'It instilled such problems': ex-member of Amy Coney Barrett's faith group speaks out
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Rebekah Powers was eleven years old when members of her faith group, People of Praise, gathered as she sat in a chair and put her hands on her to pray. Powers' sister had shown a gift of speaking in tongues, a characteristic of the followers of the small charismatic Christian community, and Rebekah was expected to do the same.
Related: McConnell meets Guardian and other media outlets over Amy Coney Barrett's control
But after what seemed like an eternity, it was unable to produce a sound.
"I couldn't get it, and I stayed there for an hour and a half before they gave up and finally said," You just got one block. You just have to work on your sin and be more open, ”she said.
The 41-year-old had a rebellious spirit and left People of Praise when she turned 18. It took decades of therapy and hard work to overcome the intense feelings of shame and fear of damnation that she said marked her childhood. The Christian faith group based in South Bend, Indiana, dominated every aspect of their early life, she said.
Next week, Amy Coney Barrett, a Conservative appeals judge who is a prominent member of the 1,700-strong People of Praise, will sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask questions about her legal philosophy as part of her controversial confirmation of the Supreme Court seat. A successful appointment to replace the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg will cement a conservative dominance of the powerful body.
Democrats have previously stated that neither Barrett's Catholic faith nor her membership of the People of Praise - which has never been publicly discussed or disclosed, but examined in press reports - will be brought up in their interview with the candidate.
Amy Coney Barrett attends a meeting with Mitch McConnell at the US Capitol to prepare for her confirmation hearing. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool / Getty Images
Nonetheless, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who plans to confirm Barrett before the end of October, said media reports and some Senatorial remarks on a newly discovered public statement by Barrett against Roe v Wade were "nasty attacks". on faith. He said they risked a return to "the tropics of the 1960s" when some anti-Catholic bigots feared John F. Kennedy was acting in the interests of the Pope instead of the US.
"Our coastal elites are so far removed from their own land that they treat religious Americans like strange animals in a menagerie," McConnell said in a statement.
But Powers, one of the few former People of Praise members who reached out to the Guardian to describe their difficult group experiences (using their married name), and some religious scholars who have studied charismatic Christian communities, say "Barrett's membership is in. One particular religious group raises legitimate questions. They want to examine how views that are essential to the group's core beliefs, from the treatment of women to the separation of church and state, could influence them. They are also different from most Catholic faiths.
In the bi-weekly, hour-long meetings that marked Powers' childhood, intense prayers and discussions centered on obedience and driving away sin. Powers, who does not know Barrett, has frequently witnessed people speaking in tongues and frantically appeals to drive away evil spirits, episodes that usually led to exorcisms.
The brainwashing and the groupthink, the female submission ... it was so derogatory
In the group's strict hierarchy, Powers' parents were often asked to take other members into their home, even though their own family used grocery stamps to get through. As a child and teenager, Powers' father served as their spiritual "head" and worked in several professions, including giving free solicitation to tend the community lawns.
Married women like Barrett count their husbands as "heads".
“We were Catholic, but Catholicism was on the side. Our lives, all of our friends, all of the random people who lived in our household were the [people of praise] fellowship. It was God, ”she said. “The brainwashing and the groupthink, the female submission, to be there to serve and listen to your spiritual head. It was so pejorative. For me it caused such problems. "
Powers's experience is in line with a manual entitled The Spirit and Purpose of the People of Praise received from the Guardian, which affirms that those who wish to join the group are prayed for the release of "charismatic gifts." In particular speaking in tongues and the gift of "prophecy". It also says: "Obedience to authority and submission to the head are active responses to the gifts of God."
Although Barrett did not raise the issue, there is evidence that the former Notre Dame law professor acted as a trustee for a school affiliated with the group. lived in the apartment of a prominent co-founder when she was studying law; and announced the birth of their children in People of Praise magazine, which removed references to Barrett and her family since joining the Bundesbank in 2017.
The Washington Post reported this week that Barrett was still serving as a "maid," a leadership position for women in the community, according to a directory.
Barrett's father, Mike Coney, who held a leadership position in the People of Praise, described his own decision to join the group in a 2018 testimonial at his Catholic Church and described how he had initially involuntarily attended a charismatic seminar as a young man. “When a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit was prayed for, nothing happened. Later that night, I started speaking in tongues. More importantly, I had an insatiable appetite for reading scriptures and spiritual books, ”he wrote.
Barrett and Mike Pence arrive at the US Capitol. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool / Getty Images
Thomas Csordas, an anthropology professor at the University of California at San Diego who has worked on issues surrounding communities such as the People of Praise, said it was wrong to draw attention to whether the group is considered to be " Kult “can be viewed as a folk temple. It was far more appropriate to examine what he called the "intentional community" of the people of praise and how it was "conservative, authoritarian, hierarchical and patriarchal".
"I think they are potentially more dangerous and a lot more sophisticated [than a cult]," he said. “It's not the kind of group where submission of women to men means they have to stay barefoot and pregnant. Instead, they must be lawyers and judges while submitting to men. You need to be able to develop a career and have seven children at the same time. "
Csordas said Barrett's biography revealed that she was not a "pointless follower" of any cult but part of the elite of the deliberate federal charismatic community, reflecting her former status as a maid trustee of the school and her father's leadership role.
Related: Revealed: Amy Coney Barrett lived in the home of the co-founder of the secret Christian group
“Unlike a situation where people might be concerned, her husband might tell her what to think or say. To be so far in the community means no, she will teach other people. “She already“ knows ”what to think because of the patriarchal structure she grew up in, which reflects conservative Catholic views and the views of her legal mentor, Antonin Scalia.
Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at Villanova University, said that even if senators refused to question Barrett about their beliefs, the issues deserve to be covered in other forums because groups like People of Praise have a secular view of separation reject between church and state.
"I don't think we should bring their Catholicism to justice, but the Catholic-Conservative right-wing movement is bringing liberalism to justice. They want to change a certain understanding of the liberal order of individual rights, and that comes from the religious worldview of Catholic groups", he said.
"Maybe not in the Senate, but in the public square."
A People of Praise spokesman said it was inappropriate to talk about Barrett. He also said the organization is an ecumenical community that seeks to enable men and women with "a wide variety of political and religious views" to live together harmoniously.
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