President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick has again drawn attention to a small religious group called People of Praise.
Trump nominated federal appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the high court seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18 from cancer complications after serving 27 years on the bench.
Barrett’s nomination has been contentious for a number of reasons, including her stances on the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, the timing of Trump’s pick and Senate Republicans’ plans to hold a confirmation vote despite the nearing election. Barrett’s inclusion on the court would lock in a 6-3 conservative majority among the justices.
But it’s also brought back into the spotlight People of Praise, as the judge is said to have ties to the group.
What is People of Praise?
The group describes itself as a “charismatic Christian community.”
People of Praise was founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, and has about 1,700 members across 22 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, according to its website.
It site says it’s made up of “Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians.” But its beliefs are rooted in the charismatic Catholicism movement.
The charismatic movement is largely influenced by Pentecostalism and involves “demonstrative” praying, faith healing and speaking in tongues, The Washington Post reports. The group says it has been “very much involved in the growth of charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church.”
Members of People of Praise also make a “lifelong commitment to the community” called a “covenant,” which the group says differs from an oath or a vow. The group also involves leaders who advise other members. Men in that position are referred to as “heads” and, previously, women were called “handmaids” before the group changed the term to “woman leader,” The New York Times reports.
What are its beliefs?
The group says its community is “characterized by deep and lasting friendships” and that members share their lives together.
“We read Scripture together,” the site says. “We share meals together. We attend each other’s baptisms and weddings and funerals. We support each other financially and materially and spiritually. We strive to live our daily lives in our families, workplaces and cities in harmony with God and with all people.”
Members usually attend their own local churches on Sunday mornings and meet with their People of Praise community later in the day and in “small, single-gender groups” weekly, The Washington Post reports. The group also holds large prayer meetings, it says.
Charismatic religious groups often involve hierarchical leadership and strict views on the relationship between men and women, Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University who has studied groups similar to People of Praise, told The Associated Press.
“We have chosen to rely on male leadership at the highest level of our community based on our desire to be a family of families,” Sean Connolly, the group’s communication director, told CNN, adding that women in the group also take on leadership roles. “We follow the New Testament teaching that the husband is the head of the family, and we have patterned our community on this New Testament approach to family life.”
But Adrian Reimers, one of the group’s first members who now teaches philosophy at Notre Dame, has said People of Praise takes it further than that.
“A married woman is expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband’s authority,” Reimers wrote in a book about the group after he left it, according to the AP. “This goes beyond an acknowledgment that the husband is ‘head of the home’ or head of the family. He is, in fact, her personal pastoral head. Whatever she does requires at least his tacit approval. He is responsible for her formation and growth in the Christian life.”
Women who left the group have told The Associated Press wives were expected to obey their husband’s every wish, including when it came to sex. One recounted being forbidden from taking birth control because “married women were supposed to bear as many babies as God would provide.”
Craig Lent, People of Praise’s overall coordinator, told The Washington Post that members hold diverse political beliefs but that the group believes “life begins at conception” when he was asked about members’ stances on issues such as abortion.
Barrett’s ties to the group
The judge’s ties to People of Praise first came up when The New York Time’s published a piece about her involvement in the group in September 2017. The group’s magazine Vines & Branches mentioned Barrett several times, but those issues have since been removed from its website, per the Times report.
Barrett has never publicly commented on her connections to the group, and a spokesperson for the group refused to confirm to AP if she and her husband are members.
An Associated Press report published Wednesday found the group had erased additional mentions and photos of Barrett from its website ahead of her Senate confirmation hearings.
Her religious beliefs were also discussed in 2017 during her confirmation hearings to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, questioned whether she could separate her faith from her legal opinions.
At the time, Barrett said it was “never appropriate” for a judge to impose religious beliefs on the law, according to NPR.
Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has brought her faith back in the political spotlight, and it’s possible it will come up during her hearings as well — an idea some conservatives have criticized.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to address a situation that exists out there, throughout the media and something that is being pushed by our friends across the aisle, and that is the bigoted attacks on Judge Barrett’s faith,” Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, said Thursday, according to a video from The Hill.
But NPR News reports that if her faith is brought up, “it would presumably be because her Catholic faith appears to be of unusual intensity and character.”