Here is a video of a Sarah Palin speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God. She is speaking to the graduates of the Master Commission Wasilla, Alaska, a year-long intensive school designed to prepare men and women for evangelical ministry in Alaska, the nation, and the world.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGOu-X76rR0&hl=]
This video, more than anything else, should convince Americans that Sarah Palin’s evangelical commitments are strong. She knows how to talk to evangelicals and she can speak their language. These were not prepared comments–she was speaking in a folksy way to the people with whom she feels most comfortable.
My earlier post “Does Sarah Palin Speak in Tongues” and my recent op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman has drawn criticism from some who wonder why Palin’s religious beliefs should matter. So what if she does speak in tongues?–that is a private matter between her and God.
Let me say that in both my op-ed and my blog post I tried to be as even-handed as possible. (At least one blogger seemed to get this). As a historian and observer of American religious life my intention was to inform people about Palin’s faith. It was not designed to suggest in any way that she was ill-equipped to be vice-president because she is a Pentecostal. When I wrote the post we knew absolutely nothing about Palin’s faith and I tried to make an initial attempt at defining her.
Much of the media is quite disturbed by what they see in this video. Palin is a woman who claims to “get a word” from God. She speaks about being part of a spiritual revival in Alaska. She talks about being “saved.” She thanks the graduates of this Commission for “dedicating your lives to Jesus Christ.” Other reports have stated that she speaks in tongues, believes in the rapture, affirms creationism, and thinks homosexuality is a sin that can be corrected through prayer and counseling.
Some of the media coverage of Palin’s faith has revealed just how little some of our babbling pundits know about the beliefs of American evangelicals. Check out this exchange between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann anad Rachel Maddow from last night’s episode of “Countdown.”[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1XzVVOiP4E&hl=]
As much as I admired Kieth Olbermann as a sportcaster when he was on ESPN, his remarks here reveal his ignorance. He talks mockingly about Palin as if she is part of a strange cult. But in fact, whether one agrees with them or not, there are millions of evangelicals who think like Palin. They speak in tongues, they believe the world was created by an intelligent designer, they believe homosexuality is a sin, they believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ (think of the popularity of the “Left Behind” novels), they pray for spiritual revival in this country and the world, and they can point to the moment in which they were “saved.”
Again, it is not my intention here to say whether or not these evangelical views are right or wrong. My goal is to suggest just how clueless and out of touch these so-called news commentators are about the beliefs of large numbers of American people. Olbermann clearly shows his provincialism here.
I will, however, offer four opinions about the Palin video:
First, Palin certainly has the right to be a pentecostal or charismatic evangelical. Her beliefs, in the best of all possible worlds, should not have any bearing on her ability to serve as the Vice-President of the United Sates.
Second, I would even argue that it is OK for Palin’s faith to inform some of her positions on public policy. It has clearly informed her position on abortion. Similarly, Barack Obama’s Christian faith informs some of his commitments to the poor. He has argued that one cannot check their faith at the door when he or she enters public service. Evangelicals believe in the Bible and the Bible has a lot to say about war, poverty, compassion, human dignity and life, etc…
Third, what disturbs me about the Palin video is her belief that she can know the will of God. How does Palin know that the construction of a natural pipeline is the will of God? How does she know that troops going to Alaska are on a “task that is from God?” This kind of providentialism–and I write as a Christian here– IS a problem. It displays a certain arrogance on Palin’s part–a belief that she can know the mind of a transcendent and unknowable God who only reveals Himself to His creation “in part.” (I think of 1 Cor. 13:12 here: We see “through a glass darkly.”).
While it is one thing to take political positions based upon an interpretation of the Bible or church tradition, it is quite another thing to claim certainty about God’s will when it comes to things–like wars and pipelines–not addressed specifically or directly in the canon of Scripture.
I might also add that it is precisely on issues like these that Palin’s Pentecostalism actually COULD be a factor in her politics. Many Pentecostals believe in prophecy or receiving direct revelation from God about the things of this world. In this sense, a Pentecostal who may not find specific evidence in the Bible for going to war in Iraq or building a pipeline may claim to have received a “word” from God that these are indeed divinely sanctioned actions. To be fair, Palin has never said her positions on the pipeline or Iraq were given to her directly from God, and Pentecostals believe that God would never send a “word” that violates the general teachings of the Bible, but one wonders how these kinds of revelations–an important part of Pentecostal life–might affect her decision-making on policy issues. I appreciate any help from my Pentecostal friends and readers to let me know if the conclusion I have drawn here is a fair one.
Fourth, and finally, I wonder if a church is the best place to talk about politics or public policy. Should the church pulpit (or lectern in this case) or church building be used to promote views on wars or pipelines?