SEPTEMBER 10, 1997
Richard Ostling, Time magazine's religion correspondent, reports on the rebirth of old-time religious movements.
JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, the rebirth of an old-time religious movement. Richard Ostling, Time Magazine's religion correspondent, reports.
STEVE HILL, Evangelist: Everyone that needs forgiveness I want you to come right now! Everyone who is away from the Lord, come right now! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry, in the balcony, come on, let's go! Come on!
RICHARD OSTLING: When evangelist Steve Hill gives an altar call at the end of his sermons, he virtually commands people to come forward and repent of their sins. He's been doing so four nights a week for more than two years at the Brownsville Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church in Pensacola, Florida. (singing in background)
STEVE HILL: Come on! Hurry! Hurry!
STEVE HILL: A lot of Americans profess to be Christians, but they're not living the life. And so they walk in this sanctuary, they hear the gospel. It's strong. We preach the same gospel Jesus preached. We preach the same gospel Paul, John the Baptist preached, to get the sin out of your life, get right with God, get holy, clean your act up. And people come by the thousands to hear that.
RICHARD OSTLING: In fact, the cumulative attendance at the meetings has reached 1.7 million. That makes Brownsville one of the biggest and longest running local church revivals in American history, and the movement is spreading nationwide. Long part of the American scene, revival meetings summon people to renew their commitment to Jesus, or to begin a new life of faith. People from across the country come to Pensacola, lining up by the hundreds hours in advance to attend the services. And many leave testifying to the revivals life-changing effects. Patrick Waters was a bouncer in a local bar and a drug dealer when he visited last year. He says his experience of the Holy Spirit at the service turned his life around.
PATRICK WATERS: I never went back to the bars. I never called any of my old drug suppliers from Texas, none of my old clients. And I just walked away from it. I left it.
RICHARD OSTLING: He now works part-time in Brownsville's television studio while studying for the ministry.
PATRICK WATERS: I've never been happier. You know, everything I have now God has given to me. The job that I have, going to school, the friends that I have, I mean, I have friends, true friends, not people that like me because I have drugs, or like me because I have a pocketful of money.
RICHARD OSTLING: Such testimonies of new life at the Friday night baptism services are often emotional and dramatic.
MAN: For all you men out there who have anger, the Lord will take it away from you. I had the anger of where I would get mad at people driving and stop on the side of the road and block them and try to beat them up. If they would not let me in or something like that, I mean, I had anger, and God has been working on that about six months now, and he's taken it, and--(applause)
WOMAN: (screaming) Oh, Father, God, I'm so tired of being a defeated Christian. I'm tired of wallowing and standing and being defeated. God, I go under this water a slave, and I'm comin' up a warrior for you, God! (applause)
LITTLE GIRL: (crying) I just wanted something in my life, and I tried to fill it--I tried to get--to be popular and with friends, anything I could. But now my heart is filled with God. Praise the Lord! (applause)
RICHARD OSTLING: The stories of converts may be inspiring, but it's scenes like this that draw attention and criticism. Many twitch and shake uncontrollably during the services. And at the end of every meeting, when Hill and others pray for people to be anointed by the Holy Spirit, many drop to the floor. They call this being slain in the spirit, or falling under the power. Such unusual physical and emotional experiences are not new. They've been part of revival meetings since frontier days, when people would shake, fall to the ground, even make animal noises. And early in the 20th century they became part of the newly emerging Pentecostal churches, which emphasized being filled with the Holy Spirit and the experience of speaking in unknown tongues. Congregations known as charismatic arose later on and introduced such experiences beyond the Pentecostal denominations. But at Brownsville, extravagant physical manifestations are a nightly mass phenomenon. The current outpouring dates from 1994, when a St. Louis preacher--touched by such anointing prayers--took the experience to a church in Toronto. Worshipers there fell under the power, leading to years of nightly meetings. It was called the Toronto blessing and spread to England, where Steve Hill says he was anointed just before coming to Pensacola.
STEVE HILL: Get deeper. Get deeper.
RICHARD OSTLING: Hill was Brownsville's guest preacher on Father's Day of 1995. He concluded by asking everyone to come and be anointed by the Holy Spirit. As he touched people in the crowd many fell. The church's own pastor, John Kilpatrick, was among them.
