Media coverage of Sarah Palin during the run-up to her debate with Democratic counterpart Joe Biden has focused increasingly on her apparent ignorance in matters of policy and public affairs, and understandably so. But it’s an open question whether all the things Sarah Palin doesn’t know are really more disturbing than the things Palin believes she does know as a function of her religious faith — a militant (and, where real-world politics are concerned, militaristic) evangelical creed that sees it as the task of committed Christians to ready the way for Jesus’s earthly return and subsequent thousand-year reign.
From her stance on abortion and her inquiries about book-banning to her appearances as governor of Alaska at religious events and her earmarks for faith-based projects in Alaska, Palin has clearly injected religion into her view of governance, much to the excitement of religious conservatives. But what are her beliefs, exactly? What do the words used to describe Palin’s background mean?
The Minnesota Independent offers the following glossary of key terms and people to attempt to get a picture of Palin’s religious background. Asterisks in the text identify terms that appear elsewhere in this mini-glossary.
First, though, this Bruce Wilson video from last month is the best available introduction to religion Sarah Palin-style, though it will probably make more sense to the uninitiated after reading the glossary.
Assemblies of God: The world’s largest Pentecostal* denomination with over 60 million adherents, AoG follows four central tenets: salvation through Jesus Christ, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing and the second coming of Christ. Followers believe that speaking in tongues is an integral part of the baptism in the Holy Spirit process and is considered a gift from God. Historically, AoG was a pacifist denomination, though over time it has become one of the most avidly militaristic strands of Protestantism.
PALIN CONNECTION: Palin attended Wasilla Assembly of God from the time when she was 10 until six years ago, a total of 28 years.
Character Cities: According to In These Times, the “Character Training Institute is working to build evangelist Bill Gothard’s vision of a First-Century Kingdom of God — one city, one state, one school board, one police force and one mind at a time.” The movement is based on a reconstructionist view of Christianity, which holds, among other views, that the separation of church and state are the cause of social ills. CTI hosts conferences and encourages cities to adopt “character resolutions” through the CTI-affiliated International Association of Character Cities (IACC).
PALIN CONNECTION: As mayor, Palin reportedly attended at least two IACC conferences and took that information to the Wasilla City Council.
Dominionism: A school of thought, prevalent within Pentecostalism, premised on the belief that Christians must take control of the world’s governments and its resources to set the proper stage for Jesus’s return to reign over the Earth.
PALIN CONNECTION: While Palin was speaking at her former church, the Wasilla Assemblies of God, the pastor encouraged believers to pray for an Alaska that could be a home to Christians during the End Times: “I believe Alaska’s one of the refuge states, come on, you guys, in the last days. And hundreds and thousands are gonna come to the state to seek refuge.”
End Times: Many Christian sects are waiting for the return of Jesus, or for an apocalypse in which faithful Christians are saved and everyone else burns. Many, including Pentecostals generally and the Assemblies of God in particular, believe the End Times are occurring in the current generation–and have maintained as much for over 100 years. For purposes of most discussions, it’s closely akin to Millennialism*.
PALIN CONNECTION: Palin has been a part of End Times discussions both on stage and off with the pastors of her churches. A longtime associate of Palin’s told Salon that she believes that the end is coming soon. “She looked in my eyes and said, ‘Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime.’”
Joel’s Army: A movement that uses militaristic rhetoric to encourage youth to establish a wholly Christian world–to convert all people in preparation for the return of Jesus. In the words of Pastor Todd Bentley, its leading figure, “An end-time army has one common purpose — to aggressively take ground for the kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Dread Champion. The trumpet is sounding, calling on-fire, revolutionary believers to enlist in Joel’s Army. … Many are now ready to be mobilized to establish and advance God’s kingdom on earth.” Adds John Crowder, author of The New Mystics: How to Become Part of the Supernatural Generation, “Everyone born after abortion’s legalization can consider their birth a personal invitation to take part in this great army.” The movement’s name is taken from the Book of Joel, in which a plague of locusts–God’s metaphorical army–descended upon and destroyed a sinful nation.
PALIN CONNECTION: Her occasional church, the Church on the Rock in Wasilla, sent its youth group to “The Call,” a training movement for Joel’s Army.
The Juneau Christian Church youth center called the “Hub” that Palin attempted to secure grants from the state of Alaska to fund describes itself in many of the terms used by the members of the Joel’s Army movement:
“Our name speaks our purpose. At ground zero we have a vision to develop youth that are marked by purity, passion, and the presence of God. This vision exists to create young people that will carry groundzero as a movement, not just a meeting. ground//zero is not a place, it’s not a time, but it is a movement transported by people that will impact this generation with a message that instills hope and a purpose. The movement meets Wednesday nights.”Several pastors at churches that Palin has attended have connections to prominent pastors that advocate the Joel’s Army movement, especially the Church on the Rock.
Master’s Commission: A replacement for college studies for young Christian adults. The program is international in scope and focuses on prophetic gifts, prayer, evangelism and scripture reading. Its emphasis is one- to two-year “discipleship-training program dedicated to making Disciples of Christ that will usher in the last day’s revival.” Example: the Master’s Commission in St. Cloud, Minnesota, says “There’s a prophetic voice calling out for the Army of God to arise in signs, wonders, and power. Isn’t it time to see what you and your God are made of?” The Master’s Commission programs are often led by prominent pastors in the Joel’s Army* movement.
