The Village Voice raises some fair questions about why officials from the Bush administration are discussing foreign policy with what the Voice calls “apocalyptic Christians,” but it could do a better job of understanding basic theological categories. Reporter Rick Perlstein writes in an urgent tone about the Apostolic Congress, which represents members of the United Pentecostal Church. (R.G. Upton, pictured with the Bushes and his wife, leads the Washington lobby.)
Perlstein’s penultimate graph gives the piece more nuance than the typical protests about believers’ involvement in political discussions: “The problem is not that George W. Bush is discussing policy with people who press right-wing solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East, or with devout Christians. It is that he is discussing policy with Christians who might not care about peace at all — at least until the rapture.”
Perlstein has a good eye for snappy, sometimes humorous quotes. Here is Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, describing the apocalypse: “Whoever is right will rejoice, and whoever was wrong will say, ‘Whoops!’”
Perlstein grasps that the people he’s writing about baptize only in the name of Jesus. What he seems to miss is that United Pentecostals baptize this way because they reject the doctrine of the Trinity, as is clear in this Q&A from the United Pentecostal Church International. The most outspoken believers in Oneness Pentecostalism, as it’s often called, condemn Trinitarian beliefs as polytheism.
This knowledge gap becomes most evident when he questions why the Apostolic Congress describes itself as the Christian voice in Washington. One clear answer is that United Pentecostals consider themselves the real Christians. But Perlstein follows up well on Upton’s most candid remark in the story:
When Pastor Upton was asked to explain why the group’s website describes the Apostolic Congress as “the Christian Voice in the nation’s capital,” instead of simply a Christian voice in the nation’s capital, he responded, “There has been a real lack of leadership in having someone emerge as a Christian voice, someone who doesn’t speak for the right, someone who doesn’t speak for the left, but someone who speaks for the people, and someone who speaks from a theocratical perspective.”
When his words were repeated back to him to make sure he had said a “theocratical” perspective, not a “theological” perspective, he said, “Exactly. Exactly. We want to know what God would have us say or what God would have us do in every issue.”
What Perlstein fails to highlight is the small constituency of the Apostolic Congress — compared, for instance, to the National Association of Evangelicals or the more liberal Washington offices of the United Methodist Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Perlstein was savvy enough to find Donald E. Wagner, an evangelical critic of Christian Zionism. Inexplicably, though, he writes that Wagner “rails on” while quoting him as reinforcing Perlstein’s concerns. It seems that many people who speak with Perlstein show similar levels of passion: they bark, respond curtly, boast and snap. When Perlstein calls, watch your tone.
If Voice editors think a few representatives of the United Pentecostal Church are a crucial factor in Bush’s Mideast policy, they are overly anxious about a church with just over 1 million domestic members.