Speculation in covering Palin

sarah palin at the conventionOver the last couple of weeks, there have been a slew of newspaper articles on the religion of Sarah Palin, Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska's governor. Considering that the rather surprising announcement of Palin's spot on the ticket has been known for a couple of weeks, one would hope that the coverage would be thorough, original and informative. A recent Chicago Tribune article, which represents one of the more thorough stories on Palin's faith outside the East coast media outlets, is one of the less inflammatory. There is a less than original focus on how Palin's faith excites religious people, but the article does not entirely ignore religion's impact on Palin's life.

Unfortunately, much of the article's material on Palin's religion is speculative. Part of that is the campaign's fault. Personally, this has been one of the most confusing media management jobs I have seen on the national stage. That said, these few paragraphs in the Tribune article represent the results of a reporter lacking accessing to a person who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency:

She now eschews the denominational label, choosing to attend independent churches in Alaska and calling herself a generic Christian when asked. But she remains connected to the Assemblies of God, addressing pastors' conferences and ministry students.

Many of Palin's beliefs mirror those of evangelical Christians. But Pentecostals occupy a distinct subset of evangelical Christianity. They believe they can be "baptized in the Holy Spirit" just as Jesus Christ's apostles were in the New Testament's Book of Acts. Gifts of the spirit include speaking in tongues, prophesy and faith healing.

The churches she has attended also embrace dispensation, a theological system that emphasizes man's dominion over the earth and the end times -- theology that could potentially shape a believer's environmental and foreign policies.

"When she talks about using up our non-renewable resources, drilling on the North Slope and building the pipeline, it's almost with glee because in a sense it doesn't matter," said Nancy Hardesty, a professor of religion at Clemson University in South Carolina. "All her brand of Christians may be gone before those things run out. It tends to lessen a long-term view."

Quoting experts who have clear political biases, speculating about how one's theology would influence their public policy and poor use of important labels permeate the coverage of Palin. Unfortunately, until the media has more direct access to her and have an opportunity to discuss with her the impact of her faith on her public policies what are reporters going to do?

The article has its interesting points though. Just after the above quote, the article quotes a rather important figure in Palin's spiritual life:

Rev. Tim McGraw, Palin's pastor when she became mayor of Wasilla, said believers look to Israel for signs of the coming end times and where they are in God's plan. That would undoubtedly influence Palin's approach to foreign policy, McGraw said.

"I believe Sarah would not live in a fragmented world," he said. "The idea that Sarah would take this huge influence of the worldview that really only the Bible and the relationship with Jesus opens up ... and suddenly marginalize it and put it over on the shelf somewhere and live apart from it -- that would be entirely inconsistent."

Now there is some reporting we can believe in. Obvious we do not know what would influence a Vice President Palin's foreign policy, but talking to her pastor is an excellent place to start. Later on in the article, McGraw is quoted further along these same lines. One has to wonder if there was more context to this quote:

"She was very conscientious about applying the worldview of what she was discovering in Christ to her day-to-day life," McGraw said. "But I think she did it with and does it with what the Bible calls wisdom -- in other words practicality, not religious craziness."

So there you have it. Palin's pastor does not think she is going to be apply a religious crazy Christian worldview to the world. Glad we have that cleared up. Hopefully reporters covering Palin's religion will not start with the assumption that her religious views are crazy.

Photo of Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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