In the fine, new American tradition of presidential campaign “pastor disasters,” Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin might have one she can call her very own, complete with its own sensational YouTube video and stunned cable TV commentary. You knew it was coming — but probably didn’t suspect it would involve witchcraft.
Back in the fall of 2005, when Palin was running for governor of Alaska, a Kenyan pastor named Thomas Muthee preached several times at Wasilla Assembly of God, Palin’s church home for more than two decades. In one service, Palin joined Moothy onstage while he prayed for her.
“We say grace to be reigned upon her in the name of Jesus,” Muthee prayed while Palin bowed her head. “We are asking you as the body of Christ in this valley make a way for Sarah even in the political arena . . . Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus . . . Give her men and women who will buck her up in the name of Jesus . . . Oh, Father, use her to turn this nation the other way around . . . “
So far, not that unusual. Intercessory public prayer is a common and often powerful form of encouragement and blessing in evangelical or Pentecostal settings, for politicians or anyone else. But Muthee goes on: “In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, every form of witchcraft is what you rebuke. In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, father make away now.”
Turns out, Muthee began his ministry with a witch hunt against a Kenyan woman he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells, according to the Christian Science Monitor, which first reported the story in 1999. Muthee publicly declared the woman “a witch responsible for the town’s ills, and order her to offer her up her soul for salvation or leave Kiambu . . . The woman fled.”
This past June, in a speech at Wasilla AOG, Palin gave credit to Muthee for her 2006 election victory. In another now-famous YouTube video, Palin says, “As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me . . . He said ‘Lord make a way and let her do this next step.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s designated derider and host of Countdown, was all over Palin’s witch hunter connection last Friday: “The Palin’s preacher problem: The minister who laid hands on her at the Wasilla Assembly of God in 2005, the one she credits with helping make her a governor, it turns out he makes Jeremiah Wright look like Father Flanagan of Boys Town,” Olbermann said in his opening.
Here we go again. People who were in a lather about Wright’s sermons know as little about African American church rhetoric and black liberation theology as people who are in a state about Muthee’s sermons know about Pentecostal church rhetoric and “spiritual warfare.”
As the CSM articles explained, Muthee’s ministry is part of a larger “spiritual warfare” movement that uses “an in-depth research effort called ‘spiritual mapping’ to identify ‘demonic forces,’ break ‘spiritual strongholds’ holding communities in their groups, and bring people to Christ. It’s also an effective way to put people in the pews and raise revenue.
Not to be too cynical, but Palin isn’t the first politician to use (however sincerely) the power of the pulpit to advance her own political career, and she won’t be the last. George W. Bush did it. Barack Obama and John McCain do it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful politician who hasn’t done it.
We’ll never know what Palin really believes about “demonic forces” and “spiritual warfare,” at least not before Nov. 4. But there are plenty of “demonic” forces to be concerned about in this election — the greed, fear and violence that are wreaking havoc on the economy, the health care system, the Middle East, our urban areas.
Can we forget the crazy preachers and try to get the candidates to focus on the serious problems?