Amy Coney Barrett Tied To Religious Group That Ex-Members Say Subjugates Women

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People of Praise is a charismatic Christian religious that believes men are divinely ordained as 'head' of the family.

Federal appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, has ties to a religious group whose former members say it teaches that wives must submit to the will of their husbands, The Associated Press reports.

  • The group, called People of Praise, “holds [that] men are divinely ordained as the ‘head’ of the family and faith,” the AP wrote.
  • Barrett has not commented publicly as to whether she belongs to the group, and a spokesman for People of Praise declined to say whether the judge and her husband are currently members.

But Barrett, 48, grew up in New Orleans in a family deeply connected to the organization and as recently as 2017 she served as a trustee at the People of Praise-affiliated Trinity Schools Inc., according to the nonprofit organization’s tax records and other documents reviewed by The Associated Press. Only members of the group serve on the schools’ board, according to the system’s president.

The AP also reviewed 15 years of back issues of the organization’s internal magazine, Vine and Branches, which has published birth announcements, photos and other mentions of Barrett and her husband, Jesse, whose family has been active in the group for four decades. On Friday, all editions of the magazine were removed from the group’s website.

  • According to the AP, “People of Praise is a religious community based in charismatic Catholicism, a movement that grew out of the influence of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.”
  • Most of the members are Catholic, though the group “meets outside the purview of a church and includes people from several Christian denominations,” per the report.
  • Current members of the group described vastly different experiences than former members who spoke with the AP.
  • One current member in Oregon, 47-year-old Joannah Clark, who grew up in People of Praise and joined as an adult, said she never heard of anyone being abused in the group or shunned for leaving.

“In a marriage, we look at the husband as the head of the family. And that’s consistent with New Testament teaching,” said Clark, who is the head of Trinity Academy in Portland, Oregon. “This role of the husband as the head of the family is not a position of power or domination. It’s really quite the opposite. It’s a position of care and service and responsibility. Men are looking out for the good and well-being of their families.”

  • But more than one former member has claimed the opposite.

Coral Anika Theill joined People of Praise’s branch in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1979, when she was a 24-year-old mother of 6-month-old twins.

“My husband at the time was very drawn to it because of the structure of the submission of women,” recounted Theill, who is now 65.

Theill, who converted to Catholicism after getting married, said in her People of Praise community women were expected to live in “total submission” not only to their husbands, but also the other male “heads” within the group.

  • Likewise, Adrian Reimers — who together with his wife was among the first members in South Bend — “teaches philosophy at Notre Dame” and “went on to write detailed academic examinations of the group’s inner workings and theological underpinnings.”

In a 1997 book about People of Praise and other covenant communities, Reimers wrote that the fundamental principle of the group was St. Paul’s stipulation from the Bible that the husband is the “head” of his wife and that the wife is to “submit in all things.”

“A married woman is expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband’s authority,” Reimers wrote. “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.”

Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor who works with people who have left fundamentalist authoritarian religious groups, said the culture within People of Praise as described by Theill and Williams, including the practice of shunning former members, creates fear so that people are dependent and obedient.

  • However, Hassan cautioned that experiences like Theill’s “were from decades ago and not necessarily illustrative of how the group now operates,” the AP wrote, adding: “And current members of People of Praise interviewed by the AP strongly disputed those characterizations.”

Read the full report.


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