Julia Duin is religion editor for the Washington Times and author of six books, including Quitting Church: Why the Faithful and Fleeing and What to Do About It. Her latest book is Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community. Julia agreed to answer some questions for me about her new book via email. I hope these provoke further discussion on the nature of community, the Charismatic movement, and the importance of story even when the telling is fraught with difficulty.
Chris Rice: I consider one of the most interesting things about your book the fact that you yourself are a charismatic Episcopal Christian and you approach the subject of this book as a member of the church itself. You came to the community not to do a story but because you were looking for what the Holy Spirit had for you. As a journalist in this position how do you feel you maintained objectivity throughout the writing process?
Julia Duin: Much of what happened at Redeemer – 2/3 of the book, in fact, happened before 1986, which is the year I arrived in Houston. So it was easy to be dispassionate about what happened during the first 22 years of this renewal simply because I was not part of the action. However, I did manage to visit all the places the community was: 3 sites in the UK and the main 2 sites in the United States. It was really helpful for me to see the island of Cumbrae and the 2 community places in southern England – one of which I unwittingly visited in 1982 years before I moved to Houston or thought of doing the book. I will say a reporter who was not also an insider would have had an impossible time doing the book. They would not have known the code words, the inside stuff – things I was privy to for several years before deciding to write the book.
CR: You say “the places the community was” but don’t you mean the places where Graham Pulkingham started ministries? I mean, in the book Church of the Redeemer and Graham Pulkingham have friction between them by the time he is starting ministries elsewhere. So these are separate entities right?
JD: Actually, Redeemer and the Community of Celebration were separate entities. Graham and the CoC were the same.
CR: Every member of a community has his or her own expectations for their lives in and among the other members and so are limited in their ability to see the whole picture. They have a particular vantage point for telling the community’s story in their own way. In telling the stories of Church of the Redeemer, Graham Pulkingham, and their place in the larger Charismatic movement how did you move from your own vantage point to seeing the bigger picture overall?
JD: I felt that Redeemer was a microcosm of what happened all over the country. Word of God in Ann Arbor and other Catholic communities (ie Mother of God in Gaithersburg, Md. and Sojourners in Washington, DC) had similar melt-downs. Being that I was covering a lot of this as a freelancer for Christianity Today at the time, I knew what was going on nationally – which I might add most people at Redeemer had no idea of, say, what Christian communities in the Pacific Northwest were doing. Well I did know stuff like that. It really helped that I had lived in this Portland community several years before so I was one of the few people at Redeemer who knew how the other half lived; how community was being done elsewhere.
CR: Were there angles to the story that you wanted to picture but were just unable for some reason?
JD: About angles, I cut out a lot of the theological critique. I thought the extra stuff was valuable but I knew the readers would not stick with me. I also knew a lot more of the sexual sin that was going on – what got mentioned in the book was the tip of the iceberg – but some stuff I was unable to prove. One person said he was going to sue me if I mentioned him. Well I did mention him but I was not able to confirm the fact he raped a 14-year-old. I know some people in Houston are really unhappy with the book but if they only knew the stuff I *didn’t* write about.
CR: You conducted most of the interviews in the early 1990s, why did the book take twenty years to get published?
JD: I went through 32 publishers before I found one that would take this book. That’s what took the 20 years. The current one was #33. The secular publishers didn’t know who Graham was nor what charismatics and pentecostals were and they sure didn’t ‘get’ the intentional community concept. Evangelical publishers were more attuned to those things, but they objected to the sexual content. One told me the book was prophetic and needed to be published; he was just afraid of lawsuits. Please. I had a good libel lawyer working with me and there has not been a problem.
CR: It sounds like the book was a largely thankless task for a long time. You knew you had an important story, but faced a lot of opposition. Did you ever feel like throwing in the towel?
JD: Believe it or not, I didn’t because of the amazing ways the story fell together. How was I do know Graham would die in such a dramatic way? That he’d spill everything in that late-night talk with me? That people like Marilyn Mazak would magically show up in Houston just when I needed her? And then she disappeared, never to be heard from again? It was clear God was arranging things so I could write the book but what was discouraging was the 15-year wait between the time I finished writing the book and got it published.
