It seems as though past political attacks come back to haunt the Democrats and Republicans. After Republicans suffered sexist charges by the Democratic Party during the primaries, we now find Barack Obama and the Democrats confronting sexist charges from the Republican Party.
Likewise, as Barack Obama had to deal with his affiliations with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, we now find Sarah Palin and the Republicans having to deal with questionable church affiliations from the Democrats. One could counter here that Republican candidates have had their share of fiery and scandalous pastors, and I have written as much in a past commentary on John McCain’s ties to politically controversial Christian pastors. However, we have a new direction with Sarah Palin’s affiliation with her hometown Wasila Assembly of God, a church she claims to have grown up in.
Palin’s role in the church has not simply been an attendant, but an active leader, where she fused political and religious motives in her climb to the Governorship. This controversial step might electrify conservative evangelical Christians, but could alienate a large voting block.
Wasila Assembly of God is one of thousands of Assembly of God churches in the United States. The Assembly of God is the largest Pentecostal domination with 57 million adherents, and hosts over 280,000 churches in over 200 countries.
Palin’s controversial blurring of Church and State was already present during her term as mayor of Wasila. After Palin and her church raised concerns over certain books at the public library, one dealing explicitly with homosexuality, Palin as mayor asked the head librarian how the librarian would feel if asked to remove some books from the collection. The head librarian replied that it was not acceptable. Shortly thereafter, the librarian was fired, only to be reinstated after a public uproar. The librarian eventually left, citing problems working with Palin:
Palin’s role in the potential book banning is thin, and nondescript, and moreover never led to an actual ban. It does raise into question Palin’s vision of civic duty, i.e., how much of her own faith should she allow into her political life. Ordinarily a non-Protestant candidate would come under fire for this, such as John F. Kennedy and John Kerry for being Catholic, or most recently with Mitt Romney for his Mormon beliefs. But it is not Palin’s Pentecostal background that provides a troubling mix of Church and State inclinations, but rather her acts that merge politicking and proselytizing together.
An excellent example of this is found in Palin’s speech to the Wasila Assembly of God’s Master’s Commission students this past June. Wasila’s Master’s Commission students dedicate 9 months to proselytize and become “24/7 ministry students“. In Palin’s speech to these students, she inserted political, moral, and Christian rhetoric to a captivated group of prospective voters (Master’s Commission students are between the ages of 18-25). The first of two clips is below, the second is here.
In earlier critiques concerning Jeremiah Wright, there were two issues that repeatedly surfaced: 1) Obama was affiliated with Pastor Wright, who brought allegedly non-religious topics to the sermon (such as 9/11, the war in Iraq, racism) and; 2) Obama was passively present during some of Pastor’s Wright’s fiery and controversial sermons. In both cases, Obama was not faulted for the actions, but rather the relationship he had to the person doing the actions. Sarah Palin’s case is much more stark. What we find here is Palin’s actions, not her pastor’s, that become highly questionable. However, let’s get beyond the stage of shallow comparisons and look at something much more controversial to our popular democracy. Palin used her church for politicking, but more importantly, used political platforms to proselytize.
Palin’s views on drilling in Alaska becomes a holy mission from God, and something to pray for. During her speech, she explains to these soon-to-be ministry students:
What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys as you go out throughout Alaska. I can do my part in doing things like working really really hard to get a natural gas pipeline, about a 30 billion dollar project that is going to create a lothttp://www.wasillaag.org/ of jobs for Alaskans and we’re going to have a lot of energy flowing through here. And pray about that also, I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies in getting that gas line built, so pray for that. But I can do my job there in developing our natural resources and doing things like getting the roads paved and making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded, but really all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God. And that is going to be your job, as I am going to be doing my job, let’s strike this deal, your job is going to be going out there, reaching the people, herding people, throughout Alaska, and we can work together to make sure God’s will is done here.
*bold added for emphasis*
Palin mixed politics, economics, and God into her pitch for an Alaskan pipeline– ordinarily an odd and questionable combination for a pastor, rabbi, or imam. But this was not coming from a religious figure, but rather Alaska’s Governor, in a church, to evangelical voters. Perhaps this is the key to focus on: evangelical voters. What better way to galvanize a large following and amass loyal and passionate followers, but to intertwine your political platform with Christian evangelicalism? Whether Palin was manipulating the students or not is inconsequential to the worldview she was espousing.
Palin’s evangelical politics manifested when she spoke on the war in Iraq, when she called soldier’s missions a task from God:
(Track) is going to be deployed to Iraq in September, pray for military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that is what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan, so bless them with your prayers of protection over our soldiers.
And speaking of Track also, he just turned 19, and when he turned 18, right before he enlisted, he had to get his first tattoo. And I was like, “nyah, I don’t think that’s really cool son,” until he showed me what it was and I thought, “Oh, he did something right.” ‘Cause on his cap he has a big old Jesus Fish.”
*bold added for emphasis*
The question here is not whether you believe in Palin’s views, but rather do you believe in her politics? This issue is compounded when juxtaposing Palin’s comments in church to those during a recent interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson. In the interview, Palin seems to be backing away from these comments, posturing herself more as a secular politician. Unfortunately, she is misrepresenting her worldview:
GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.” Are we fighting a holy war?
PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.
GIBSON: Exact words.
PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words. But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God’s side. That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie.
GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, “There is a plan and it is God’s plan.”
PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That, in my world view, is a grand — the grand plan.
GIBSON: But then are you sending your son on a task that is from God?
PALIN: I don’t know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer.
We are in the stage of ‘repainting images’ and Palin is trying to give herself a secular makeover. Both McCain and Obama argue that their vice presidents are qualified to serve as president of the United States. Regardless of which Palin image prevails, the question remains: in this new age of politics, is there room for an evangelical president?