Paula White and the mainstreaming of Pentecostal politics

President Donald Trump’s appointment of Paula White as head of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a unit in the Office of Public Liaison tasked with outreach to religious groups, suggests that the mainstreaming of Pentecostal Christians within the Christian right is about complete, writes Daniel Hummel in the e-newsletter Sightings (November 7). There have been Pentecostal or charismatic leaders in the Christian right for several decades, but the evangelical and fundamentalist movements that helped create the Christian right made these two communities the movement’s gatekeepers. The birth in the 1990s of the Christian Coalition (a type of successor grassroots organization to the Moral Majority) started the shift toward Pentecostal recognition within the Christian right. “In major areas of conservative evangelical politics, from pro-Israel lobbying to free-market economics, Pentecostals have become central and public drivers of activism,” writes Hummel.

Citing Frances Fitzgerald’s historical work on evangelicals, he points out that White and her fellow Pentecostals and charismatics, coming of age after the rise of the Christian right in the 1970s, know no era of American politics that did not refer to evangelicals as a political demographic. Thus, this new breed of Christian-right leader has been defined far less by theology than by ideology. Hummel concludes that “Paula White’s ascension to Trump’s inner circle, and now her official position in the White House, is a dual testament to this historical process: to the ongoing mainstreaming of Pentecostalism in the broader culture of ‘evangelical politics’ and to the historically contingent de-emphasis of labels like Pentecostalism in shaping American political coalitions at all.”