CR: In a nearly linear timeline you chronicle and describe in detail the different problems that lead to the decline of the Church of the Redeemer. At the same time you describe Graham Pulkingham’s new community ventures in Scotland and then in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. You seem to see the Community of Celebration as a failed venture and yet that community lives on today with a Benedictine Rule. Has the community been opposed to your writing this book or cold toward you personally?
JD: The community has been tremendously cold since the scandal broke in August 1992 and since then has refused to work with me re the book. They blamed me for exposing Graham. I sent Bill Farra a registered letter around that time asking him to help me about but he refused. Several years later, I was in North Carolina and had arranged to meet with Betty Pulkingham to wrap up some loose ends. She cancelled the interview about 3 hours beforehand despite the fact it had been a two-day trip for me to get down there. After that, I figured I was on my own and that I’d have to work without the help of the community. Fortunately I had already completed 95% of my research by the time the story ‘broke.’
Yes, they live on – in a fashion. I talked with a friend who recently visited them – and looked at their web site – I think they’re down to 7 members. They appear to be living off the copyrights and proceeds of their music although I never hear it played any more nor do I see their books for sale in Episcopal venues so at some point that money has got to dry up.
CR: When you say that, “they live on—in a fashion. . . at some point their money has got to dry up” it sounds like you want them to fail. They’ve been going on as a small community, serving very locally for around twenty years. That’s a lot longer than many Christian communities lasted. It’s clear from the book that the way he confessed to you and it all came out was quite a mess, quite emotional, more so than you wanted it to be. But isn’t it possible that these Christians at Community of Celebration are still a beautiful expression of God at work in their local community in spite of all the sin in Graham’s life and at Church of the Redeemer before their founding?
JD: The folks at Celebration did do a lot of good, no doubt about that. But when I began observing them in 1990 – after they’d been 4 years in the Pittsburgh area – it was clear they were not making much of a dent in the neighborhood. I never heard anything further about their business incubator and I saw first-hand how few actual inhabitants were coming to Celebration’s services. It was 180 degrees from what happened in Houston.
CR: On a side note I would point out that Community of Celebration is offering .pdfs of all the books written by and about Graham and Betty Pulkingham on their website for free. These books are long out of print. To address the other side of your comment, “they appear to be living off the copyrights and proceeds of their music,” I know from the newsletters I’ve received from them over the last twenty years that this is not the major source of their income. They have a donor base similar to other small communities that consists of churches and individuals who visit the community at least annually and make contributions. Members also have outside jobs in the area. They work as chaplains and social workers in Aliquippa.
JD: I just heard from a former member who visited them earlier this month and they’re down to 6-7 people. I just do not call that healthy. They are obviously not growing, compared to what Shane Claiborne is doing in Philly. And Shane is pushing people away – he’s gotten inquiries in droves.
CR: Church of the Redeemer was unique in that it was controversial within the Episcopal Church but the Bishop took a hands-off approach even where his authority and accountability were obviously needed. How does this story speak to the way denominational churches discipline congregations?
JD: Well, one important thing is the bishop should not be as compromised as Alden Hathaway was in letting Graham be his spiritual director. One important thing I’ve seen in the Catholic charismatic communities that went belly-up is that people were warning the bishops way ahead of time that fishy things were happening there. Often the bishop did nothing. It was not until the secular media started calling that anything was done.
CR: It would be easy for someone who opposes the Charismatic Movement and Christian communities in general to use your book as proof of all their worst fears. But you don’t seem to be on a crusade against Charismatics or Christian community overall. Looking back on all that you’ve been through with this book, how did you end the book with so much hope for what God can still do through flawed humans in the future?
JD: Am certainly not on a crusade against charismatics as I still am one. But we had such high hopes back in the 1970s -we thought all of American Christianity would go communal and instead, the communities were what did not survive. By 1990-92, nearly all had crashed and burned. Even Sojourners, which did survive, gave up its households (except for interns). I think interest in community is going to come back in a major way, so I am writing to warn folks of what happened 30 years ago with Christians who were just as smart as people are today. I am hoping that younger people do not repeat the mistakes of the baby boomers.