Jeff Weiss: Religion and Sarah Palin—her history

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Apparently, her denominational affiliation is Assemblies of God, which is Pentecostal (as was John Ashcroft). This is from an recent Alaska Assemblies of God newsletter:

Superintendent Ted Boatsman, who was Palin's junior high pastor at Wasilla Assembly of God, along with Pastor Mike Rose of Juneau Christian Center, where Palin presently attends church when in Juneau, laid hands on the Governor and led the Council in prayer.

Would that make her the first Pentecostal to be on any major party ticket?....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsUS Presidential Election 2008* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesPentecostal

Posted August 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Bob Maxwell+ wrote:


August 29, 8:18 pm | [comment link]
2. St. Cuervo wrote:

I wondered about that.  In my firm’s political directory she is listed as “Christian” which wasn’t very helpful…

August 29, 8:36 pm | [comment link]
3. Words Matter wrote:

In the Time Magazine interview of 8/14, she identifies herself as a “bible-believing Christian” who attends a “non-denominational Bible Church.” 

That doesn’t sound like the Assemblies, although she obviously has been a member at some point in her life and retains some sympathy for them.

August 29, 8:38 pm | [comment link]
4. athan-asi-us wrote:

If she is truly a Bible believing Christian, then that is a blessing for the country regardless of denomination.

August 29, 8:48 pm | [comment link]
5. recchip wrote:

I hope that she is Assemblies.  I found several places which identified her as a part of the Salvation Army.  Now these folks are great folks but they do not practice any sacraments (not even as ordinances like the baptists). 
Anyway, to have a woman who decided to carry her last pregnancy (son-Trig) to full term even after finding out that the baby had downs syndrome is a great thing.
May God Bless Her and her family!!  They are in my prayers!!

August 29, 11:18 pm | [comment link]
6. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Even if it turns out that she was a Pentecostal in the past and now attends a non-denominational Bible church, that too would probably be a first for a VP candidate.  Generally, presidential and VP candidates belong to a mainline denomination, even if they are personally evangelical, like George W. Bush.  Either way, it helps McCain bolster his weak standing with one of the core constituencie of the Republican Party that he must mobilize more effectively, i.e., those of us who identify ourselves as evangelicals or orthodox Christians.  And the strong praise for her by Richard Land is indeed striking and encouraging.

I agree that the fact that she refused to abort a Downs Syndrome child is HUGE.  That’s a defining decision.  McCain has a strong pro-life voting record, but this will help dramatize the issue and drive it home to the public in a very powerful way.

It’s worth noting that formally, I believe that McCain is an Episcopalian, but that he attends a very large and conservative Baptist church when he’s home in Phoenix (or so I’ve heard).  But he’s not as devout and earnest as George W. Bush, or Mike Huckabee (or Kansas Senator SAm Brownback, a very committed and outspoken Roman Catholic, who was my first choice, but no one in the McCain campaign asked me for my opinion).

Given her lack of political experience, you have to wonder why McCain picked her.  Unfortunately, it tends to leave the impression that the selection had more to do with symbolism than substance, and that it represents a bold (desperate?) attempt to woo the female vote, and perhaps especially those Democratic women who really wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination and be the next president.

But as far as the Assembly of God denomination goes, it’s worth noting that this growing Pentecostal church has far surpassed TEC in size.  Although the statistics are not completely reliable, TEC claims some 2.2 million members or so, while the AoG claims about 2.8 million or so.  And the clincher is that the Assembly of God fellowship of churches don’t count children in that number, whereas TEC does.  So if you go by size alone, the AoG deserves to be considered a “mainline” denomination, since it dwarfs such traditional “mainline” groups as the UCC (Congregational), the American Baptists, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), besides TEC.  So, in one sense, it’s about time a Pentecostal or Bible Church Christian made it onto the ticket of one of the major parties.  I welcome and celebrate that sign of progress for conservative Christians of all types.

David Handy+

August 29, 11:57 pm | [comment link]
7. robroy wrote:

This is remarkable: Who’s on the list of people mentioned for VP that you think would most excite Southern Baptists and other members of the conservative faith community?

Richard Land: Probably Governor Palin of Alaska, because she’s a person of strong faith. She just had her fifth child, a Downs Syndrome child. And there’s a wonderful quote that she gave about her baby, and the fact that she would never, ever consider having an abortion just because her child had Downs Syndrome. She’s strongly pro-life.

