Believing Thomas

By Corn, David | The Nation, August 12, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Believing Thomas


Corn, David, The Nation


On a recent Friday night, several hundred suburbanites gathered in Fairfax, Virginia, to sing battle songs. "We are an army of salvation," they chorused. "Lead us into battle," they roared. The congregation vowed in song that they would fight until every nation is on its knees before Jesus Christ. The site of this religious pep rally--the Truro Church--is where Judge Clarence Thomas worships.

Thomas, once a practicing Catholic, has been attending Truro, a charismatic Episcopal church, for about a year. Curious about the religious leanings of the supreme Court nominee, I visited Truro. thomas was not at the Friday night "Prayer and Praise" session or the more traditional Sunday morning service I witnessed, but he has attended both.

Within the charismatic Christian movement, the bible is taken literally; followers are born again and see Satan all over. The Friday evening ceremony was a jubilant occasion. The faithful stood much of the time with arms lifted high, palms facing skyward, singing tributes to Jesus Christ. Some seemed transfixed; some spoke in tongues. The clergy were good-humored and ebullient, though one did chastise the congregation for its homogeneity; it is 99 percent white. During prayer, one worshiper cried loudly, "Lord, bless Clarence Thomas in his hour of need."

In a wing of the simple, red brick church, a bookstore sells antiabortion material (the church is devoutly anti-choice), inspirational tracts and books that expose the workings of Satan. a corner is reserved for products of the Truro Tape Ministry, which markets audiocassettes of lectures by church associates and well-known charismatics, including pat Robertson. The Rev. John Howe, until 1989 the rector at Truro, was a key endorser of the 1988 presidential campaign of Robertson, who once called for a theocracy with "judges speaking in tongues on the bench."

Truro's services and tapes present a clear message: True Christians engage daily in actual, not metaphorical, hand-to-hand combat with Satan. In a taped lecture series on "Spiritual Warfare," Tom Tarrants reveals that the Devil and evil spirits "carry on a relentless battle behind the scenes" to affect "world events." Philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud were all under demonic influence.

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