Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Literature Review of Azusa Street Revival, focusing on Racial Segregation and its Implication on Pentecostal movement

Most of the Pentecostal denominations traces back its history to the Azusa Street Revival. This literature review is limited to key developments and issues, and will focus on two areas:

·       racial segregation, and

·       implications on the Pentecostal movement.

Azusa Street Revival and Interracial Meetings

William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922), the African American pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, was the son of former slaves.[1] Seymour came in contact with Charles F. Parham and enrolled in his Bible school in Houston, Texas. Segregation law did not allow Seymour to take a seat inside the classroom, but Parham allowed him to attend from the hallway. Parham was teaching about a “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” with accompanying empowerment for service and ministry along with speaking in other tongues. Seymour got an invitation to serve as the pastor of a congregation in Los Angeles and accepted it. After being asked to leave his congregation due to a doctrinal dispute, Seymour started speaking at a small group and on April 9, 1906, there was a visitation of the Holy Spirit and a revival started, featuring frequent speaking in tongues.

Though the revival originated in an African-American prayer meeting in a still segregated Los Angeles, the congregation was soon interracial, with blacks and whites praying and singing together.[2] Douglas Nelson[3]  and Frank Bartleman[4] wrote that “the ‘color line’ was washed away by the blood” referring to the integrated gatherings at the mission that defied segregation. Although led by a black man, white people were coming to the meetings and the leadership included men and women. The participants came from a number of nationalities resident in the city, giving it an international character even prior to the influx of visitors from outside.[5] This period was dominated by Jim Crow segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, Nativism, Social Darwinism and racial purity. Seymour’s message was radically egalitarian, transformative, about racial equality and transnational multicultural global Christianity which ran against the grain of U.S. society.[6]

Parham and Durham controversies and Segregation in Azusa Street Mission

In 1906, Charles Parham charged Azusa Street Mission with ‘fanaticism’, yet his later writings demonstrate that his real issue was the interracial mingling which was going on in the revival. He reported on Los Angeles:

“1 have seen meetings where all crowded together around the altar, and laying across one another like hogs, blacks, and whites mingling; this should be enough to bring a blush of shame to devils, let alone angels, and yet all this was charged to the Holy spirit”.[7]

He also stated that white women, perhaps of wealth and culture could be seen thrown back into the arms of a big ‘buck nigger,’ and held tightly.[8] Parham set up a rival mission siphoning off white followers from Azusa Street and tried to split the fledgling movement along racial lines but failed.

In 1911, William Durham became the interim pastor while Seymour was traveling and led a devastating schism. Durham’s dynamic preaching abilities attracted a large crowd. He was preaching on the “finished work of Calvary” and Seymour had to lock him out of the mission, which led to the formation of a rival mission with two-thirds of participants from Azusa mission. After Durham’s death in 1912, the participants joined white missions or formed their own independent churches. This led many to lament that Pentecostal mission was hopelessly divided but it is precisely this built-in tendency to fragment that has kept the Pentecostal Movement one of the fastest-growing religious movement in the world.[9]

For Seymour, unity was manifested in the interracial and trans-cultural experience of worship in the Spirit.[10] In 1915, after several attempts by white leaders to take over Apostolic Faith Mission, Seymour reluctantly revised the constitution and Articles of Incorporation to exclude whites from the governing board and serving as bishops while allowing them to remain on the Board of Trustees.[11] He stated that it was not done to discriminate but for peace, to keep down the race war and friction in the church. Seymour’s opposition mostly came from whites and he continued to encounter racism throughout his ministry.[12]

Implications of Racial Integration and Segregation on the Pentecostal Movement

The racial integration in the Azusa Street meetings was unique at that time, ethnic minorities discovered a sense of dignity that the community denied them in the larger culture. Seymour's leadership team was fully integrated with women and men being responsible for various aspects of the work.[13] The interracial and intercultural nature of the Mission was one of the reasons for its success as well as the remarkable expansion of Pentecostalism across the globe.

The interracial period could not continue forever. In 1914, the white ministers belonging to Charles H. Mason’s Church of God in Christ called for a convention of Pentecostal leaders to meet in Hot Spring, Arkansas which resulted in the formation of Assemblies of God.[14]  Joe Newman chronicles the influence of racism in early Pentecostalism and in the Assemblies of God.[15] He contends that the evidence indicates that some key leaders deliberately attempted to exclude African Americans from full participation in the denomination because they were racist and did not want to desegregate the ministerial ranks or the local churches.  In 1923, a group of Hispanic ministers formed their own organization because they felt that they were restricted by their affiliation with a primarily Anglo group due to the discrimination that they received from the Anglo missionaries and executive officers and the refusal of the Assemblies of God to grant the Mexican pastors autonomy and financial support commensurate with that of the Anglos.[16]

William Seymour was called by God to become the leader of a racially inclusive congregation with a massive revival in the midst of a segregated society. His message of racial and ethnic equality could be affirmed by South African blacks and colored people during the height of apartheid era.[17] The fastest growing churches in India, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and the Philippines are Pentecostal.[18] Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine notes that the Pentecostal and charismatic churches succeeded most in being interracial.[19]

