Sunday, September 7, 2008


The nomination of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate of a party whose presidential nominee is a 72-year-old cancer patient raises the possibility that, in the near future, the President of the United States could be a fundamentalist Protestant who actually believes that the King James Bible is the inerrant word of God. This would represent a cataclysmic change in American politics, a fact that is recognized by the fundamentalists of the religious right, but not so much by the mainstream media or the Democratic Party. Indeed, the possibility of revolutionary change that John McCain has presented to his party's theocratic base by nominating Palin is the reason that it is now willing to overlook its multiple disagreements with McCain and enthusiastically support the GOP ticket.

Palin was baptized as a Roman Catholic but began attending the pentecostal Assemblies of God church as a young girl. She was baptized in that faith at age 12. Recently, she changed her church affiliation from the A of G to a non-denominational "bible church," perhaps to advance her political career by escaping the stigma attached to "holy roller" pentecostal sects, who practice speaking in tongues and other extreme forms of worship. While her new church may not worship in as flamboyant a style as her old one, both groups share a belief in the infallibility of the Bible. As one of her Alaska neighbors told the New York Times, “The churches that Sarah has attended all believe in a literal translation of the Bible." There is significant evidence that Palin sees her political career as a mission from God and that she understands the world primarily through the lens of her religion. As a former pastor said, ""I believe Sarah would not live in a fragmented world. 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." As President, we could recently expect Palin to look to the Bible for specific instructions. In this she would differ from almost all of her predecessors in the Oval Office, who have generally tended to adhere to a conventional sort of public Protestantism, but have not sought much more than general inspiration from the Bible.

Recent Republican presidents have relied on support from religious fundamentalists, but have not been one of them. Nixon was a non-practicing Quaker. Reagan was notoriously lax in his church attendance. Bush Senior is a country club Episcopalian. Even "Dubya," who sometimes appears to believe that that the Lord has chosen him as president, is a mainstream Methodist whose religious life before becoming president seems to consist primarily of the belief that Jesus helped him give up Demon Rum.

Unlike her GOP predecessors who simply exploited the votes of biblical literalists, a president Palin (who ran for for her public office with the slogan that it was time for "our first Christian mayor,") might very well seek the advice of a pentecostal preacher on her Middle East policy or pore over the Book of Genesis for clues as to Jehovah's views on global warming. Let's hope she doesn't get the chance to put the doctrine of inerrancy to the test!


kateg said...

there is of course, a danger in taking this sort of analysis too far, as if there is a direct line between the formal tenets of a religious practice and the behavior of its adherents. John F Kennedy and Rudy G, for example, didn't actually let the Pope push them around after all.

That said, I nevertheless find her pretty frightening, and her rise to power to be pretty good evidence that the demise of the "religious right" has been overstated.

Texan By Chance said...

I agree that the mere label,"he's a Catholic," or "she's a Presbyterian," doesn't really tell you what the politician believes or how they act. Most national politicians adopt the protective coloration of some organized religion without taking any of it all that seriously.

But, as best I can tell from a week's worth of news about Palin is that she really believes this stuff. She's chosen to affiliate herself with churches at the extreme of Christian belief and practice. She calls her pastors for specific cites to biblical passages that will tell her what to do! Add this to her fellow traveling with the Alaska Independence Party, and she sounds seriously weird.