.
Dr. Lee Roy Martin, SPS President