The roots of Hobby Lobby

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                      By James M. Perry

David Green is the 72-year-old founder of Hobby Lobby, a big chain of arts and crafts stores, who argued that providing certain contraceptive devices to his 21,000 employes under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) violated his deeply held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, ruled 5 to 4 in his favor. 

Green, who is said to be worth as much as five billion dollars, is a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination with as many as 66.4 million adherents, and growing fast, especially in Africa and Asia. Mr. Green's father was an Assemblies of God preacher. 

The Pentecostal movement, rarely explained very adequately by the media, is an amazing story. 
It began in this country at the Azusa Street Revival at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles in 1906, a ramshackle building that had last been occupied by horses. The preacher was a one-eyed son of slaves named William J. Seymour. Almost from the beginning those attending his services -- black, Latino, white -- began speaking in tongues.  They are still doing it today. 

The fact that Azusa Street services were integrated, and that women had leading roles in those services, is really quite extraordinary. This, after all, was 1906, at the height of vicious Jim Crow discrimination in the United States.

A Los Angeles Times reporter covered one of Pastor Seymour's early services and was not impressed. 
Meetings, he said, "are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street, and the devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. Night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers... They claim to have the 'gift of tongues' and be able to understand the babel." 

Outsiders, of course, made fun of what was going on on Azusa Street. They began calling these people "holy rollers," "holy jumpers." and, my favorite, "tangled tonguers."  

Word spread about what was happening on Azusa Street and soon, hundreds of preachers and laymen, and then thousands, came to Los Angeles to witness these amazing holy rollers. Impressed, they went home and soon Pentecostal churches began popping up everywhere.  

Like most evangelical Christians, Pentecostals believe the Bible is God's word.  There is evidence in the Bible, they say, that faith heals sickness and cures injuries. They believe that. Most Pentecostals are eschatologically oriented, meaning they believe in the second coming of Jesus. His arrival will be preceded by "cataclysmic" events, which will be followed by a kind of rapture in which true believers will be swept away by Jesus himself. They believe, literally, in heaven and hell. 

It all began on Azusa Street 108 years ago. There are now 279 million Pentecostals worldwide. David Green is one of them.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations to  Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of the Wall St. Journal until his retirement.  Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer. 


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