Speaking in Tongues: Alternative Voices in Faith

Speaking in tongues is a controversial practice to many Christians, but others consider it a gift from God.

And many people who attend the Freedom Valley Worship Center in Gettysburg, Pa., pray for that gift.

"For me, it is almost as if I am able to tap into God's heart and what he wants," said Amber Crone, a member of the church. "I don't really know what I am saying, but I know it is what God wants me to say and speak. It is more of an enlightenment -- you can feel him all around you, and you can feel him speaking through the words that you are saying."

Crone's friend, Kelly Chocincky, describes what she says is a feeling of connection to God. "I know some people that get a warm, fuzzy feeling going on inside them. For me, I get goose bumps, actually."

'It Heals You on the Inside'

For Senior Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos, speaking in tongues is a deeply ingrained way of life. He says he has been speaking in tongues since he was a boy growing up in an Amish family, although the Amish frown on the practice.

"The Amish world didn't really address that at all," said Stoltzfoos.

"I didn't think it was wrong," Stoltzfoos said, "but I didn't think it would be exactly encouraged if I tried to explain it, and if I had used any of the vernacular that I was familiar with, like speaking in tongues, I would have been told there wasn't such thing. When I left the Amish Church, I started seeking a church that was really open to outside people coming in."

Stoltzfoos said he encouraged his congregation to speak in tongues. "It settles things in your spirit, and it heals you on the inside."

The origin of the practice is believed to be the miracle of Pentecost -- as told in the New Testament book of Acts -- when Jesus' apostles were said to be filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in languages foreign to themselves. And a gifted few are said to have done it in early Christian congregations. Saint Paul called it "speaking in the tongues of angels."

The practice is widely embraced by Pentecostals but looked at askance by many other Christian denominations. And to outsiders, it can seem downright freakish.

'A Heavenly Language'

"There is a vast number of people out there that, because they did not experience it personally or they were taught against it, there is no way they have an ability to embrace it," said Stoltzfoos. "We are still mocked and made fun of."

But those who do speak in tongues, who believe the Holy Spirit is speaking through them, say they don't care at all about what others think. It is their unique connection to God, they say, in a language he understands, even if they don't.

"We say things in our own English language, but speaking in tongues is a heavenly language -- that we are going to God and Jesus intercedes for us," said Donna Morgan, who speaks in tongues daily.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Andrew Newberg is looking for an explanation for what most regard as inexplicable.

Newberg is determined to unravel the relationship between faith and science by studying what happens in the brain during the deepest moments of faith. He's recently published a study looking at the brain activity of eight Americans who speak in tongues.

"If we are really going to look at this powerful force in human history of religion and spirituality, I think we really have to take a look at how that affects our brain -- what's changing or turning on and off in our brain," Newberg said.

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