Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pentecostals lack basic hygiene. Discuss.

I came across an intriguing statement by the Episcopalian priest Morton T Kelsey. In his 1973 book Healing and Christianity, he wrote that "Pentecostal churches [have] orgiastic practices and disregard for the laws of hygiene."

I am not sure if he was simply paraphrasing the author (the interestingly named Dr Wade Boggs) he was discussing at the time, and assumed we would know that, or if it was his own opinion. Either way, I'm not sure what it means. "Orgiastic" is easy enough to read as a reference to the perceived chaotic, uncontrolled, emotional style of Pentecostal worship. But is that actually an accusation that Pentecostals are unhygienic? Here is the whole paragraph, putting the sentence in context:
Dr. Boggs points up the fact that in recent years most of the emphasis on religious healing has come from fringe groups about which there is reason to be skeptical. Christian Science (and Mrs. Eddy is certainly a controversial figure) is one example. New Thought with its dubious ancestry in the theory and practice of animal magnetism is another. The Pentecostal churches with their orgiastic practices and disregard for the laws of hygiene form yet another class, and he discusses such figures as Oral Roberts, Little David, Aimee Semple McPherson, and others. The implication is that, because the ministry of healing has sometimes been associated with ridiculous practices and foolish persons, therefore that ministry is itself ridiculous.
I am both amused and bemused that in 1973 an author could apparently get away with such a statement without feeling the need to elaborate. What could Kelsey be alluding to? One can imagine such a criticism in the early days of Pentecostalism. All those people crowding together, touching and embracing and waving their handkerchiefs in the air in the heat of the Deep South - and not to mention whites mixing so casually with Negroes!

Or perhaps it was a comment on the working class origins of most Pentecostals way back when? In the context of a discussion on spiritual and religious healing, the accusation could almost read this way: How dare the Pentecostals practice faith healing while they ignore the basic principles of good health and hygiene!

I am perplexed. I suppose it's likely that our Boggs, writing in the 1950s, had those views. It's Morton T Kelsey, writing in 1973 without challenging those assumptions, that rather baffles me. Did I miss something?


  1. Sorry I cannot be serious about your post, it answers a lot of questions for me being obsessive compulsive, all people are dirty to me and I just dont like being touched or prayed for with some loud shaking bad breath evangelist who spits in my face and gives me brain shake when they lay there hands on me, thank God for anti bacterial spray. Thank God I dont go to places like that anymore.