Pentecostals: A Passionate Voice and a Moral Vision; with Song and Scripture, This Pastor Leads His Fast- Growing Congregation to an Ecstatic Experience of God

By Campo-Flores, Arian | Newsweek, August 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Pentecostals: A Passionate Voice and a Moral Vision; with Song and Scripture, This Pastor Leads His Fast- Growing Congregation to an Ecstatic Experience of God


Campo-Flores, Arian, Newsweek


Byline: Arian Campo-Flores

When Bishop Gilbert Patterson began his sermon at the Temple of Deliverance church in Memphis one recent Sunday, his voice started off soft and velvety. He compared the struggles of Israel's King David to the trials of today's youth who are besieged by drugs and violence. "You are engaged in spiritual warfare," he told them, his voice now rising and his finger jabbing toward heaven. "But the same God that delivered you yesterday... is going to stand up for you and deliver you from all the plots that Satan will put in front of you." By the end, Patterson was stomping, clutching the air, roaring verses as a keyboardist accompanied him. Calls of "Hallelujah!" and "Come on, Bishop!" erupted from the thousands of ecstatic souls quivering in the sanctuary. "If [God] has anointed you," Patterson belted out in near song, "you've got to walk in that anointing until you finally get to your purpose!"

Patterson, 65, has certainly found his purpose. Starting with 436 people in a cramped old Baptist church 30 years ago, he has built Temple of Deliverance into a nearly 17,000-member congregation--one of the fastest-growing in the country. Last year, he was re-elected as presiding bishop of the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ (COGIC, of which Temple of Deliverance is a part), the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States and a growing international force, with churches in 54 countries, from Jamaica to Japan. Patterson "is probably the most important voice of black Pentecostalism in the world," says Vinson Synan, dean of the school of divinity at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Part of Patterson's appeal: his moral rigor. As he sees it, signs of social depravity abound, from gangs to gay marriage (though he sides with President George W. Bush on moral issues, he's a vehement opponent of the Iraq war and a staunch supporter of programs like affirmative action). "People are totally confused," Patterson says, "and they keep looking for something that they can believe is real and something that will keep them grounded." That "something" is Scripture, whose teachings Patterson has emphasized more than past presiding bishops. …

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