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Charismatic TikTok Divided Over Praying in Tongues

RNS illustration by Kit Doyle

(RNS) — Michael Paul Corder says he “cut his teeth” praying in public by going around to grocery stores and striking up conversations, asking folks if they wanted to pray. But even in the Bible Belt of eastern Tennessee, he found people were often hesitant or embarrassed.

Not so, he said, on TikTok.

Corder does a livestream open prayer every day, in which he prays for the hundreds of people who hop into the virtual chatroom without embarrassment. Many of his nearly 165,000 followers who join express feeling relief or calm when he prays for them. Their pain or healing is not something that can be verified, Corder admits, but still, he believes their presence testifies to something missing from their churches.

“At those churches, they’re not praying for the sick, or if they are, they’re not seeing results. At mainstream churches, you get more of a philosophical lecture,” Corder said over the phone with Religion News Service.

Sometimes on his livestreams, Corder will pray in tongues — a practice popular among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians that involves speaking in a language foreign or unknown to the speaker (and generally not a known language to any culture) that is believed to be brought on by the Holy Spirit.

“I think words are not the greatest at describing the sensation,” Corder said. “It’s being filled, it’s being baptized.”

“It’s a little mysterious,” he added, saying he speaks in tongues when the Holy Spirit moves him.

Pentecostal or charismatic TikTok is a thriving community of diverse Christians. It’s multilingual and multicultural and spans generations. Its hashtags have millions of views. Here, Christians who identify as charismatic Christians, nondenominational, Assemblies of God or Pentecostal all gather to share encouragement and give Christian witness on the internet.

Many of the videos on charismatic TikTok are dedicated to prayer — talking about prayer, encouraging others in prayer or praying on camera. In the charismatic tradition, this can often include praying in tongues — also known as glossolalia. The hashtag for speaking in tongues has more than 4 million views.

Heidi Campbell, author of the recent book “Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority,” says new media has long been a ripe platform for evangelization and religious discussion — from the printing press to TikTok. There’s along tradition of using digital media and the internet for spiritual reflection and debate,” she said.

Before the internet became widely available to the public, Campbell described participating in charismatic email-based communities on internet relay chats, forerunners of popular messenger platforms like AOL Instant Messenger. “If you were speaking in tongues, you would just kind of let your fingers go over random keys—like gobbly goop,” said Campbell, “but that was the symbolism of speaking in tongues.”