Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can Somebody Shout Amen!

Can Somebody Shout Amen! Inside the Tents and Tabernacles of American Revivalists
by Patsy Sims
Finished reading this on June 8, 2009

I was in the 200s section of the non-fiction at the library, looking for a book about nuns habits. The book wasn't what I wanted, as it turns out. But nearby was this book. It caught my eye because of it's bright yellow spine with maroon lettering: Can Sombody Shout Amen!

The description of religious tent revivals in the south sounded pretty interesting. I've never been to a revival and have only really seen one in movies, most notably Leap of Faith (which has a great soundtrack). I had nothing else to read at the moment, so why not?

The book features a different revival in each chapter. Most deal with tent revivals, but at least a couple of them were indoor revivals. The first few chapters gave a picture of revivals that really didn't seem to be too different from what I had imagined. The history of revivalism was new to me, although I wasn't surprised to find that it started in the south. I guess that religion in the north centered around more organized institutions. Southern churches seem to rise up on the fly.

My favorite chapter was on snake handlers. It was the longest chapter in the book and it featured a revival that happened in a church building. The congregation of this church was very small but swelled to about 50 people for the revival. I gained a new respect for these people. I don't know if every snake handler is like the people in this chapter. But, the people interviewed in the book seemed very sincere. They don't claim to be impervious to snakes. They are bitten and sometimes get sick, but they believe that the Lord will protect them. The bible says that believers can take up serpents and drink every kind of deadly thing. I was surprised to find out that they also sometimes drink poison. One of the men in the book said that he would never drink strychnine unless the Lord really told him to. Not many people drink the poison.
Very very interesting and enlightening.

There was also a chapter on Ernest Angely. Patsy Sims writes about him as respectfully and neutrally as possible. Of course, he still comes off looking like a pompus phoney. What a character! I, of course, had heard of him and even seen him on television. I didn't realize how much Robin Williams based his preacher schtick on Angley. I also didn't realize that Paul Sorvino's character in O God! was based on Angley.

Contrasting Angely's disturbing showmanship and supposed healings is H. Richard Hall's ministry. This was the other chapter that didn't take place in a tent, although Hall began as a tent revivalist and continued to do so up until his death. What impressed me about Hall was his seeming sincerity. He doesn't care much about the money, sometimes leaving any collection until the end of his revival as people are leaving. Accounts of healings sounded authentic. He appeared to be a humble man, working only for God.

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