Sunday, September 07, 2008

Palin's Religion

I think it is great that there is a pentecostal on a major party ticket. A hundred years after the pentecostal movement was born, it has become the leading edge of world Christianity. For my money, the worldwide pentecostal/holiness movement is the most important unknown story of the twentieth century, and shows no signs of slowing in the twenty-first. The Assemblies of God is now the largest of the Pentecostal denominations, so it stands to reason that the first pentecostal on the top political ticket would be a child of the AG church.

The Palins have since gentrified into a non-denominational Bible church that is not quite so emotional and demonstrative as her home congregation. I don't hold that against them -- people grow and change in their faith all the time. And she has not repudiated her old denomination, but goes back to speak to the kids and her old pastor with evident pride. I honor that, too.

The great strength of Holy Spirit churches is that they connect me with God in a powerful way. The weakness of Holy Spirit churches is that they can easily slip into connecting God with me to serve me. One of the reasons that I moved from Quakerism, a Holy Spirit church from way back, to Presbyterianism is that the God found in the Quaker meeting was so often too small. When you are waiting on the Holy Spirit to speak through you, most of the time you find the Holy Spirit only talks about stuff that you are - I was - concerned about. The thing I like about Calvinist theology is the continuous reminder that God is the sovereign of all Creation and far beyond our petty concerns.

There are videos on the web of Sarah Palin addressing her old church. The whole speech is very interesting, and I commend it to you. There is one bit that has been debated on some of the religion and politics blogs. Ron Dreher at Crunchy Con asks whether this prayer is "weird":

The crucial line is "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built."

Dreher argues that this is not weird; "This is not how I talk about God's sovereignty. But it's how a lot of ordinary people -- educated people -- in my part of the world talk. And I see nothing especially strange about it." I think Dreher is right that many people do talk this way. But I can't agree with them, or Gov. Palin. In fact, I can think of few theological ideas more dangerous than the notion that God is on my side, that God works on others to achieve what I want.

It would be too much to say that there is a developed theology behind saying that God's will requires building my gas line. This is not a thought out position, but a felt one. I am passionately connected to God, so God is passionately connected to me. I am loyal to God, so God is loyal to me. I back God's will, so God backs my will. Nothing weird about it. The most human way of thinking about morality in the world. But theologically very dangerous.


Anonymous said...

Now we start judging peoples prayers? Obama has stated in public that one of the most beautiful sounds that he has ever heard was the Muslim call to prayer at the end of the day. Does anyone think that is weird?

Gruntled said...

I think people's prayers are a good indication of what they think is worth praying for -- don't you?

Did Obama say he joined in the Muslim prayer, or that it had an aesthetic appeal?

Phil 314 said...

Could it be that she (or any Christian for that matter) is thinking of prayer as outlined in Phillipians.

"But in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving present your requests to God..."

Note several qualities of prayer: everything, thanksgiving. That always got me: "You want to say 'thank you' before you answer!"

Michael Kruse said...

I think the prayer can be legit. She has discerned that the pipeline is what is needed but she doesn't see it happening of her own accord. She is asking God's intervention to bring about what she believes will be a good thing. Sometimes the answer to prayer is no. Many people who solicit prayer in this way occasionally pray "...if it is not your will please show close the door to this option and show me what you would have me do." I meet every week with business friends who pray in this manner about projects or decisions, but don't always add the qualifier. It is known among us what is meant.

Without knowing more about Palin and the context I think it is impossible to draw a conclusion from this one clip.

Anonymous said...

I tend to share your suspicions about Palin's religion (denomination?), though I would suggest that Obama's religion (denomination?) contains all of the weaknesses of Palin's.

Both are low protestant theologically and have no real commitment to any authoritatively traditional version of orthodox Christianity. Both emphasize the most extremely subjective aspects of the faith. And both rely upon charismatic leaders to 'create' religious community. And on this particular issue, Palin comes out looking far more sophisticated than Obama insofar as she has avoided any strong identification with the incoherent and invidious inanities of a particular preacher.

JMott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JMott said...

There's a brief bit in here about the religious perspective, so I'll argue that it applies:

In a blog emanating from Boyle CO, I thought the article to be fitting. I've taught in both Boyle and Mercer Counties (Mercer pre-merger), so don't try to deny the abundant influence.

I'm not sure what I'm point I'm making with this post aside from offering up a mostly forgotten, Non-PC perspective of the American voter makeup and the impact they may make in the upcoming race.

alaskanaking said...

"The Palins have since gentrified into a non-denominational Bible church that is not quite so emotional and demonstrative as her home congregation"

Her latest church is Juneau Christian Center, which changed its name from Bethel Assembly of God. It's every bit as scary as the Wasilla church of her past. Juneau Christian Center's pastor Mike Rose is one of those fundamentalists who rants about how Darwin is dangerous. His is omnipresent here in Juneau, on the radio and on TV. These people are to be feared, and to add insult to injury, Juneau Christian Center sits on the most valuable commercial real estate in Juneau, and doesn't have to pay taxes. We are subsidizing their attempt to replace the teaching of evolution, in public schools, with creationism.

Anonymous said...

They are gonna try to scare you. They are gonna say she is a woman. They gonna say her daughter is pregnant. They gonna say she is from a small state. And did I mention she is a christian?

Shame on you alaskanaking

Anonymous said...


You are apparently unaware of this, but many people in this country still believe that God created the earth. We many not be sure exactly how He did it, we may not subscribe to absolute 6-day creationism, but we believe God created this universe as opposed to it being some random event.

The Democrats biggest failing is their sneering condension for anyone who doesn't think like them. Obama is very good about keeping the mask on but it occasionally slips (they cling to guns and religion...)

Anonymous said...

Video with more context if anyone is interested.

Gruntled said...

Thank you, ariel, for the link to the larger video from which my snippet is drawn. It contains much that is interesting.

When I wrote about the Palin's current church, I was actually thinking of the Bible church in Wasilla, rather than the Juneau congregation.