By Robert Monson
What happens when you call something revival
And all I see is blank space?
What happens when you see revival
And all I see is oppressors?
What happens when you say revival
And I think about all the ways
“Revival” hasn’t changed anything
For people like me?
Because calling something by its proper name
Matters, truly matters.
And…who gets the right and the power to define a thing?
Who is usually left out?
In Eve and Adam’s story,
We talk a whole lot about what Adam called Eve.
But, how many discussions revolve around
What Eve called that Man?
Yes, naming a thing matters.
Hopefully when revival comes,
We can all see it,
And feel it
All of us
What’s the harm in a name?
A flurry of activity. Group chats ablaze with questions. “What do ya’ll think about what’s happening with this revival that’s going on?” Confused, I started to scour the internet and found myself wading through a lot of commentary on some videos coming out of extended worship meetings happening at Asbury. The “sides” of the discussion were already very defined as some called it a move of God while others were denouncing it for its emotionalism. Predictably, I witnessed verses on not blaspheming the Holy Spirit being tossed about casually and of course “God can do whatever God wants.” Hmm. So, this unmasked singing, during a pandemic is revival. Case closed?
I enter this conversation as a Black man and as a theologian and as I have researched many revival settings that have taken place on American soil, I confess that I enter the chat jaded. While I am a huge believer in the moves of God, I stop short at largely white audiences being able to authoritatively name something. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter addresses a concept called white epistemological privilege. (A theological way of pointing to a way of knowing that centers whiteness) She writes, “white epistemological privilege is so profound that it prevents the white public from accepting the truth of Black knowing even when that truth is right before their eyes.” And again she writes, “For if nothing else, it determines whose knowledge has moral efficacy, and this shapes the way in which justice is conceived, if not enacted.” When we all take a glimpse into what is happening at Asbury and what has happened in previous moves of God, who gets to know? Who gets to speak on the fruit or lack thereof?
And so…whose way of knowing should we go by? I have sat through emotional services similar to the ones that are in those videos, only for many of the participants to go and gladly vote for a President who proudly grabs women, calls nations filled with people who look like me “S-hole countries”, and further underscore legislation that puts children in cages. What are your songs when Black bodies cover the streets, wage gaps based on gender/race are celebrated, and hate is on the rise? Whether in the church house or in the white house…revival seems to be missing. In all my doubting and wondering I consider the simple fact that just as God could handle Thomas’ doubts, surely mine won’t be too much.
One Time in L.A….
By Trey Ferguson
I believe in revival. Mine is a Resurrection faith. Every bit of theologizing I do is premised around The One who makes all things new. Imparting life to the the lifeless. But that ain’t always what we mean when we say revival, is it? Sure, it might be what we’d like to be saying. But sometimes, we’re just talking about something being improved in condition or strength. Sometimes, we are talking about something coming back en vogue. If there is any merit to the Pew Research Center’s polling on religious identity, I can understand why revivals of this sort appeal to the shrinking portion of Americans who identify as Christians. We almost never mean a new production of an old play or similar work when we say “revival” in the Christian context. That would be far too cynical.
We’ve seen revival in America before. Several “Great Awakenings” helped reshape the Christian landscape of the United States across the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. We’ve seen the Azusa Street Revival launch the trajectories of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements around the globe today. Indeed, the same research that suggests to us that fewer Americans and Europeans are identifying as Christians suggests that more people in Asia and Africa are beginning to do so. Much of the growth of Christianity in the Global South can be traced back to what happened in Los Angeles almost 117 years ago. It was there, in the Azusa Street Mission, that a Black preacher named William Joseph Seymour led a revival that had everybody talkin. And a lot of ‘em were talkin in tongues.
I’ve spent a bit of time studying the Azusa Street Revival. Not just because it was led by a Black preacher. That’s not new. John Jasper (a Black, formerly enslaved preacher) got to preach the same sermon over 250 times in front of all sorts of white audiences. I look at Azusa Street to see if it can speak to this hypothesis I’ve nursed for awhile. You see, I’ve noticed that a lot of white preachers sound kinda… well… Black. I don’t mean in content. I haven’t seen too many white preachers go full Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright on us. I mean that it literally sounds like some white preachers studied a few Black preachers—their cadences, their breathing patterns, their melodious deliveries—and tried the best they could to emulate them. And, by my observation, most of these preachers are in Charismatic settings. I study Azusa Street because I suspect that it is the common ancestor of this preaching style.
I’ve named it a “common ancestor” because the racial unity of the Azusa Street Revival would not define its descendants. Many ministers who received their baptism in the Holy Spirit received their credentialing from the historically black Church of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination coming out of the Azusa Street Revival. But we’re talking about life in the United States of America during the “Nadir of Race Relations”. Of course that wasn’t gonna fly too long. Terrorism wouldn’t allow it. And so these white ministers left and began what would eventually become the Assemblies of God, which is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world today.