JOHN KILPATRICK, Pastor, Assembly of God: We'd been praying for revival for two and a half years, and then God just showed up at the end of the service. And when I turned, it just came in like a rushin' mighty wind. And it came in about sock level from behind my legs, and it felt just like a wind and my ankles slipped. And from there, here we are, almost three years later.
RICHARD OSTLING: Since then, the Pensacola phenomenon has spread to congregations in many states. Sociologist Margaret Poloma thinks people are open to movements like Pensacola because American religion has become too intellectual and emotionally drive.
MARGARET POLOMA, Sociologist: I think churches are not providing what many people are seeking, and that is more of a spirituality and something that they can actually--where they can be experiencing God, connecting with Him. And that's what Brownsville is offering. And I think that what is happening now is that the belief is being put into a larger, more human perspective that allows room for physical manifestations, certainly the emotions, as well as the thoughts. Very often religion has been danced out; it's not been thought out.
HANK HANEGRAAFF, Evangelical Broadcaster: (radio show) We're coming to you live from Southern California. Welcome to today's edition of the Bible Answer Man broadcast. I'm your host--
RICHARD OSTLING: Evangelical broadcaster Hank Hanegraaff leads the Christian Research Institute, which attacks groups it considers cults. Hanegraaff favors emotion in religion but says that jerking and falling into trances have nothing to do with biblical teaching. He spoke with producer Kate Olson.
HANK HANEGRAAFF: If you go down to Pensacola, you will see that they prime people for an experience. At the very beginning of the meetings, they'll start telling people, later on the Holy Spirit will fall, and when He does, people will begin to shake; some will begin to jerk; and people are now expecting the mysterious. And when it happens, it is part of the suggestion that they have been seduced by--yet, they have forgotten about the suggestion. They just know that they've had an experience. I'm not doubting that the experience is real. But I'm saying that the basis of the experience is not the Holy Spirit. The basis of the experience is the principle of socio-psychological manipulation.
RICHARD OSTLING: But Brownsville Pastor Kilpatrick says revivals should be judged by the results.
JOHN KILPATRICK: When people come in and they're messed up, they're really messed up. It takes the power of God to set those people free. And when the power of God touches you, there's going to be some kind of reaction. But people that like church sedate and quiet and real, you know, like I said, Home and Gardens neat and tidy, they're not going to like that kind of revival. And so it's easy to look on at something like this that's happening and find fault with it and call it mind manipulation or emotionalism, and that kind of thing. But I've been here, friend, and it's real. Trust me, it's real.
RICHARD OSTLING: Brownsville has inspired a new dynamism in a neighboring mainline congregation, the Pine Forest United Methodist Church. The Methodist youth group had been praying for revival, and after visiting Hill's meetings, they introduced the Brownsville experience in their own church. Young people have especially been touched by the revival. Linda Smith is Pine Forest's Youth Director.
LINDA SMITH, Youth Director, Pine Forest United Methodist Church: The most dramatic changes have been one of wishing that they were different, wishing that they knew God, to knowing God, being tremendously changed almost overnight, being physically changed. We can see a difference in their appearance, their behavior, their lifestyle. Their language has changed dramatically. I believe that this generation has experienced so much in trying to survive and overcome that there is nothing that the world can offer them that could outweigh the priceless treasure that they will find in Jesus Christ.
RICHARD OSTLING: Whatever the immediate benefits, sociologist Poloma, who worships at a charismatic church, is concerned about what happens to converts after emotions wane.
MARGARET POLOMA: These experiences don't last. There is going to be a coming down from the mountain, so to speak, or in John of the Cross terms a dark night of the soul. And who's going to help see the people through that? Charismatics have not had a good history of that, nor many Pentecostals. Essentially what happens to Charismatics and Pentecostals, when they come down from the mountain, they get the blues, you know, the post-charismatic, post-Pentecostal blues. And is that going to happen with this revival, or will people be able to go deeper in a kind of spiritual walk? I'm not sure.
STEVE HILL: (service) What's going on in this place is very biblical. We're praising Him with the instruments. We're clapping to the Lord! We're--
RICHARD OSTLING: For the moment, the new religious enthusiasms are spreading. They may fade in time and may never convince the conventional church life familiar to most believers. (music in background) But many Americans seem to be looking for a more intense experience of God and are drawn to exuberant worship that unites the body and the soul. (music in background)