August 30, 3:58 am | [comment link]
8. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I have never been a fan of McCain, but I think he hit one out of the park by picking Palin.  As out of touch as I am with politics, I had never heard of her before, but the more I read today the more and more enthusiastic I have become.

Excellent choice, and in one fell swoop he’s totally neutralized the Democrats and their well-choreographed dog-and-pony show of the past week.  They must be going nuts right now.

Choosing Palin was basically like putting a female Chuck Norris on your team.

August 30, 5:31 am | [comment link]
9. 0hKay wrote:

RE: “Mainlne” in comments above. For TEC mainline really means oldline and actually sideline. “Episcopalian” now has a positive meaning mainly for the teeny portion of the population that consider themselves part of the club. You don’t even have to attend church to do that. Many don’t. File this under: Rant by someone who is over it and trying to find the best way to leave it.

August 30, 8:09 am | [comment link]
10. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

OhKay (#9),

Your desire to rant is understandable.  But perhaps a little historical perspective will help you sort your feelings out.  Up until the 1960s, the major, historic Protestant denominations really were the mainline groups.  In colonial times, the Big 3 were the Congregationalists (in New England), the Anglicans (in the South), and the Presbyterians (in between).  The overwhelming majority of people in the 13 original colonies were one of those three, and Roman Catholics were virtually absent, except in Mary-land, which was created as a safe haven for them by Lord Baltimore, but even there they were a minority.  The Baptist and Methodist explosion took place in the 1800s, as those groups did a far better and more active job of evangelizing people and planting churches in the interior of the nation and in following the moving frontier to the west.  By the end of the church-going 1950s, seven denominations were considered “mainline:”  the former big 3 (=UCC, PCUSA & PCUS, ECUSA),  the Lutherans (LCA, ALC, and LCMS), the Methodists (UMC), the northern Baptists (ABC), and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ (the Indianapolis-based Campbellites).  They were all strongly associated with the National Council of Churches, and all had a strong liberal contingent that viewed “Fundamentalism” as a horrible, no good, very bad thing.

And then something unexpected happened.  In the mid 1960s, for the first time in American history, all seven of these highly respectable denominations peaked and suddenly began to decline in both numbers and social influence.  And as we all know, that decline has continued pretty steadily and relentlessly for over 40 years, despite earnest and valiant attempts by some leaders in those old prestigious denominations to reverse that disastrous trend.

In the case of the Episcopal Church, we peaked in 1965 with some 3.6 million members.  Today, TEC claims a mere 2.2 million, despite the fact that the American population has more than doubled since 1965, so our market share of the population has dropped even more precipitously than is often appreciated by those who merely pay attention to the big drop in the raw numbers alone (i.e., the 1/3 drop from 3.6 mil to 2.2 mil in 40 years is really more like a 2/3 drop).  Now any Fortune 500 corporation that experienced such a catastrophic decline would have resorted to drastic measures long ago, with executives being fired and new strategies developed to regain market share and pump up sales etc.  And yet, amazingly, this hasn’t happened with ANY of the seven historic old denominational families.

That shows that we aren’t dealing with mere individual failures.  There are cultural and systemic problems here that has proved insurmountable for ALL seven groups.  And yet the level of sheer denial and self-justification by the leaders of these denominations has been incredible, even flabbergasting.

For me, the epitome of this was a fine, detailed study of trends in that highly representative case, the Presbyterians, commissioned by the Lily Foundation, and published in seven volumes in the late 1980s.  A lot of good research is contained in the various books and articles included in that set.  But the lead volume has a title that has always amazed me, with the sheer chutzpah of denial it entails.  And it’s called, The “Decline” of the Protestant Mainstream.  One of the two co-authors was Dr. Louis Weeks, then president of the Presbyterian seminary in Louisville, KY, and later promoted to president of Union-PSCE in Richmond, the flagship seminary of the southern Presbyterians (where I got my Ph.D.).

And the stunning thing about the title is the misplacement of the quotation marks.  It’s highly telling and symptomatic that the word put in quotation marks as being in doubt is the word Decline, when the word that should have been placed in doubt was Mainstream.

