People of Praise, Amy Coney Barrett’s alleged religious group: what is it?

Amy Coney Barrett, now a judge on the 7and United States Circuit Court of Appeals, emerged as a heroic figure for some religious conservatives during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall. Senator Dianne Feinstein challenged the Catholic law professor about her religious beliefs, sneering – it seemed to many – that “dogma lives loudly inside you”. With its strong odor of anti-Catholic prejudice, the line has become a rallying cry on the right.

Last weekend, Barrett emerged as a potential favorite to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy when he retires later this month. CBS News reported Monday that Barrett and DC Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh were Trump’s top contenders for the nomination. Barrett is in her 40s, which means she could serve for decades, and she would be the only conservative woman on the court, which some commentators say would improve the optics in abortion cases. (She is also the mother of seven children, including a child with special needs and two children adopted from Haiti.)

Thanks to his newfound closeness to power, the dark whispers about Barrett’s religious affiliations have been rekindled. Many critics are particularly infuriated by his apparent membership in an adjacent Catholic group called “People of Praise,” which The New York Times reported on last fall. Law professor and Senate candidate Richard Painter tweeted the old Times story over the weekend and told People of Praise “looks like a cult”; another prominent reviewer outdid Painter by calling it a “secret religious cult.”

Thanks to his newfound closeness to power, dark whispers about Barrett’s religious affiliations have been revived.

The Times story does not use the word worship, but it’s easy to see why some of its details alarmed many readers. Members of People of Praise are said to be answerable to a same-sex advisor, referred to as a “chief” for men and (until recently) a “maid” for women, who advises on a wide variety of personal decisions. . They swear “a lifetime loyalty oath” to the group. As one blogger put it, “Barrett is a dangerous religious extremist who believes a federal judge can overturn the US Constitution and US laws to further her own religious agenda.” Knowing Barrett’s fiercely conservative legal credentials – a cleric to fellow Catholic Antonin Scalia, a member of the Federalist Society – what are we to think of his alleged membership in such a group?

People of Praise was founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, with a core of 29 people. The group is part of the Catholic movement “Charismatic Renewal”, which was born in the late 1960s as a mixture of Catholic traditions and Protestant Pentecostalism. By the late 1980s, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, as many as 10 million people in the United States were involved in the movement in one way or another. Some simply participated in prayer groups. But others created groups that emphasized a more holistic form of intentional community living: not necessarily living under the same roof, but committing to sharing the lives of others. “Were not correct by praying together, we bring our lives together,” Craig Lent, the group’s current leader, said in an interview.

The original South Bend group now comprises approximately 350 members, divided into several smaller “branches”. About 450 people belong to People of Praise in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, about 200 in Northern Virginia, and other smaller groups operate in 11 other states. The group also operates three Christian middle and high schools in its three largest areas. (Lent pointed out that the schools teach the theory of evolution.) Lent says its members include Catholic priests and at least one bishop, as well as plumbers, carpenters, teachers and mathematicians. Lent himself is a professor of physics and engineering at Notre Dame, where Barrett taught law school until last year.

Is it a “sect” with disturbing metastases or a flourishing para-ecclesiastical organization? “I certainly wouldn’t use the term worship in its popular sense,” said Thomas Csordas, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, who has written about People of Praise and similar groups. For one thing, it’s not very secretive other than keeping its membership list private. It has a detailed website, and Carême, its current leader – who was elected by a board of directors and has a limited term – happily accepted an interview. Csordas describes the group as theologically conservative, with a hierarchical leadership structure. But Carême said the band was also deeply inspired by the communal ethos of the 1960s counterculture. Band members often make the effort to live close to each other in certain neighborhoods. Single people sometimes live with families, and there are households of single men or women living together. Members pledge to donate 5% of their gross income, and many donate more, with the idea of ​​supporting other members.

After about six years of participation, members can choose to make a commitment to live in the community permanently, a ceremony that involves pledging to attend weekly meetings and, as Lent paraphrased, “to care each other physically, financially, materially and spiritually”. .” The term servant was cast in 1971, 14 years before Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale to evoke the biblical Mary’s description of herself as a “handmaid of the Lord”, or a woman who has an important relationship with God. “It acquired worse resonances, and all we were looking for was a neutral term,” Carême said, explaining the recent change to “woman leader.”

People of Praise is an ecumenical group, which means it accepts members from many Christian traditions. The only theological requirement for membership is to be a baptized Christian and to believe in the Nicene Creed, a standard Christian statement of faith. Carême said the group views abortion as a “morally wrong act” but takes no position on abortion policy, likening it to how greed is morally wrong, but what it should mean for politics. depends on individual discernment. Lent seemed perplexed by the national scrutiny the group has drawn lately. “In a way, it’s not really about us,” he said, “although I owe the members a good account if anyone asks me what this band is about.” An introductory essay on the band’s website sums it up as “difficult to understand and that’s fine”.

When I mentioned Barrett’s potential Supreme Court nomination to Csordas, he corrected me, saying she was just a circuit court judge. Yeah, I said, but they say she’s up for the highest court in the land. “I see,” he said. He hadn’t heard. He stopped for a long time. There’s always the possibility, he said, that “the thoughtfulness and awareness of this community could provide a drag on getting it under control, in a way that Alito and Thomas don’t. They are just there by themselves. And either way, he said, “She couldn’t be worse than the guys over there now.”