Commentators are treating Amy Coney Barrett, recently nominated to the Supreme Court, as a conservative Christian who will vote in lockstep with other conservative justices. Her religious background, though, makes her less predictable than many presume.
People of Praise, the community into which Barrett was born and to which she still belongs, is one of many communities formed in the heady days of the late 1960s and early ’70s, when many Americans became hippies and then Christians, drawn by a radical critique of the mainstream world and the sense that by living differently together, they could bring change into the world. The movement offered young people a way to avoid the ugliness of dropping acid and casual sex but still get the experiential high for which they yearned. As Larry Eskridge argued in God’s Forever Family, the Christian youth movement is among the most important and underappreciated in American religious history. It transformed American evangelicalism in the decades after the Vietnam War—endowing evangelical Christianity with its distinctive folk music, its come-as-you-are informality, and its insistence that everyone can have a direct experience of God.
Thousands of young people became hippie Christians. They wanted God to be a living presence in their life. Many spoke in tongues, uttering rapidly a series of repeated phonemes. With practice, speakers can feel as if the sounds come of their own accord, spoken by another being, transmitted through their mouth, otherworldly and oddly beautiful. They learned to prophesy, and to feel that God had given them words to speak that simply appeared in their mind. When they prayed, they looked for the voice in their thoughts that did not feel like theirs. They came to believe that their prayers had power because God was acting through them. Many of these young Christians, guided by older pastors or elders, set up communities loosely modeled on the idea that they were like the early Christians, living communally, praying communally, changing the world. People of Praise was one such community.