In the nearly 25 years since it began, the charismatic renewal movement within the Catholic church has grown to touch some 6 million to 10 million Catholics around the world. Similar to Protestant charismatic groups in its emphasis on a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” subsequent to conversion and on spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and discernment of spirits, the movement has produced many Catholics who term themselves evangelical.
But in the past year, the movement has been shaken by problems involving a leading international charismatic organization and several key charismatic Catholic communities. Clustered in households and operating as quasi-parishes, these “covenant communities” have been home to only a small minority of charismatic Catholics. Yet they have provided much of the movement’s music, leadership, inspiration—and recently, controversy.
A year ago, the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one of the oldest and largest communities, with some 3,000 members at that time, split as founders Ralph Martin and Steve Clark parted ways. Several months later, Word of God leaders, including Martin, begged forgiveness for misusing their authority in the community.
Included was a secretive, militaristic training course where members were taught to “build Christian culture by fiat,” said one leader, by mandating practices that went beyond the bounds of Scripture. Other rules included forbidding pink shirts for men or jeans for women, regulating the reading or television viewing of members, and requiring members to stand when a leader entered the room.
Clark, who left the Word of God community, still heads the Sword of the Spirit, an umbrella organization of several dozen charismatic communities around the world, ...1
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