Trump considers judge to replace Ginsburg
People of Praise, a self-described charismatic Christian community, faces renewed interest since US President Donald Trump put one of its purported members, judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, on his shortlist of candidates for elevation to the Supreme Court.
The group describes itself as an ultraconservative group with a mixture of Roman Catholic and Pentecostal traditions. Until 2018, it used the term 'handmaid' for its female leaders.
The group has declined to confirm or deny whether Barrett is a member since a New York Times article in 2017 said she was in the group.
The group's spokesperson, Sean Connolly, said women were not considered subservient in People of Praise and that many held leadership roles, such as directing schools and ministries.
Trump has said he planned to nominate a Supreme Court justice this week to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday. He said he was considering Barrett as well as Barbara Lagoa of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
People of Praise has about 1,700 members in 22 cities in the US, Canada and the Caribbean, according to its website, and was founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana.
“We admire the first Christians who were led by the Holy Spirit to form a community,” the website says, tracing its origins to the late 1960s when students and faculty at Notre Dame University experienced “a renewal of Christian enthusiasm and fervour, together with charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues and physical healing”.
Its most devoted members make a lifelong commitment to the group, known as a covenant.
From 1970, women with leadership roles in the organisation were called handmaids, but that changed following the popular television series The Handmaid's Tale, based on a 1985 book by Margaret Atwood. The dystopian story is set in a future US where the rules of the male-dominated society are based on the leaders' twisted interpretation of Old Testament scriptures.
“Recognising that the meaning of this term has shifted dramatically in our culture in recent years, we no longer use the term handmaid,” the group said in 2018, without specifically attributing the change to the show.
Coral Anika Theill, a former People of Praise member, has been strongly critical of the group, calling it a cult and saying women were expected to be completely obedient to men and independent thinkers are “humiliated, interrogated, shamed and shunned”.
Theill, who last year wrote a blog post entitled “I lived the Handmaid's Tale,” said she planned to call every US senator to oppose Barrett should she become Trump's nominee.
Reuters could not independently verify her account. When asked about Theill's allegations, People of Praise spokesperson Connolly said the group followed Christian teachings that “men and women share a fundamental equality as bearers of God's image”.
“We value independent thinking,” Connolly said.
Thomas Csordas, a scholar of comparative religion at the University of California, San Diego, said People of Praise was very conservative but that he would not consider it a cult, adding that some of the charismatic Christian communities he had researched were more authoritarian than People of Praise.
In popular culture, the word cult can connote brainwashing and authoritarianism, he said.
“My position to the press was that People of Praise is best described not as a cult but as a religiously-based 'intentional community,'" Csordas said in an e-mail.
“When I first encountered Atwood's book, I was frankly jolted by the similarity of terminology to that prevalent in some of the Catholic charismatic 'covenant communities' I had been studying,” Csordas wrote in a 1996 paper called 'A Handmaid's Tale,' without specifically referencing People of Praise. — Reuters
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