The Anointed

John Ashcroft will offer the nation a closer look at Pentecostalism.

On January 4, 1995, just minutes before Republican John Ashcroft was sworn in as a U.S. senator, he did something quite out of character for a new member of the nation's political elite. He knelt on the floor while several family members from Missouri gathered around him. Some laid their hands on his shoulders; others quietly spoke in tongues--the Pentecostalist practice of talking in ecstatic, jumbled phrases thought to be a heavenly language. Ashcroft's frail 83-year-old father, J. Robert Ashcroft, then took a bottle of ordinary cooking oil and poured some of it on his son in the same manner that the biblical prophet Samuel anointed a young King David.

"Don't wear the spirit of Washington, which is arrogance," the elder Ashcroft warned his son. "Nothing of lasting value has ever been accomplished in arrogance. Put on the spirit of humility."

Perhaps to underscore the impact of that holy moment, Ashcroft's father died the next day. For most of his life, J. Robert Ashcroft had been a minister in the Assemblies of God--the leading denomination of white Pentecostalism--and he had served as a pastor and as president of three of the Assembly of God's Pentecostal colleges. But his crowning achievement had been to raise this favored son, the first Pentecostal in history to be elected to the U.S. Senate and, perhaps, the next attorney general of the United States.


Pentecostalism is a Christian religious movement emphasizing the "gifts of the Holy Spirit"--such as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy--traditionally thought to have been bestowed on Jesus's followers on the day of Pentecost. Ashcroft grew up in Springfield, Missouri, a bastion of conservative Pentecostal culture and the headquarters for the Assemblies of God. As a boy, he attended Central Assembly, home church to most of the denomination's top officials, and there developed his Bible-belt morality and his love for Southern gospel music (he still performs in a gospel quartet). He does not smoke or drink, and once, on a political visit to Asia, he appointed some of his staffers as "designated drinkers" so he could abstain without offending dignitaries.

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