OhKay, you are right.  The so-called Protestant “mainline” is no longer the mainline.  Lyle Schaller, whom I consider the most astute obsever of American church life (and a Methodist), refers non-polemically to the old, historically dominant churches as “oldline.”  I think that may indeed be the best term.  The seven formerly dominant denominations are indeed old, in more ways than one.  Not least, they are graying badly!  The AVERAGE Presbyterian or Episcopalian is now around 60 years old.  Not good!

It was Jerry Falwell who used to mock the mainline groups as merely “sideline” now.  I think that teasing term is probably counter-productive and it generally makes people I know in the former mainline groups immediately defensive and not receptive to anything I say.  So on my more amicable days I use Schaller’s term “oldline,” and on my more cantankerous, ornery days I use the inflammatory phrase “ex-mainline,” but generally I just use the less provocative expedient of putting “mainline” in quotes.

This has EVERYTHING to do with my characteristic theme of calling attention to the desperate need for all the former mainline churches to mutate from being Christendom style churches to becoming post-Constantinian, post-Christendom denominations that are genuinely counter-cultural.  I post frequent comments along those lines here at T19 and even more commonly over at Stand Firm.

The basic challenge is all too clear.  We orthodox Christians have lost control of the direction and institutions of American culture (just think of our elite universities or the mass media for outstanding examples of how unChristian or even anti-Christian those powerful, opinion-forming parts of our culture now are).  And the secularization and de-Christianization of western culture, along with the associated moral rot and decay that goes with it, are even more advanced in Canada and especially in Europe, including England.

But “mainstream” churches find it EXTREMELY hard to suddenly turn counter-cultural and start traveling upstream against the very powerful currents of contemporary western society.  And the growing acceptance or normalization of homosexuality in the US is only one of the more obvious examples of that fundamental problem.

For me, one of the biblical texts that haunts me constantly now is the familiar passage in the Sermon on the Mount where the Master says that we as his followers are to be “the salt of the earth.”  But if the salt loses its savor, it becomes worthless.

Alas, that is the pathetic state all of the so-called “mainline” denominations are now in, and have been in for a long time.  We are no different from the non-Christians all around us.  We have lost our saltiness.  And the rot and moral decay of a society in moral free fall is now all too evident in TEC itself, which chooses to celebrate evil as good, and to bless sinful sexual behavior as sanctified.

That’s why we need nothing less than a New Reformation.

David Handy+

August 30, 9:22 am | [comment link]
11. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Dear David Handy+,

Wow.  Um…WOW!  That was great.  Can I play on your team?  Where do I sign up?  Sincerely, well done.

Back to the article…

I was/am still opposed to McCain for various and sundry reasons.  I was planning to vote for Ron Paul, then Bob Barr.  Now, I am no longer settled.  While I still don’t think I can vote for John McCain, I do think that I could vote for Sarah Palin.  As VP, she would be the presumptive future presidential candidate.  A vote for…gag…McCain now, with her as VP, sets up her future presidential run.  That would be an awesome coup to have a conservative female run for president.  With one fell swoop it would attack both the Rockefeller Republicrats and take the wind out of the sails of the socialists that constantly rant about alleged conservative misogyny.  If she were to select a conservative Hispanic or other minority for her running mate, it would change the course of history.

She brings a lot to the table just by being who she is.  There is a great deal to think about here.

August 30, 10:14 am | [comment link]
12. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

#11, Sick & Tired of Nuance,

Thanks for the enthusiastic commendation and kind words.  As you may know, I have this little (but growing) fan club known as the NRAFC.  Robroy (#7 above) is the President.  I’ll send you a membership packet (grin).  All membership dues will be waived.

David Handy+

August 30, 10:46 am | [comment link]
13. azusa wrote:

David, your analysis is clear and convincing - and I agree with your prescription of what needs to be done.

just imagine: Palin/Steele ‘12!

August 30, 11:43 am | [comment link]
14. Shumanbean wrote:

Fr. Handy,

August 30, 11:48 am | [comment link]
15. Kendall Harmon wrote:

Martin Marty calls what David Handy is referring to as the age of the Protestant hegemony.

And #15, I put the first things article you refer to—by Joseph Bottum—on the blog a little while ago.

August 30, 3:43 pm | [comment link]
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