Charismatic Controversy in Politics and the Media

pentecostal politics
2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, walks past media as she boards the campaign bus after deplaning in North Canton, Ohio, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. (AP Images/ Carolyn Kaster)

Although some denominations are known for engaging in culture wars and politics, Pentecostals and Charismatics have not historically been among them. As these camps have been more vocal in politics, charismatic controversy has followed.

Indeed, candidates supported by charismatics are not always supported by the left-wing media.

John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, says Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are two good examples.

“Charismatic leaders who step into the political fray are typically attacked by the left and the mainstream media the moment they are perceived as being effective or influential,” Stemberger writes in a Charisma article. “The left has made a virtual art form out of trying to demonize any high-profile leader who takes a stand for Christian values.”

But for a multitude of reasons, Pentecostal leaders often receive more criticism than their evangelical counterparts. Stemberger argues that while some of these attacks are legitimate, others are “completely bigoted and illegitimate.”

Illegitimate Attacks
Stemberger writes: “The secular elites in academia and the media often know little about the importance of religion in general, but are even more clueless about the very real experiences and beliefs practiced by millions of charismatic Christians in America and around the world.”

In addition, there is a bias toward “any religion that expresses itself in a socially conservative political context.” Stemberger says the opposition against Pentecostals is even more intense because of their unique expressions of worship and extraordinary practices such as speaking in tongues, praying for healing of the sick and prophetic deliveries.

Although liberals tend to value tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness, those virtues are lost when it comes to Pentecostals in the political arena.

The left believes there are exposing and damaging the credibility of leaders such as Sarah Palin, Bachmann and Perry when they attempt to demonize them. “Their main weapon is to stir up fear by launching vicious, strategic and multidimensional attacks,” Stemberger explains.

This is clear when looking at the mainstream media's past skewering of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of the interior, James G. Watt, both of whom had Assemblies of God backgrounds.

More recently, NPR, Newsweek and Time each attacked Pentecostal-friendly candidates by highlighting their connections to charismatic groups, such as Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation, or the NAR. All three liberal media outlets attacked Wagner by twisting NAR’s “seven mountain” terminology, which involves Christians establishing God’s kingdom in every sphere of culture, and even compared the NAR to a jihadist terrorist group. Click here for Wagner's defense.

The left attacks Christian leaders such as Wagner to warn others who may step into the political arena. “Tragically, the church has often succumbed to this intimidation,” writes Stemberger.

He adds: “Yet what charismatics must understand—and what the leftist media doesn’t comprehend—is that such tactics can galvanize support for these figures and bolster their influence more than if the political hopefuls had been left alone or ignored.”

This backfire is similar to Joseph's story in Genesis 50:20; what these often anti-Christian agendas intended for evil, “God meant it for good.”

Legitimate Criticism
Particularly when it addresses abuse, hypocrisy and poor judgment exercised by charismatic leaders, criticism is sometimes warranted, Stemberger says, “despite the flow of media-driven religious bigotry and illegitimate disparagement directed toward charismatics.”

There have been a number of times, for example, when the secular media has mocked charismatic ministers for pronouncing a “prophetic word” that never came to pass. Equally as bad, evangelicals have often criticized Pentecostal leaders for proposing clearly unbiblical teachings.

Stemberger explains: “These prophetic pronouncements and misguided interpretations of Scripture are rarely shared with church elders or leaders before becoming public, namely because in many of these churches or ministries there is no true accountability or plurality of leadership.”

These situations hurt charismatics' credibility, not only with evangelicals, but with the general public as well.

“Because many charismatic pastors run their churches with singular authority either functionally or organizationally, a structural lack of accountability makes them prone to become the media’s next easy target,” Stemberger concludes.

This is adapted from John Stemberger's article, "The Rising Tide of Influence," which originally appeared in the November issue of Charisma. Click here to view the digital issue.

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