DAYS OF FIRE AND GLORY: THE RISE AND FALL OF A CHARISMATIC COMMUNITY
By Julia Duin
Crossland Press, $24.95, 336 pages Reviewed by George Conger
Gin was the “quickest way out of Man-chester,” the Marxist historian Eric Hobs-bawn observed in “The Age of Revolution.” Flight from the difficult and dreary often found its wings in alcohol or narcotics, while ecstatic religion could also provide the opiate that relieved the pains of life.
It has been ever thus. Religious movements that release the believer from his trials through connection with the divine can be found in most faiths: Sufism in Islam, the Hasidic movement in Judaism and Pentecostalism in modern Christianity are but a few examples. Some ecstatic movements flower under the guidance of a charismatic leader then fade upon his passing.
But from its roots in working-class Los Angeles 100 years ago, Pentecostalism has flourished in Africa, South America and in parts of Asia. It has become the fastest-growing segment of American religious life - even moving into the political spotlight with Sarah Palin and the 2008 presidential race.
In the early 1960s, the Christian charismatic renewal movement of signs and wonders made the jump into the “mainline” - and Julia Duin, religion editor of The Washington Times, deftly chronicles its meteoric rise and collapse in the Episcopal Church, focusing on the saga of the Rev. Graham Pulkingham and Houston’s Church of the Redeemer.
Ms. Duin’s “Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community” is both a frightening and fascinating look at the glory days of the renewal movement that, at its height, gave meaning to the lives of thousands, but eventually collapsed in a welter of sexual, financial and theological misconduct - or to use that wonderful but seldom used word: heresy.
Two decades in the making, and based upon 182 face-to-face interviews and an intimate knowledge of the people and passions at play, Ms. Duin’s book is a cautionary tale. For those touched by the charismatic renewal, it will reawaken memories of the passion and enthusiasm of the heady days when it seemed the power of God was made manifest.
It is also a frightening book, as it illustrates the denial of some seekers of Augustine’s opening declaration in the “Confessions”:
“You have made us, O Lord, for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” “Days of Fire and Glory” demonstrates that communion with God is not enough for some, as the desire to be god is just as powerful.
In 1963, the 37-year-old Graham Pulkingham, a polished and ambitious Epi-scopal priest, uprooted his wife and children from a comfortable suburban life in Austin, Texas, to take over a fading church on the east side of Houston. Intent on addressing the social ills of a mixed-race urban neigh-borhood, he launched himself into a year’s enlightened social work in the community, which proved a failure.
At low ebb, Pulkingham received a revelation from God to go to New York, where he was “baptized in the Spirit” through the prayers of David Wilkerson, author of “The Cross and the Switchblade.”
Pulkingham returned to Houston a changed man and began a ministry of signs and wonders - speaking in tongues, offering healings and other manifestations of the divine. He saw his congregation come alive, becoming one of the first “mega-churches.” Redeemer also launched itself into the communal-living movement, seeking to replicate the base communities described in the Book of Acts, and it soon created dozens of extended Christian households encompassing more than 400 people.
Redeemer became a media sensation, and was featured in books, newspapers and a 1972 CBS News one-hour special that attracted even more curious baby-boomer Christians from across the country, eager to see what they believed was the dawn of a new age of Christianity - a return to the early days of the faith, where the miraculous was the norm.View Entire Story
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