The Wall Street Journal took on the challenging task Thursday of reporting on and explaining the faith of 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin and how it might impact her public policy views. Needless to say, despite the Journal's good efforts, more journalistic work remains to be done. The article starts out with a short description of Palin's place of worship for more than twenty years:
At the Pentecostal church where Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin worshipped for more than two decades, congregants speak in tongues and are part of a faith that believes humanity is in its "end times" -- the days preceding a world-ending cataclysm bringing Christian redemption and the second coming of Jesus.
The Rev. Ed Kalnins, pastor of the Pentecostal church, Wasilla Assembly of God, says he has told church members that God put President George W. Bush in office and that America is locked in a "holy war" with terrorists.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the campaign said that her time at this church for twenty years is not relevant and that she would not "get into that." Apparently, the important thing is where Palin worships today, according to the campaign. Right. Exactly what is the McCain-Palin campaign trying to keep reporters from finding out? One way or another reporters have a job of helping the public better understand what Palin believes in her heart and how twenty years at this church impacts her perspectives on public policy.
Fortunately, there is some public material out there and the WSJ was able to dig some of it up and provide some outside commentary on the subject matter:
"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country," Gov. Palin said, in a video of the talk posted on the church's Web site. Pray "that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure we're praying for: that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan."
David Gushee, a Christian ethicist at Mercer University in Atlanta, says he is troubled that a public official might presume that government action could be God's intent. "I would never think it is appropriate to describe the actions of the United States military or the strategies of our commanders as a plan from God," Mr. Gushee says.
That commentary from Mr. Gushee is all nice and good, but is it really all that remarkable in today's political climate? Perhaps Palin is just more honest in public about she feels spiritually. Remember here what Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama wrote in a note he thought would remain private:
Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.
Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just.
And make me an instrument of your will.
Go ahead and comment away on the difference between asking God to make one an instrument of His will and asking others to pray to God that the country's leaders would send people out on a task from God, or that the plan is God's plan. Of course, what matters significantly is the perspective and setting from which that person makes that public statement or puts that private prayer into writing. What also matters significantly is that person's religious faith. Either way, it would help to put her statement into a bigger context and compare it to what other people have said in front of groups of faith.
A reader of ours submitted an excellent comment, noting that the article spent plenty of time on Palin's old church and little on her current church. The reader noted the article's interesting summary of the denomination's beliefs:
The Wasilla Assembly of God and its parent denomination -- the three-million member General Council of the Assemblies of God -- espouse core beliefs not widely ascribed to by major Christian factions. Many members pray in undecipherable sounds or "tongues." The denomination's Web site says some scholars believe that the "end times" foreshadowing the end of the world was confirmed in 1948, with the founding of the state of Israel, marking the Jews' return to the Holy Land, fulfilling a Biblical prophecy. The Assemblies of God is part of a Pentecostal movement that numbers 80 million people world-wide.
The reader pointed to the official Assemblies of God Web site that has a list of sixteen fundamental truths. Many of these fundamental truths are certainly ascribed to by most major Christian denominations (or factions if you want it that way). Of course there are some that make the denomination distinct. In addition, "some scholars" will say anything. A better and more thorough description of the denomination is needed along with some solid journalism into religion's role in Sarah Palin's life.
P.S. Mark Silk's excellent Spiritual Politics blog notes that a recent poll shows McCain's support among white evangelicals up from 57 percent this past weekend to sixty-six percent.