Newt Gingrich Visits the “Holy Ghost Bartender”

Today Newt Gingrich made an appearance at River Church in Tampa, Florida, pastored by Rodney Howard Browne. Slate’s Dave Weigel tweeted that in introducing Gingrich, Browne prayed that America “will not allow the killing of unborn babies, and the takeover of Islam” and “the Constitution that we have, and your word, and Jesus is the only way we can be delivered from this plight.”

Browne is no inconsequential—or uncontroversial—figure in the world of charismatic Christianity. He’s been described by Christianity Today as the “often flamboyant Pentecostal preacher.” He’s associated with the “holy laughter” manifestation of charismatic gifts, which the same CT piece characterized as “rang[ing] from uncontrollable laughter to the noises of animals.”

Here is Browne at Oral Roberts University, along with the late Oral Roberts, where the pair was consumed with holy laughter:

A 1999 profile in the Tampa Tribune described Browne and the phenomonen that is also known as the Toronto Blessing, because of a revival sparked there:

Howard-Browne is the pastor of The River at Tampa Bay, a high-energy, racially-mixed church in Temple Terrace he founded in December 1996. Nearly 1,000 people spend about four hours in a service led by “the Holy Ghost bartender,” as he is known.

Here, he serves the new wine of Christ, and they get drunk with joy. It’s not uncommon for worshipers to break into uncontrollable “holy laughter,” shaking with mirth, dancing in the aisles or falling to the ground. They say they are “slain in the spirit.”

The movement has swept churches in Lakeland, Pensacola, southern California and Toronto. Although holy laughter has caused quite a controversy in charismatic circles, historians say it has been around for centuries.

“It’s better than doing crack cocaine; it’s better than drinking alcohol,” says David Wilson, a 38- year-old carpenter and former substance abuser who now attends the River. “It’s a spiritual high I never want to come off of.”

Adherents to a more orthodox brand of Christianity object to Browne’s doctrine, along with his preaching of Word of Faith (or prosperity gospel), calling their views heretical and unbiblical.

Critics range from the Christian Research Institute, which aims to “provide Christians worldwide with carefully researched information and well-reasoned answers that encourage them in their faith and equip them to intelligently represent it to people influenced by ideas and teachings that assault or undermine orthodox, biblical Christianity” to televangelist watchdog Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation. Anthony called the high produced by Browne’s revival “a phony euphoria,” adding, “What happens to these converted people when the crusade packs up and leaves town? They get depressed. They get confused. So all they can do is wait for the next one so they can go back and get another fix.” CRI’s Hank Hanegraff, also known as the “Bible Answer Man,” has called Browne’s activities a “counterfeit revival,” and accused him of preaching “fabrications, fantasies, and frauds.”

Hanegraff has provided some detailed accounts of what it was like for him to be at a Browne revival:

When the Holy Ghost Bartender (who also refers to himself as the Holy Ghost Hitman) arrived at my seat, he began threatening to have me thrown out of the sanctuary. “I’m telling you right now,” he hissed, “you’ll drop dead if you prohibit what God is doing!” Dramatically he gestured toward the crowd and warned them that those like me, who would dare question that what he was doing was of God, had committed the unpardonable sin and would not be forgiven in this world or the next.

The following day he crowed, “The last time I had a confrontation like that…was…with a bunch of Mormons… you could see their spirit, y’know…just a really religious, pharisaical spirit, that’s what it is. Amen?…And I smelt it — y’know, I can smell them religious devils from about a hundred yards —- I could smell them blindfolded, man….You could see, last night we meant business.” He labeled his critics “idiots” and warned that they were about to experience either “riot or revival.”

Four years ago, John McCain had a “pastor problem” because of the controversial and bigoted statements made by his endorsers John Hagee and Rod Parsley. McCain responded by rejecting their endorsements and distancing himself from them. It’s hard to imagine Newt (Tyler Durden) Gingrich backing away so easily, even if other Christians have issues with Browne. Will he add “heretic hunters” to the list of “elites” attacking him?

I can’t resist: here’s another Browne video. “Saturate them, Jesus:”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email