Former pastor: Palin's beliefs being downplayed

The former pastor of the church Sarah Palin attended for years says Republicans are reluctant to discuss her religion; given her positions, maybe there's a good reason.

Published September 11, 2008 1:03AM (EDT)

John McCain must have known that if he picked Sarah Palin, much of the same criticism he'd fired off at Obama would bounce back at his own ticket. But he probably didn't expect the boomerang effect to include Palin's religion.

Palin spent over twenty years as a member of the Pentecostal Wasilla Assembly of God church. She left that church for a nondenominational one six years ago, however. The McCain campaign says she isn't Pentecostal, but has generic "deep religious convictions."

Though her former pastor, Tim McGraw, doesn't remember her speaking in tongues -- the act Pentecostals are famous for -- he did tell CNN that he recalls her attendance at his discipleship classes. And he thinks Republicans are shying away from discussing her beliefs. "I think there may be issues of belief that could be misunderstood or played upon by people that don't know," McGraw says.

The lack of discussion of details of Palin's religious beliefs is potentially worrisome, considering she has a history of blurring the line between religion and politics. The New York Times reported that Palin injected religion and hot-button social issues into a small-town mayoral race that had never seen that kind of tactic. She's called the war in Iraq "a task that is from God," and urged Alaskans to pray for a gas pipeline.

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas pipeline built. So pray for that ... I can do my job there in developing my natural resources. But all of that doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart is not good with God," Palin said earlier this year.

Writing on the Wall Street Journal's Political Perceptions blog on Wednesday, editor-in-chief Steven Waldman said this quote set off some red flags:

Asserting that God endorses a particular energy strategy or public works project is exactly the sort of mindset the Founders feared. The vote-for-this-because-God-says-so approach means that those who oppose a particular policy are violating God's will -- and good Christians should view them that way ... Such a politician may be impervious to reason, evidence or compromise. If God has blessed an idea -- and told you so personally -- what possible argument could dissuade you?

But Palin has a different view of what the Founders thought, one more in line with the Christian right's take than with historical fact. In a particularly revealing move, in 2007 Palin signed a proclamation declaring "Christian Heritage Week" in Alaska. In the proclamation, Palin seemed to signal her alignment with a particular brand of historical revisionism in which quotes from the Founders are cherrypicked to suggest that they intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

MORE FROM Gabriel Winant

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Sarah Palin War Room