[Editor's Note: Friday, April 12, 2013:
Jeff Walton of the IRD submitted a statement to The Christian Post in defense of his coverage of Paul Alexander's remarks: "My coverage of Alexander's address to the society is based upon his orally delivered address, which I was personally present for. During this address, Alexander at times expanded upon and varied from his prepared statement. I stand behind the accuracy of the quotes."]
A recent report criticizing statements made regarding race and sexuality by the outgoing president of the largest Pentecostal academic society at a recent gathering threatens to overshadow the good the organization does, according to the society's executive director.
Dr. Lois E. Olena, executive director of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, told The Christian Post Thursday that a report published earlier this week on Juicyecumenism.com, a news blog from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, misstated the facts concerning Dr. Paul Alexander at the society's 42nd Annual Meeting. The post, written by IRD Communications Manager Jeff Walton and titled "Race, Sex and Liberation: Pentecostal Studies President Steers Society in New Direction," suggests specifically that the former president's controversial remarks might affect SPS' positions on matters of sexuality.
Olena explained to CP that, contrary to the title of Walton's blog, "The president's address is not what takes the society in a direction."
The SPS, an association founded in 1970 comprised of biblical scholars, theologians and others who belong to Pentecostal or charismatic denominations, met jointly with the Wesleyan Theological Society at Seattle Pacific University in Washington, March 21-23, where the two groups discussed the theme of holiness.
Alexander, who completed his tenure as SPS president at the meeting to become the society's immediate past-president, spoke in his SPS Presidential Address on "the oppressive racings of Whiteness and the importance of deconstructing White supremacy in order to construct more equitable spaces," according to SPS's latest newsletter, which also states that Alexander "addressed institutional gender discrimination, theological and religious diversity, and the importance of civility and charity in discussions of sexuality."
The IRD's Walton reports that Alexander in his address "urged gathered Pentecostal academics to accept 'LGBTQI realities' in their churches and seminaries" in remarks said to be "suffused" with themes of feminist and liberation theologies.
"With the presidential address, nobody is vetting that address. He (Alexander) really bears the responsibility for that address. His views as president are his individually. They are not official Assemblies of God views nor do they constitute an official SPS position on the various topics," said Olena.
"What governs the SPS is our constitution. We are a member organization, our members vote in an annual meeting and determine the direction of the society," she added.
Alexander, a professor of Christian Ethics and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and co-founder of Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice, also is a licensed Assemblies of God minister, and Walton's report on his remarks at the SPS meeting resulted in a statement from Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood.
While noting that he had received "a copy of statements attributed" to Alexander at the SPS meeting, Wood added that he was awaiting a full transcript of the professor's address.
"In the meantime, I have made his district superintendent aware of this matter. Our General Council Bylaws, Article X, provide for a process when allegations are made against a credentialed minister," said Wood in his statement. "I trust that there will never be a day in the Assemblies of God when a credentialed minister can continue to hold credentials and support any form of sexual immorality."
Current SPS President Dr. Lee Roy Martin also issued a statement on the controversy in an email sent to society members, which SPS Executive Director Olena said had been discussed and vetted by the organization's committee.
Martin, addressing "the claims of recent online blogs in reference to the SPS presidential address that SPS is losing its biblical moorings," emphasized, as did Olena, that "SPS members are independent scholars, and their views do not necessarily represent their institutions or the SPS."
Agreeing that Alexander's remarks were "controversial," Martin insisted that they have been misrepresented and misinterpreted.
"I was present for Paul's address, and what I heard him say was that Christians should work toward peace, justice, and kindness toward all people, regardless of their color, ethnic background, culture, or gender. He argued that all Christians who are part of the privileged culture (in USA it would be white protestant male) must be willing to give up our privilege for the sake of those who are oppressed, just as Jesus gave up his power and humbled himself, even to the death on the cross (Phil. 2). I would assume that all Christians can agree with these basic teachings of Christ," reads Martin's statement.
He concluded by stating: "The SPS is a strong society of scholars who are firmly committed to the Kingdom of God. In fact, I would insist in the strongest terms that our scholars are more devoted to the Pentecostal faith than are Pentecostal laity and ministers in general."
As Olena shared with CP, the SPS has about 600 members from different denominations who cooperate on academic endeavors that they believe serve the Church and the world. Members are required to comply, "to the extent appropriate for an academic Society," with the organization's statement of purpose, which reflects the statement of purpose of the World Pentecostal Fellowship. Member papers are not censored or vetted through members' various denominations, although proposals are reviewed by leaders of certain interest groups.
"The unique role of SPS – and I see this as a good tension and an important part of the DNA of the society – is that we in a sense hover between Church and Academy, serving both. We are an academic society, but we serve the Church. We serve the Church in the world, for the world," said Olena. "Yes we are an academic society, but we are not only an academic society because we have ecclesial connections and responsibilities."
Olena, an Assemblies of God minister and professor, said this year's meeting heard excellent papers presented, had a "very lively, very energetic worship service" and allowed for "good fellowship between scholars." Some scholars in attendance included Walter Brueggemann of Columbia Theological Seminary, Thomas Dozeman of Union Theological Seminary and Bruce Marshall of Southern Methodist University.
"One of the things I love, especially as a woman in academia and as a woman minister ... is the diversity there," she said, adding that she has been a part of SPS since 2006. "First of all, men and women partnering together to serve the Church and to serve the academic world, and multiple ethnicities, multiple denominations – it's a very unique society. Many of us don't get this kind of thing within our own denominations where it's either largely white or largely black. It's a great mix of people coming together as friends and as colleagues."
As for the concerns regarding Alexander, Olena added, "This is one controversy in the midst of a very excellent society and strong society."
The Society for Pentecostal Studies executive director added that if any members had issue with Alexander's remarks, as noted in SPS President Dr. Lee Roy Martin's email to society members, "the proper response ... is to come back the next year and present your best argument against it and present a paper that addresses it."
Alexander did not respond to The Christian Post's requests for an interview by press time.