Amy Barrett Is in a Group That 'Speaks in Tongues'

The media spotlight falls on a 'charismatic community' called People of Praise
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2020 3:00 PM CDT
Amy Barrett's in a 'Charismatic' Catholic Group —But Is It a Cult?
Judge Amy Coney Barrett listens as President Donald Trump announces Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court belongs to a tightly knit Catholic group called People of Praise—but what exactly is it? The media spotlight is falling on Amy Coney Barrett's "charismatic community" and reviving questions about its spiritual advisers, communal living spaces, and alleged connection to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. For starters, America magazine reports that the group began in South Bend, Indiana, in 1971 and has members from various Christian churches, while most are Catholic. Some People of Praise practices are Pentecostal in flavor and include prophecy, healing services, and speaking in tongues.

  • 'A nut': Bill Maher had a field day with that one, saying Friday on Real Time that Barrett is a "nut" who is "Catholic, really Catholic, I mean really, really Catholic, like speaking in tongues." Legal scholar Jonathan Turley fired back that Maher indulged in a "raving assault" that showed "the triumph of rage over reason."

  • Group pledge: People of Praise members make a pledge to the group after showing their devotion for about six years. The group's website says members can leave at any time and adds that "our covenant is neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment." But some former members have told the National Catholic Reporter that the group brainwashed members and clung to a "Jamestown mentality and dominance," per America.
  • A cult? Indeed, former member Coral Anika Theill told Reuters that People of Praise was a "cult" in which women are subservient to men and anyone who thought independently was "humiliated, interrogated, shamed and shunned."
  • 'Heads': Spiritual advisers known as "heads" either make "big life decisions" for members or give them "direction on important decisions," depending on the media report. In 2017, the New York Times reported that those decisions include "whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children." The Guardian reports that married women like Barrett include their husbands as "heads."
  • No 'control': But Craig Lent, a People of Praise leader in 2017, told the Times there was nothing "nefarious or controversial" about the group. "We don't try to control people," he said. "And there's never any guarantee that the leader is always right. You have to discern and act in the Lord."
  • Atwood: Confusion has bubbled about whether the group inspired Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. Newsweek claims it's true—and Atwood has said that a "Catholic charismatic spinoff sect" inspired the book—but Vox reports that another group called People of Hope actually sparked Atwood's imagination.

  • Media mistakes: The National Catholic Register reports that "media misconceptions" have tarnished a group that is simply about Catholic devotion. Peggy Noonan agrees, writing in the Wall Street Journal that "People of Praise isn’t a strange radical group, it's ardent Catholics being Catholic, American Christians trying to be Christian."
  • Politics: Media reports suggest People of Praise members tend to be politically conservative, though Noonan says it varies. A former member says she left the group after being told to keep quiet about her lesbian feelings: "I said, 'I'll leave, I don't want to live like that,'" she told the South Bend Tribune in 2018.
  • Communal life: People of Praise literature encourages households to share money and unmarried members to live together. An edition of the group's Vine & Branch magazine describes a female group as being "single for the Lord" and sharing a "sisterhood budget" as they lived together in South Bend, per the Guardian.
  • High schools: The group also supports food pantries, pro-life groups, and child care for working moms. It publishes a newsletter and runs three high schools, but a group rep tells CNN that students don't have to be People of Praise members—while board members do.
  • The burning question is whether Democrats should question Barrett about the group's effect on her. She said in 2017 that she sees "no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and duties as a judge." But law professor Cathleen Kaveny told America that "you can't say that our faith on the one hand has ramifications for politics, law and the common good and on the other hand expect not to answer questions about it."
(More Amy Coney Barrett stories.)

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