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"She is a longtime member of the Assemblies of God. That's all you need to know."

That's how political blogger Andrew Sullivan recently summarized Governor Sarah Palin's faith background.

But entertain the crazy thought that some people might want to know more. What would we learn from the media about the Assemblies of God?

It's "the evangelical experience on steroids," "where sitting is an option but clapping is not," where beliefs "stray a bit from the mainstream" and which "mainstream Christians don't understand." There's the usual report of tongues, faith-healing, and "end times" — threateningly caricaturized as "a violent upheaval that … will deliver Jesus Christ's second coming." Combine "holy laughter, divine dancing, silver tooth fillings turning into gold, [and] the regeneration of a large intestine," and you see why Palin's childhood faith has been "deemed irrelevant by the liberal intelligentsia because it is regarded as fundamentalist and … irrational."

Then again, news accounts of "rational faith" have been rather scarce.

The first wave

About one in four Christian believers worldwide are Pentecostal or charismatic, and the percentage is increasing daily. The World Christian Database says 8.7 percent of the world's population is part of this "renewalist" group. The AG is one of the most prominent Pentecostal groups, it's only a part of the movement. An AG study from 2006 found 60 million adherents in more than 300,000 churches worldwide. About 2.8 million of these are in the U.S.

The renewalist movement in the U.S. is often divided into three historical "waves." The first wave began in 1901, resulting in the "classical" Pentecostal denominations, including the Assemblies of God. The second ("charismatic") ...

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