Certain segments within early Pentecostalism – most prominently the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909) in Los Angeles, California – promoted a vision of “brotherly love” across the racial divides. However, this interracial vision was quickly eclipsed as Pentecostals set out to organize churches and did so largely along cultural and racial lines. When the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America – an umbrella organization for Pentecostal denominations – was formed in 1948, its founding members were all mostly-white denominations.
Recognizing the need to heal the racial divisions within Pentecostalism, church leaders came together in Memphis on October 18, 1994 and dissolved the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. The next day the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) was formed by both white and black denominations. The meetings surrounding this monumental act of racial reconciliation came to a climax when, on October 18, a white Assemblies of God pastor, Donald Evans, approached the platform. He tearfully explained that he felt God’s leading to wash the feet of Church of God in Christ Bishop Ithiel Clemmons, while begging forgiveness for the sins of the whites against their black brothers and sisters. A wave of weeping swept over the auditorium. Participants sensed that this was the final seal of the Holy Spirit’s approval from the heart of God over the proceedings. This event, which became known as the “Memphis Miracle,” is a significant milestone in the annals of Pentecostal history.
On March 12, 2011, Donald Evans returned to Memphis and, at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), he shared the story behind his involvement in the Memphis Miracle. This was the first time that Evans, pastor of Gateway Christian Center Assembly of God (Tampa, Florida), had shared this story in a public forum.
Evans noted that it was only by “default” that he was at the 1994 Memphis Miracle. He attended in place of Assemblies of God pastor Mark Rutland, who had other responsibilities. Likewise, Evans received an invitation to speak at the 2011 SPS annual meeting after another speaker had cancelled. At both events, Evans stated, he felt like “a minnow among whales.”
Evans recalled, “I was surprised when I felt God’s prompting to approach the platform and wash Bishop Clemmons’ feet. But my simple response to God became like the proverbial rippling effect of a pebble in a pond. It amazes me how the Holy Spirit continues to speak through that small act of obedience.”
The 1994 Memphis Miracle caused many leaders in the Assemblies of God to experience a heightened sense of urgency for racial reconciliation. In response, the 1995 General Council resolved to encourage the “inclusion of black brothers and sisters throughout every aspect of the Assemblies of God.” General Superintendent Thomas Trask appointed a committee to study the possibility of changing the General Presbytery and Executive Presbytery “so as to more accurately reflect the composition in language and culture of our Fellowship.” In 1997, the General Council voted to include representatives from ethnic fellowships in the General Presbytery and to expand the Executive Presbytery to include a representative from the ethnic fellowships.
Donald Evans’ detailed recounting of the events surrounding his involvement in the Memphis Miracle was recorded and is now accessible here from the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
By Darrin Rodgers