Those who know Pentecostal history well, know it began 110 years ago in Los Angeles and was called the Azusa Street Revival. The impact of the Pentecostal movement on Christianity was tantamount to that of the reformation in the 16th century. From very, very humble beginnings in 1906, today one out of every four Christians worldwide would identify as Pentecostal or Charismatic.
The Azusa Street Revival embraced diversity
Not only was it a remarkable move of the Spirit it was ground breaking in its embracing of diversity. In a world where people were divided racially, economically and culturally, men, women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate and educated came together in the hall in Azusa Street. The intermingling of races and the group’s encouragement of women in leadership was quite remarkable. Remarkable, as was the first outpouring of the Spirit on male and female disciples and later on non-Jews (Gentiles) recorded in the New Testament.
Whilst the church might be resistant, the Spirit has a way of breaking down barriers and creating equality.
The Azusa Street Revival began in 1906, during the “Jim Crow” era of racial segregation. The Jim Crow laws mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, employment and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. There was no segregation at Azusa Street. Black and white were equals.
At Azusa Street women were allowed to preach and accepted as equal, fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in the United States.
Pentecostalism was a radical movement frowned upon by many mainstream Christians who prophesied its demise as sensationalist apostasy.
The Jesus Revolution
Another remarkable movement was the Jesus Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s which began on the west coast of California. Time magazine’s front page article in 1971 reported that 1,000’s of hippies and young people were becoming Christians. The Pentecostal/Evangelical church and culture, at that time, was incapable of relating to, let alone reaching out to the youth of the day. It was a movement where God demonstrated His Spirit would not be imprisoned within church walls or barriers of religiosity and tradition. The movement, initially outside the walls of Church, was eventually embraced and contributed to the growth of the mega-churches, entire denominations and birthed contemporary Christian music.
The Rainbow Revival
For many decades, and still in some parts of Christianity, the words ‘gay’ and ‘Christian’ were contradictory and the term ‘gay Christian’ an oxymoron.
Globally the church has been grappling with the issue of homosexuality, welcoming LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people into congregations, understanding their relationships and their place in the church. Some are just beginning the journey. Others remain resistant as did religious people with the Azusa Street Revival and the Jesus Revolution.
Today we are seeing what has been called the Rainbow Revival. In many ways the Rainbow Revival is not unlike the Jesus Revolution and the Azusa Street Revival.
The Gay Christian movement was birthed in a lounge room, also in Los Angeles, in 1968, when the Rev Troy Perry, a defrocked Pentecostal minister, held the first meeting of what would become the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). So many though were unable to attend an MCC but the internet provided the vehicle for many gay Christians to connect, share experiences and not feel so isolated. The gay Christian movement functioned mostly outside traditional Christianity and was viewed by the majority of the Christian world as apostates and heretics.
Today there 100,000’s of Gay Christians who have reconciled their faith and their sexuality and multitudes of straight Christians who have shifted in attitude and understanding. Initially MCC was known as the ‘gay church’; a place where gay and lesbian believers, who’d been rejected by churches, friends and families could find safety and refuge. But the landscape has changed significantly. There are now many new independent churches, although pastored by gay men and lesbians, have become inclusive of all humanity regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Knowing firsthand what judgement and condemnation is like they have often they have lead the way to demonstrate what acceptance, non-judgement and grace looks like. They are churches where the sign all welcome, actually means ALL welcome.
The number of mainstream churches and denominations who welcome and affirm LGBT people has been growing exponentially and over the last four decades expanded to over 7,000 churches covering over 90 different denominations across 46 countries, as far as we know
When I wrote the article Why Australian Pentecostals Will Embrace Gay & Lesbian People in 2009 things were just beginning to happen here in Australia and Bayside Church’s pastor, Rob Buckingham preached his historic sermon Real Christianity is Accepting. While we wait for churches to boldly take a more public stand, I have had numerous conversations with Pastors and church leaders who are open. Some have fully accepted LGBT people into their churches, who are in long-term monogamous relationships, they are serving in the church, the congregation has accepted them…….but they are not public about it at this stage because of the backlash they will receive denominationally.
Can you imagine what it is going to be like for gay young people of the future growing up in Churches, and they won’t be told it’s a lifestyle choice, an abomination, have demons cast out of them or spend torturous, wasted years in programs attempting to change them. I imagine it all the time. I have a dream.
Unlike the experience of so many of us they will be able to grow up in a loving and accepting environment and thrive as individuals in their lives and faith. No depression, not rejected by Christian friends and family or have to deal with mental health issues, self-loathing or thoughts of ending their lives because they are gay or transgender.
I often wonder, if powerful movements like the Azusa Street Revival and the Jesus Revolution were happening today then we wouldn’t have needed the Rainbow Revival and could have bypassed all the angst, struggle and suicides.
Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International assists Churches, Christian organisations and leaders to create safe spaces that assist them on the journey to be welcoming, accepting and affirming.
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Those who know Pentecostal history even better, know it really began 5 years earlier than that in Topeka, Kansas, and was known as the Topeka Outpouring. And it was a woman who kicked it off.
Azusa Street was kicked off by the African Americans.
I visited both Topeka and Azusa Street in 2010.
Sadly, neither place really celebrates the amazing global movements that have spread from their humble birthplaces.
It made me wonder “Why?”
I think it’s because in the beginning of a thing, even a radical thing, it looks so small and personal, that it’s easy to overlook.
Obviously, now that one in four Christians are part of the pentecostal movement, it seems mainstream.
Don’t give up Tony – you are truly changing the world!
yep….you are right …although Azusa Street seems to get more cred as it took off more than Topeka. Probably because it was more densely populated in LA. And that while outpourings may have happened in the US there were also spontaneous outpourings in different parts of the world including Australia.
I guess this whole Topeka/Azusa street thing is similar to the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Most people think that was the beginning of the gay rights movement but there are numerous instances of similar things happening in other cities before 1969.
PS…thanks for your encouragement
“With the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival, we should also remember the anniversary of the day when the church once again discovered the baptism in the Holy Spirit — New Year’s Day, 1901.”
Hey that’s a really cool article – thanks for sharing.
I love the name Miss Nettie Moomau and I’d never heard of her epic achievements before … maybe I don’t know my church history as much as I thought I did!
P.S. Is it just me or does “Miss Nettie Moomau” sound a bit like a Mardi Gras float? -)
hehe…..if not a Mardi Gras float……….it would make a great drag name….lol
Troy Perry started the church the year I was born 43 years later he was in church the day I was Baptized and prayed over my babtizmal cloth. #samefire he was still a flame with that same fire of Pentecost. #GodsloveandSpirit never dies.