2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson is known as a author, writer and self-help guru. She has written 13 books, four of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Williamson’s style of delivery is often described as New Age, psychic, ethereal or pure camp (comedy). While many are dismissing Williamson, some are referring to her as an “Internet Darling” and embracing her metaphysical campaign for president. Dr. Kristen Warner, Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama says voters need to be mindful of Williamson’s approach, which is based in charismatic Christianity movements.
Read Dr. Warner’s insight on Williamson’s performance initially expressed in a Facebook post below:
I don’t normally talk about my church background because in my arena of academia it’s really not a thing to discuss for lots of reasons. I also don’t necessarily subscribe to limited effects models because the power of cultural studies compels me not to lol. I link these two points together because there’s a link there that to borrow from mayor Pete is a dividing line in me: spirituality and intellectualism.
In particular it’s my knowledge of charismatic Christianity movements and my intellectual commitments that make my concern for Williamson so sharp. I cannot say enough that now is the time to be cautious and reflect on vulnerabilities because charisma is compelling.
I was talking about how Williamson’s vagueness about bringing forth change feels familiar. It’s not just spiritual mystical rhetoric but it’s wholly based in a charismatic Christian language. “Bring forth” is meaningful discourse. It suggests supernatural ties to the “natural.” Remember when she said “manifests”? That’s live language.
There’s a moment at the end of her summation speech where she lifted her shaking hands into the air with the shaking in her voice that suggested she was overcome with Spirit. Reminded me of Kathryn Kuhlman in the 70s. (You should look her up. Worth lookin at videos of her healing services to see some familiar mannerisms and vocal moves). We have to be able to allow our backgrounds to help us identify what is happening because some of y’all have no idea of the power of charismatic church culture.
Part of that is because the ways we look at televangelism and the current representatives is that they’re “dumb.” It’s so much more complex.
Listen, you heard about Oral Roberts going into that attic and laughed or were offended. What we heard? He got the money he prayed for. Amen. “We believe we receive.” Much more complex than what it looks like.
And that leads to the intellectual commitment part. I see a lot of folks feeling like they can tease and joke with Williamson’s persona because they are “above” it. They aren’t susceptible because they see the distinction between the joke and the real. So like that’s so clearly third person effect right? Everybody else can fall for the crystals but me even though I really “like” what she said about the thing she said. Toying with these folks ideas in any capacity affects you. It leaves a residue and consequently a desire to hear more. To hear “the answer.” The point: None of us are wholly immune to emotional appeal. So when I see folks”teehee” about her as something “just silly” I know that’s not all that’s happening.
Does that woman have “an answer”? Hell no. She thinks science, policy, legislation is wonkiness. You must note that. She is telling you that her interpretation of whatever spiritual reference she is based in (Bible, etc) is literal and limited. “God will make a way.” Directly. Like that joke about the people on the boat praying to be rescued and they decline the helicopter, boat rescues because they want “direct” saving? That is the answer.
These church cultures have subdivided into infinite paths now. Some take more dogma; some take less. Some shift language to be more easily absorbed into mainstream secular space. That’s why it’s so easy to resonate and why it can “click” with your existing belief systems. You think these cultures are bothered by you “mocking”? Oh no. “God sends the foolish things to confound the wise.”
My warning: as the church folk say, search your heart because the power of that lady’s charisma and charm is seductive on purpose. Even the reading of it as silly is useful. Realize we ain’t that damn smart nor are we completely inoculated against seductive discourse. Joke about her to your own peril.
Or: have a conversation about why her words resonate and release it because the truth is harder than her answers.
Dr. Kristen Warner is Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama. A critical race theorist, Warner’s work primarily focuses on race and representation within the Hollywood film and television industry. She is author of the book The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting. Follow her on Twitter @kristenwarner.
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