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May 31, 1975 - Image 7

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1975-05-31

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Saturday, May 31, 1975

THEN ICHIGAN DAILY

Page Seven

Saturday, May 31, 1 9'75 THEMICHIGAN DAILY Page Seven

Photogra phy
by
KSteve Kagan
seated to either side of him join in, each impro-
vising:
"Lord, we love you and bless you. Praise you, Lord.
Praise you, Lord. Jesus, our redeemer, pour your
spirit out more fully into all of us. . ."
The words are spontaneous, nothing is read, though
everybody seems to fall back on a few old standby
phrases. The beat picks up, as does the volume. With-
out warning, from any side, syllables begin to disinte-
grate, intonations take on a roller coaster quality, and
the dialogue assumes the sound of a taped political
speech being played in fast reverse.
Though Word of God members try to downplay its
significance and emphasize the other prayer and serv-
ice activities of the community, prayer in tongues is
the emotional mainstay of the group and the larger
charsmatic renewal movemen which started in the
mid-sixties. Manifestation of spiritual energy, a tem-
porary escape from the human order, "Tongues"
stands as the most formidable barrier between Word
of God and the traditional churches of the area.
Church leaders have generally expressed an atti-
tlude of reserved tolerance toward the WOG commun-
ity. St. Thomas Parish, many of whose Catholic mem-
bers belong to Word of God, offers the community
the use of its facilities each week. Some local clergy-
men are active members of the community. Several
others are sympathetic to its goals.
The most outspoken critic of the Word of God among
local clergymen has been Dr. Raymond Saxbe of the
Grace Bible Church, head of a biblically fundamental-
istic congregation of 1,000.
"We believe that the Bible is the one. complete
and final revelation of God," Saxbe explains. Tongue-
speaking is probably the most serious error to have
crept into Christianity since the First Century. In
some ways it is diabolical, or inspired by' Satan.
You have tongue-speaking in many pagan groups."
The Word of God Community believes that the words
and utterances spoken at their meeting and in private
prayer, far from being inspired by the devil, are ac-
tually fostered and inspired by God, or the Holy
Spirit. It is not unusual for one of the members,
engrossed in the tongues phenomenon, to break into
song, riding an intricate melody and throwing forth
disjointed syllables all the while. When the song is
completed, he or she will sing it once more, this
time in English, supposedly translating the message
God has just transmitted.
Tongue-speaking isn't the only unusual feature of a
Word of God gathering. Members will often stand be-
fore the assembled mass and offer an example of how
God has manifested himself in their lives. At a Thurs-
day meeting a few weeks ago, a teenage girl stood
before the crowd and described how God had sustained
her when she had to revive a small boy who nearly
drowned in the bottom of a pool she was guarding.

Community leaders or heads are leary of sharings
which they suspect are aimed at heaping more praise
on the speaker than on the Lord. But the young woman
followed the prescribed format, reliving her heroics,
then adding that it was indeed a wonderful experience
because it showed her just how much God was work-
ing in her life, and how he had touched the life of
the boy she had saved and his family. As she re-
linquished the microphone to return to her seat, the
audience gave her a healthy round of applause.
Prophecy is another highlight of community gather-
ings. Only select members of the group, or proven
prophets are allowed to stand before the crowd and
render God's message, complete with first person
point of view.
"The love that I have for you is more than you could
ever imagine; more than you could ever give up ..."
At a typical meeting three or four prophecies will
take place; on rare occasions, as many as ten.
Usually matters proceed without a hitch. But
sometimes people get carried away in the highly charg-
ed atmosphere. Bob Rodriguez recalls a meeting in
which a "visitor stood up and gave a prophecy that

Dr. David Freedman, director of the University's
teligious Studies Program, prefers to put the Word
f God experience in a less mystical setting. "I think
on have to look at this thing in terms of meeting psy-
hological needs, countering disillusionment with sci-
nce and technology. If you wonder about the suc-
ess of totalitarianism in the world, this has a certain
ffinity for it."
The odd aura surrounding Word of God's experi-
ntial, fundamentalist approach to worship and prayer
compounded by its presence in Ann Arbor rather than
ome backwoods hamlet. For many, the contradiction
etween the bible-toting prayer group and its cosmo-
olitan setting is immediately obvious and compelling.
onfronted with this notion, O'mara pretends to jokingly
ispel it. "We had a woman member who once sug-
ested that since SDS started here and Word of God
tarted here, Ann Arbor had to be the spiritual center
T the universe."
Religious scholar Freedman discounts the notion
I a basic contrast between Word of God and the larg-
r Ann Arbor community. "This is a Midwest Uni-
ersity," he explains. "There's hardly a university
orker or faculty member who isn't a first or second
eneration churchman."
The opening songs completed, the beat is maintained,
ie energy sustained by diffuse-handclapping, b o d y
taking, arm-waving. The visitor takes it all in, then
>tices a barely audible muttering rising from the other
e of the room. The sound draws closer, points of ori-
n multiply, and parts become inteligable as those

was totally off the wall. He started to prophecy and
he wouldn't stop. Everybody stood up and started
speaking in tongues and he broke down and cried .. .
Somehow, everybody got the same cue."
Word of God is still a neophyte by the standards of
most Christian groups, and its not surprising that
some spiritual conflicts are being resolved at the seat-
of-the-pants level.
Rodriguez acknowledges that the woman who im-
plored an unnamed visitor to open his heart to the
Lord, may have said it not so much out of divine in-
spiration but because she knew that some man in the
crowd probably fit her description. But, he adds, "Even
if it were contrived on her part, if somebody converts,
we would be happy. It wouldn't make the conversion
any less real.
any less real. Christians believe God can draw good
from evil."
Though there may still be some kinks in' the com-
munity spiritual armor, one thing is certain. Down
to the last man, woman, and child, they are totally
committed to broadening their ranks. For Word of
God members belonging to the community is not so
much a lifestyle as it is life itself. Defertial accept-
ance of contemporary social custom is an unaccept-
able alternative to absolute commitment to God and
community. Bob Rodriguez foresees a day when all of
Washtenaw County will belong to Word of God.
Bob Newenowski, a two-year community regular, is
not certain of his future career, like many of his fel-
low members. Yet he remains pledged to stay in Ann
Aromor indefinitely. "The Lord wants me to be here,"
he professes. "I'll stay here as long as he does."
Dr. Freedman of the religious studies program be-
lieves the otlook for Word of God may not be as
bright as its members - would have one think. He
characterizes them as a "vital, experimental relig-
ious group, a type which, he says, "tends to have a
difficult time retaining its second generation.
"But," Freedman counters, "they have set up a
pyramid structure, and they may well enter academ-
ics."
Freedman hypothesizes that the first generation of
an emotioval group will show hostility to scholarship,
a liability of which several church officials have ac-
cused Word of God. However, if the second generation
starts training their own scolars, he continues, by the
third and fourth they are no longer apologetic about
their beliefs; they go establishment. Will Word of
God follow such a course? "If they last that long," he
concludes.
Paul Haskins is The Daily's Editorial Director.

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