Vanity Fair's swing at Palin's faith

I came across Vanity Fair's profile of Sarah Palin right before I read the New York Times' memo on anonymous sources, and I don't think it was a coincidence.

The Vanity Fair piece is gaining quite a bit of buzz for some juicy details. Doesn't everyone want to read about Palin throwing cans at her husband, her push-up bra power, and her Spanx girdles? Part of what is so puzzling is why Michael Joseph Gross uses so many anonymous sources. The final point of the NYT memo reads:

While anonymous sources are sometimes crucial to our journalism, every time we rely on anonymity, we put some strain on our credibility with readers. As all our guidelines emphasize, we should resort to anonymous sources only for newsworthy information that we can't report any other way. Anonymity should not be invoked for trivial, obvious or tangential information, or for quotes that add little of substance. And it should not be used as a mask for personal attacks.

Now Gross is rushing to defend his piece. "The worst stuff isn't even in there," he said on "Morning Joe." "You know, I couldn't believe these stories either when I first heard them and I started the story with the prejudice in her favor. I have a lot in common with this woman. I'm a small town person, I'm a Christian. I think that a lot of her criticisms of the media actually have something to them and I figured she'd gotten a bum ride but everybody close to her tells the same story."

Unfortunately for Gross, no one cares about his background or his initial perceptions of Palin. It wouldn't matter if an atheist had written the piece; the story should stand on its own. But journalists aren't exactly rushing to back him up at this point. Katrina Trinko does a nice job of compiling the reaction among journalists and liberal feminists.

This isn't Vanity Fair's first shot at Palin; Doug looked at a piece last year. There's a lot to work through in this 10,000+ words piece, but we're going to focus on the religion bits. A few months ago, we looked at Newsweek's odd declaration that Palin leads the religious right. Now it's time to look at how this piece portrays her faith.

Here's the kind of sentence you'll find in the piece: "You could pretty much replace the word 'constitution,' from yesterday's remarks, with 'Bible,' and be good to go." So stay with me as I pick choice passages and suggest lingering questions and concerns.

Eventually, an aide asked, "What are you working on?"

"I'm reading these great e-mails," she said, "from the prayer warriors."

The term "prayer warrior" describes a person who offers a specific kind of supplication: asking God to direct an unseen battle between forces of light and darkness--literal angels and demons--that some Christians believe is occurring all around us.

Where is the evidence for this claim? Has a theologian or pastor defined the term "prayer warrior?" to mean those that ask God to direct angels and demons? Even if some people use the term that way, there is no evidence that Palin uses the term in this way.

A leading member of Wasilla's Church on the Rock, the non-denominational evangelical congregation where Palin sometimes attends worship, confirmed this understanding of the term. When Palin thanks prayer warriors for keeping her covered, she is thanking them for calling on angels to shield her from demonic attacks.

What is a "leading member" and what was the actual quote? If the quote does not come from a pastor, does this statement have any credibility? Should reporters interpret President Obama's theology from "leading members" of Trinity United Church of Christ? Do prayer warriors only pray about angels and demons? Why not name the person talking?

On the night of the vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden, Palin received an e-mail marked "URGENT...Urgent for Sarah to read ..." The e-mail came from pastor Lou Engle, a prominent right-wing activist who identifies himself as a prayer warrior and is a central figure in dominionist theology. (Dominionists believe that, until Jesus Christ returns to earth, society should be governed exclusively by God's law as revealed through a literal reading of Scripture.)

In the e-mail, Engle compared Palin to the biblical Queen Esther. "This is an Esther moment in your life," he wrote. "Esther hid her identity until Mordecai challenged her to risk everything for such a time as this. Your identity is 'Sarah Barracuda.' Esther removed corruption from the Persian government and Haman fell. She didn't have experience, she had grace and favor. Sarah, don't hide your identity tonight."

I'm guessing Palin received a lot of e-mails. Was there indication that she replied to the e-mail, that she agreed with it in any way? Why not follow up with Engle and ask what he thought about her election loss? Does that mean that she didn't have grace and favor? Did God call her for such a time as this to lose and usher in Obama (who she thinks is leading our country to ruin)?

Palin has often stated that the strokes of luck propelling her political success were divinely ordained: "There are no coincidences" is a favorite maxim. In Going Rogue, Palin casts herself as a reluctant prophet, accepting providential election against her wishes

The reluctant prophet is a character trope found throughout Hebrew and Christian scripture. (Jesus prays, "Father, if it is Thy will, let this cup pass from me.")

Whenever I heard Palin speak on the road, her remarks were scored with code phrases expressing solidarity with fundamentalist Christians. Her talk of leading with "a servant's heart" is a dog whistle for the born-again. Her dig at health-care reform as an expression of Democratic ambitions to "build a Utopia" in the United States is practically a trumpet call (because the Kingdom of God is not of this earth, and perfection can be achieved only in the life to come).

I know we say this often, but we must say it once again. Avoid the f-word. "Fundamentalist Christian" does not equal "born-again." Besides, why would her specific use of the term "build a Utopia" suddenly become a trumpet call? Do only fundamentalist Christians recognize the limitations of politics? What about libertarians and many Republicans?

But it is Palin's persistent encouragement of the prayer warriors that most clearly reveals her worldview: she is good, her opponents are evil, and the war is on.

I don't even know how to make sense of this. So if you use the term "prayer warrior," you are automatically good, anyone who opposes you would be evil, and you are declaring war. Can someone help me name the fallacy?

Sometimes the children rebelled. A campaign aide remembers that one of the Palin children found her mother's public displays of piety especially grating. Though Palin prayed and read the Bible every night, aides never saw the family join her for devotionals. "You're just putting on a show. You're so fake," one of the children said when Palin made a point of praying in front of other people. "This is not who you are. Why are you pretending to be something you're not?"

This little anecdote reflects the entire article that juxtaposes Palin's professed faith and how she treats other people (pretty poorly, according to some anonymous sources). In case you aren't convinced of Palin's diva complex, allow Gross to nail it home in his conclusion.

The North Star has long been seen as a symbol for Alaska--and for God. They can both move over now. It belongs to someone else.

And don't forget Edward Sorel's obvious illustration: "Excuse me! We are a Christian nation!." Classy.

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