Joy Unspeakable (1981)

About the Film

Joy Unspeakable is an ethnographic film that examines the question, what does it mean to be Pentecostal, through the documentation of three types of Oneness Pentecostal services in Southern Indiana: a gospel-rock concert, a regular Sunday service, and a camp meeting. Religious behavior, doctrine, and social values are discussed by several Oneness Pentecostal church members and ministers in interviews interspersed with footage of the various services.

Most Pentecostal people define the Pentecostal experience as a personal receiving of the Holy Ghost through speaking in tongues. This "spirit baptism" is an experience that changes their lives. Pentecostalism is a 20th Century phenomenon; traveling preachers brought the Pentecostal message to Southern Indiana in the early 1900’s. Since then, several different types of Pentecostalism have developed; in Southern Indiana, one of the most prominent types is Holiness, or oneness Pentecostalism. Oneness is based on the belief that Jesus Christ is the incarnate God, and that father, son, and the Holy Ghost are one and the same. Thus Oneness Pentecostals worship Jesus, and Baptize only in his name. Because of this attitude toward God, and Jesus, and because their strict social standards often come in conflict with the rest of the community, Pentecostals are often misunderstood.

The influence of religious beliefs on people’s daily lives is rarely considered, or at best, sometimes misunderstood; and Joy Unspeakable should be taken as an attempt to examine this area of concern. While the first portion of Joy Unspeakable emphasizes some of the social and cultural differences that are apparent to the outsider, the last half hour clearly portrays the significance of certain Pentecostal religious experiences, including the nature of "spirit baptism" through glossolalia (speaking in tongues), strict social standards, and spiritual healing.


For licensing, film rights and permissions, contact Elaine Lawless, Elizabeth Peterson, John Winninger, the distributor Indiana University AV Center, or Folkstreams.