Janet Morana: Amy Coney Barrett and ‘Speaking in Tongues’

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee for the US Supreme Court, meets with Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October, 1, 2020. (Photo by Manuel Balce CENATA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MANUEL BALCE CENATA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby went public about speaking in tongues last year, the announcement caused barely a ripple in Great Britain or even across the pond in the former colonies.

In a televised interview, the archbishop, leader of the 80-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, confirmed that part of his daily prayer is speaking in tongues.

“It’s not something to make a great song and dance about,” he said.

Yet a great hullabaloo is under way (again) in these United States because Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a Charismatic Catholic, a movement characterized by an exuberant form of worship that can include speaking in tongues.

Cue the critics:

  • On his weekly televised rant, Bill Maher called the judge an “(expletive) nut. Catholic. Really Catholic. I mean really, really Catholic – like speaking in tongues.”
  • “Will Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speak (babble) in tongues,” inquired a headline at ArtVoice.com.
  • A Twitter user with the handle @PalmerReport tweeted to 341,000 followers that “Amy Coney Barrett is a deranged freak show of an extremist.”

As Judge Barrett’s near-certain confirmation process nears, Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani said that “What I see is the start of a very anti-Catholic attack.”

In our purportedly “tolerant” society, it remains acceptable to bash Catholics in public and particularly in the media, unless they are politicians who think abortion is a fine thing.

But in this Black Lives Matter moment, critics should think twice before casting suspicion on Judge Barrett’s prayer life, unless they wish to tangle with the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, which also happens to be predominantly Black.

Like Charismatic Catholics, COGIC members believe that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but they’ve been doing it a lot longer. The Charismatic Renewal began in the 1960s whereas COGIC was founded in 1897 and 10 years later became the first Pentecostal church incorporated in the United States.

To the unchurched and the non-believers, speaking in tongues might seem like an affectation or something brought on by the power of suggestion, but those who have witnessed it say that something tangible is happening around them. In his documentary series “The Story of God,” actor Morgan Freeman described speaking in tongues as “the language of heaven.”

The actress Megan Fox and the singer Katy Perry have both spoken about their experiences with speaking in tongues growing up in Pentecostal homes.

I’m guessing no one took to Twitter to call any of these celebrities deranged. But I have to admit I was skeptical about the experience until it happened to me.

I was born and raised in the Catholic Church but fell away for more than 20 years. When I returned, I learned that not only could I follow the traditions and rituals of the Church, but that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. This was eye-opening.

But the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, was something I hadn’t thought much about since a bishop slapped my face as part of my Confirmation ceremony. This changed when I met the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, an order of Charismatic sisters in Prayer Town, Texas.

At first, I was just an observer at their prayer services, but then one of the sisters took me under her wing. I soon grew comfortable with raising my hand while singing and praying, something we did not do in the Brooklyn parish where I grew up.

I heard some of the sisters speaking in tongues around me but I didn’t expect it would happen to me. Then it did.

I had my eyes closed and I was deep in prayer when I realized I was speaking out loud, but not in any language I knew or understood. A very peaceful feeling washed over me. It happened several times after that but I have not spoken in tongues in a few years.

That gift is probably still within me but I haven’t reached for it. Honestly, if I could find a Charismatic prayer group near me in Florida I would attend a service to see if I would be able to get back in touch with that spirit of the divine. It really was a gift.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury assured his flock, “every Christian is a Charismatic.” There’s nothing crazy or suspicious about Charismatic Catholics and the reports I’ve read about the group Judge Barrett belongs to seem to indicate that its members are upstanding citizens who value quality education and personal accountability.

If the United States were a less divided nation, these are qualities we would all cherish in a Supreme Court justice.

Janet Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life, a member of the Catholic Voices for Trump and Pro-Life Voices for Trump advisory boards, and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.


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