Other Segregation related Developments in the Pentecostal Movement

As Pentecostal Movement spread, many of the secessions which occurred earlier in western Pentecostal mission efforts in Africa and Asia were partly the result of cultural and social insensitivities on the part of missionaries, and in some cases, there was racism, ethnocentrism, and ethical failure.[20]  

The Pentecostal Mission (TPM), is a Pentecostal denomination which originated in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It was founded by Pastor Paul, a Hindu converted under the ministry of Assemblies of God missionary Walter E. Clifford. Later Pastor Paul and others broke away from Clifford with the desire to create an indigenous church that would reflect the values of the Ceylonese culture rather than those of an American culture.[21]

On October 17-19, 1994, the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA) met in Memphis to admit its racist past and to meet with African-American Pentecostals concerning the establishment of an integrated association. The result was the dissolution of the PFNA and the establishment of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA), with the governing board of six whites and six African Americans.[22]


Some scholars argue for the prominence of Charles Parham, a white man, while others for William Seymour, an African-America for the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. The position that appeals to God's sovereignty or to a theory of spontaneous origins seeks to mitigate the substantial contribution of both men. Some Pentecostals contend that they are entirely independent of any contribution from North America, thereby seeking to limit the effects of colonialism.[23]

Seymour’s social consciousness and theology of racial reconciliation and multicultural, transformative and egalitarian Christianity created an alternative vision and a message that challenged the church to live up to its professed ideals of unity in Christ and liberty and justice for all.[24] We can say from an objective point of view that God has overcome racial and social segregation through Azusa Street revival.[25] The fact that major secessions within Pentecostal movements were results of segregation highlights the importance of racial issues and how it divides people. We will see a true revival when we embrace the truth that there will be diversity in practices, but we are created in God’s image and called to be united.

[1] Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2006), 4.

[2] Thomas P Rausch, "Catholics and Pentecostals: troubled history, new initiatives." Theological Studies 71, no. 4 (2010): 928, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[3] Amos Yong, "Doctrines and the discipline of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission of Los Angeles, California, by William J Seymour." Pneuma 26, no. 2 (2004): 403, accessed July 6, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[4] Jack W. Hayford and S. David Moore, The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival (New York: Warner Faith, 2006), 80.

[5] Dale T. Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love': The Ecumenical Vision of William J Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival." Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3, no. 6 (1995): 26, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[6] Gaston Espinosa, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy, ed. Harold D. Hunter, and Cecil M. Robeck (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 47.

[7] Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love',” 29.

[8] Espinosa, 49.

[9] Espinosa, 54.

[10] Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love',” 32.

[11] Espinosa, 51.

[12] Benjamin Pugh, "'Under the blood' at Azusa Street: exodus typology at the heart of Pentecostal origins." The Journal of Religious History 39, no. 1 (2015): 13, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[13] Allan H. Anderson, "The Azusa Street revival and the emergence of Pentecostal missions in the early twentieth century." Transformation 23, no. 2 (2006): 4, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[14] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1997), 171-174.

[15] Lewis Brogdon, "Race and the Assemblies of God church: the journey from Azusa Street to the miracle of Memphis." Pneuma 32, no. 3 (2010): 1, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[16] Everett A. Wilson and Ruth Marshall Wilson, Portraits of a Generation: Early Pentecostal Leaders, ed. James R. Goff, and Grant Wacker (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 169.

[17] Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, 12.

[18] Thomas P. Rausch, "Catholics and Pentecostals: troubled history, new initiatives." Theological Studies 71, no. 4 (2010): 930, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[19] David Neff, "Pentecostals: the sequel. What will it take for this world phenomenon to stay vibrant for another 100 years?" Christianity Today 50, no. 4 (2006): 10, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[20] Allan H. Anderson, “The Emergence of a Multidimensional Global Missionary Movement: Trends, Patterns, and Expressions.” in Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism, ed. Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory (New York: Oxford University Press,2013), 37.

[21] David Mowers and Timothy Senapatiratne, “The ‘Pentecostalization’ of the World”: Race, Theology, and the Classical Pentecostal Tradition”, The Princeton Theological Review 41, no. 2 (Fall 2009):  ,61-62, accessed July 7 2016,

[22] Frank D Macchia, "From Azusa to Memphis: Where Do We Go From Here? Roundtable Discussions on the Memphis Colloquy." Pneuma 18, no. 1(1996): 113-140, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[23] Cecil M. Robeck Jr, "Pentecostalism and mission: from Azusa street to the ends of the earth." Missiology 35, no. 1 (2007): 2, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[24] Hunter and Robeck, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy, 58.

[25] Jean-Daniel Plüss, "Azusa and Other Myths: The Long and Winding Road from Experience to Stated Belief and Back Again." Pneuma 15, no. 2 (1993): 189-201, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

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