The Azusa Street Revival was real. It happened. People’s lives were transformed. Racial lines were crossed.
And what it revived was a White Jesus™ who was entirely uninterested in or incapable of helping the Black people who called out to him in new tongues—the same White Jesus™ who found new life in the Great Awakening.
I am not here to deny the reality of revival. I am not even here to advise skepticism. I am here to root us in the history of revival.
This Resurrection faith of mine keeps me tethered to the hope of revival, knowing that eventually—one of these days—it will be the type of revival that drew me into the church in the first place. The type of revival where all the believers are one in heart and mind. No one claims that any of their possessions are their own, but they share everything they have. With great power, we will testify to the resurrection of Jesus. And God’s grace will be so powerfully at work in us all that there will be no needy persons among us. For from time to time those who own land or houses will sell them, bring the money from the sales, and distribute it to anyone who has need.
The Scent of Revival
By Sharifa Stevens
In Ghana, there’s a place called Elmina castle. Portuguese, then Dutch, then British officers and parishioners enjoyed balmy breezes and sea views here as kidnapped Africans were held in dungeons below. The stench of captured people languishing in chains and darkness with nowhere to relieve themselves, the vomitous reek of scared people, the wails of children separated from their parents, all wafted through to the people above. There was a chapel in Elmina, and Europeans worshiped with devotion before corralling fellow humans covered in their own shit and menstrual blood onto packed ships and away from their people, homeland, culture, and freedom, for centuries.
In some bodies, there is precedent for cringing and tensing when hearing people sing above our misery. In other bodies, there is precedent for tuning out the stench and cries and just singing.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
-Frederick Douglass, “What to The Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech
Precedent for defending and protecting the sanctity of white bodies in worship over Black or Indigenous bodies enslaved or afflicted.
I can’t speak for what is happening inside Asbury right now. I pray it is a movement of God and that those young people bring heaven down to earth. “Let the kids worship,” I read. Nothing I say is stopping the service! Let the service serve. What these folks really want to say: don’t you dare talk about this revival and don’t bring race into it. I don’t want to hear it.
I chafe at the confidence others have in attempting to pre-emptively silence those of us who are looking askance at the word “revival.” Many of the people who would frown on my questioning are the children, grandchildren, and great-grands of people who kept people like me out of their institutions of theological learning and out of their pristine churches. What is their “revival” to me?
I am way too familiar with the coded language associated with demonstrative faith in Black bodies. Wild, loud, undignified, immature. Rebellious, fomenting, rabble-rousing, agitating, woke—these are the labels of expressive Black faith taken to the streets; of people who take Jesus so seriously that they pull heaven down to earth in advocating for our modern-day women and orphans in distress.
(The irony is not lost on me that after two Great Awakenings and what some would say is burgeoning revival, being “woke” is an epithet. This, the oft-used synonym for God’s people, reduced to a byword hurled by people asleep to their own violence and history.)
What is their “revival” to me?
This is where I enter into the dialogue about Asbury: the Black blood in the soil of Kentucky cries out. The thieving, boundary-obliterating violation of the Indigenous people and land cries out. Many of my Christian siblings have simply grown accustomed to the noise, the stench. I still smell the past.
Kentucky—a major area of the Second Great Awakening—really loved slaving, and, running concurrently with the Awakening, codified enslavement before and after its statehood in 1792. Butts in pews, yes; good white Christians at the settlement borders, yes, but also of primary importance, cash in pockets—“heaven” on earth.
U.S. History says that “revival” dressed in white benefits the economy and white supremacy. What, then, is “revival” to me? Does God not consider me in God’s revival plans?
The Holy Spirit brought ethnicity and language into Pentecost—not by flattening everyone’s language and regional experience, but by honoring it and creating spontaneous fluency. Entire economies were disrupted. Cultures intermingled and were forced to face their own biases and resolve them. The Spirit moved people to give and to serve. Widows—among the most vulnerable in the ancient economy—were fed and cared for.
In a state like Kentucky, revival would mean a rooting out of the death-dealing white-supremacy, economic segregation, and land theft that are legacies of the state, and a restoration of land and people, in addition to fervent worship through music and prayer. I have high expectations for the word “revival” because the Bible told me so. I hope that this flows from Asbury. Time will tell, as it always has.
And: I won’t let the word “revival” be co-opted and diluted. You cannot revive what is not alive. You can’t claim both sleep and revival. Pick one.
This piece was made possible by the contributions Sharifa Stevens (who writes at) and Robert Monson (who writes at ). To receive more of their amazing work, subscribe to their newsletters.
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🔥🔥🔥 Can’t think of three better people to have collaborated on this.
Oh snap. So... y’all went off off!