Forty-eight years ago this week, John F. Kennedy appeared before the Houston Ministerial Association and a national television audience to address widespread concerns that his Catholic religion might harmfully influence the way he would preside over the United States if he won the election.
It is time for Republican Party vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — about whose religious beliefs there are questions in many ways far more serious than those about Kennedy’s Catholicism in 1960 — to allow herself to be questioned in a similar open forum.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests Palin is more of a religious extremist than any major party nominee for national office in memory.
“We’re not going to get into discussing her religion,” Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, told the New York Times. A look at the Alaska governor’s religious views and influences makes clear why the Republican campaign doesn’t want to “get into discussing her religion”–and why the American people must insist that those views are completely scrutinized.
“The churches that Sarah has attended all believe in a literal translation of the Bible,” Janet Kinkaid of Wasilla, who has known Palin for 15 years, told the Times.
One consequence of Palin’s literalism is that she is a Creationist. As such, she discounts science, a point that is further made by her insistence that humans do not influence climate change. (John McCain is on record as someone who accepts evolution and the role of humans in global warming.)
In recent years, Palin has attended several Pentecostal churches. which emphasize the Second Coming of Christ, especially the so-called Rapture, when Christ returns to earth and the faithful endure tribulations before they are taken up to heaven with Christ.
When Gov. Palin is in the state capital, she attends the Juneau Christian Center. Its senior pastor, Mike Rose, says, “I’ve been convinced for some time. We are living in the last days. These are incredible times to live in.” This literalist is literally right on the last point.
The church that seems to have had the greatest influence on the would-be vice president and could-be president is the Wasilla Assembly of God Church, where Palin was baptized and attended from the time she was 12 until 2002. She still maintains close ties with the church.
The church’s senior pastor, Ed Kalnins, has said a number of things in his sermons that give pause. In 2004, he made it clear he was referring to Sen. John Kerry when he said, “If you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation. I’m sorry.” Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Kalnins said that those who criticized President Bush will go to hell. “I hate criticisms towards the President, because it’s like criticisms towards the pastor–it’s almost like, it’s not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell. That’s what it’ll get you.”
Pastor Kalnins classified the 9/11 attacks and the later war in Iraq as part of a larger conflict “contending for your faith,” and Palin has indicated that she sees the “War on Terror” as a holy war.
This past June, Palin returned to visit the church. She told the congregation, “God’s will has to be done. . . . [Government activity] doesn’t do any good if the people’s heart isn’t right with God. . . . We can work together to make sure that God’s will be done.”
“What comes from this church has great destiny,” she proclaimed. “And that spirit of revelation, also including a spirit of prophecy–that God’s gonna tell you what’s goin’ on–and what is going to go on. . . . There’s been so many words, Ed, over the state of Alaska,” she said to the pastor. “We being the head, not the tail . . . I see things now in the words it seems like that’s comin’ to fruition–that things are percolating, things are comin’ along and praying for an outpouring of the Spirit for that revival to be here in Alaska.”
Palin spoke of the power of a former pastor’s prayer over her: “‘Lord, make a way and let her do this next step.’ And that’s exactly what happened. So, again, very, very powerful coming from this church.”
“This is awesome!” Kalnins exclaimed in response. “Makin’ a prophetic declaration and it unfolds, ya know, the Kingdom of God–and so there is a prophetic call.”
It gets worse.
“There are some things that God wants to tap into [in Alaska] to be a refuge for the lower forty-eight,” Kalnins continued with Palins by his side nodding in apparent agreement, “and I believe Alaska is one of the refuge states, come on you guys, in the last days, and hundreds and thousands of people are going to come to the state to seek refuge and the church has to be ready to minister to them. Amen!” He said it is to prepare for this Last Days influx of people that Gov. Palin’s infrastructure improvements need to be made.
As On Faith panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite points out, Palin’s beliefs in the End Times or Last Days, or how much she agrees with what her pastors have said, matter to us now because they could have an impact on her views of foreign and domestic policies.
Concerns also have been raised about Palin’s connection to the Alaska Independence Party, and its connections to a controversial Christian nationalist movement known as Reconstructionism.
Palin’s husband, Todd, was a registered member of the party for seven years. Sarah Palin herself, while she apparently never officially registered as a member, was considered by the party to be a member for a time in the mid-1990s, and, as governor this year, she recorded a welcome to the party’s convention, in which she said, “I share your party’s vision.”
Videos from the 2008 AIP meeting showing the organization’s vice chairman, Dexter Carter, praising Sarah Palin’s service as a party member and saying that the party’s members must “infiltrate” the major parties, have been taken down since her selection as John McCain’s running mate.
The party’s founder, Joe Vogler, has said (as the party still proudly quotes on its website) that he is “not an American” and “I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.” Vogler also renounced allegiance to the United States and “their damned flag.”
The Alaskan Independence Party is the state affiliate of the Constitution Party. That party has long been the political base of leading figures in the extreme “Christian” nationalist movements called Reconstructionism and Dominionism, including Reconstructionism’s late founder, R. J. Rushdoony. Fancying himself a latter-day John Calvin, Rushdoony sought to institute a nationwide or worldwide theocracy patterned after Calvin’s theocracy in Geneva.
These movements contend that “Bible Law” must be instituted to prepare for the Second Coming. Rushdoony said democracy is a heresy. He advocated the death penalty, preferably by stoning, for a host of offenders, including homosexuals, females guilty of “unchastity before marriage,” rapists (but, in keeping with the laws of Deuteronomy, only if their victims were married women or “betrothed virgins”), those who perform or have abortions, witches, those who disrespect their parents, Sabbath breakers, and blasphemers.
How much of this nonsense does Sarah Palin believe? Who knows? But given these connections, she should tell us.
Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America (Crown).