PALIN CONNECTION: As governor, Palin spoke at the Master’s Commission graduation ceremony at Wasilla Assembly of God. It was the speech made famous by her statements about God’s plan with Iraq. The Master’s Commission of Wasilla has five components: Berean School of the Bible (work toward being credentialed with Assemblies of God), Scripture Memory (hiding God’s word in our hearts), John Bevere Curriculum (Under Cover and Bait of Satan), Francis Frangipane (In Christ’s Image Training), Steve Thompson (developing and operating in prophetic ministry).
Millennialism: The belief that some great transformation of the world and of history is drawing near. In a Christian context, it refers to the belief, per the Book of Revelation, that Jesus will return from the dead and, with his faithful flock, rule the earth for a thousand years. Christian millennialists vary in their attitude toward politics and wordly engagement; see Pre-millennialism/Post-millennialism entry below.
PALIN CONNECTION: See End Times entry above.
Pentecostalism: The fastest-growing strand of Protestantism in the US and around the world, Pentecostals are now thought to number over 500 million–roughly one in every four of the planet’s two billion or so Christians. (There’s a 2006 Pew Forum study about its growth in 10 select countries around the world here.) Pentecostalism is also the only major Protestant movement born in the United States. Though its theological roots are complicated, it arose in part from Calvinism, and specifically the Methodists’ 19th-century Holiness Movement. Two key founding figures were Charles Parham of Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, who in 1901 hosted a prayer meeting at which one follower began “speaking in tongues,” the first recognized instance of that phenomenon, and a minister named William Seymour who founded the first major Pentecostal outpost in Los Angeles in 1906, the so-called Azusa Street Revivial.
Early Pentecostalism was remarkable in part for its against-the-grain egalitarianism in matters of race and gender. Seymour and many of his early Azusa Street followers were black, and women also featured prominently in its prayer meetings and its evangelizing. It was a poor people’s movement, and tended toward left-populism in its view of the world. As the movement grew, it became markedly less inclusive, and the period of Pentecostalism’s explosive growth around the world in the past generation-plus has been marked by a very conservative turn on the part of American Pentecostalism.
Doctrinally, Pentecostals believe that biblical truth is literal and inerrant. They also believe that Christians who have experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ contain the Holy Spirit, and that speaking in tongues, faith healing and prophecy are manifestations of the spirit. Organizationally, Pentecostal denominations are much less hierarchical than more conventional Protestant denominations, and many theologians believe the resulting flexibility to tailor appeals to local populations has been a factor in their success.
PALIN CONNECTION: Four of the churches that Palin has attended in Alaska–Wasilla Assembly of God, to which she belonged for 28 years; Juneau Christian Church, which she has attended as governor; Wasilla’s Church on the Rock, which she attended for about one year before becoming governor of Alaska; and Wasilla Bible Church, her regular church since leaving Wasilla AoG in 2002–have roots in Pentecostalism.
Pre-millennialism/post-millennialism: A theological distinction that has great importance to the intersection of religion and politics. Author and American religious historian Jeff Sharlet offered this straight-to-the-point definition in a Minnesota Independent interview about his book on elite American fundamentalism, The Family, back in June: “What pre-millennial means is that you believe in the Rapture. If you believe in the Rapture, you believe that Christ is coming back any day. Maybe tomorrow. And once he’s back, he’s going to rule for a thousand years. If you’re post-millennial, you think that Christ’s not going to come back until you’ve established a worldwide Christianized government for a thousand years. A thousand-year Reich of fundamentalist Christianity.”
PALIN CONNECTION: Jeff Sharlet again, this time from a second MnIndy interview: “I think her instincts are theocratic. We saw that in the book [banning effort]. That’s essentially an authoritarian thing, especially if you look at the books she wanted to ban, one of which was called Pastor, I Am Gay, which was written by a local Christian conservative pastor who took a gentler approach to this. So there’s another level to this. It’s one thing to censor a book; that’s frightening enough. It’s an even more frightening thing to try and censor your neighbor, to try to put tape over the mouth of someone who lives right next to you and is a conservative Christian himself. That shows a real attention to detail that one finds in figures such as Stalin. I think there is a Stalinesque streak to her personality.”
In addition, several witnesses attest that Palin, then mayor, tried to have books removed from the Wasilla library. In addition, her church at the time, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was engaged in a movement to ban LGBT-oriented books from the library. The Assemblies of God have a long history of attempting to ban books, stealing books so they remain out of circulation or hosting ritual book burnings of materials that they find offensive.
Third Wave of the Holy Spirit: One of numerous terms used to describe a large and growing militant evangelical movement to which even theological scholars have paid little attention. (Other terms commonly used: New Apostolic Reformation, Joel’s Army*, Manifest Sons of Destiny.) As a scholar at the Talk To Action website writes in an invaluable survey, “The Apostles of the Third Wave believe that they hear directly from God, and have a divine mandate to form a new worldwide global church for the end times. The Third Wave leadership’s greatest vitriol is directed toward those church-going Christians who are not open to the new visions and prophecies.”
Third Wave devotees believe, along with many other End Times* enthusiasts, that Jews must rebuild the Temple in Israel as a condition of end-times prophecy, and some further believe that Jews must be converted to Christianity to realize God’s plan. (The pastor of one of the churches Palin has attended–Larry Kroon of Wasilla Bible Church–has endorsed Jews for Jesus, and the head of Jews for Jesus has spoken at his church.) The Third Wave stresses an “active God” who works through Christians in the form of supernatural “gifts” and miracles such as speaking in tongues, faith healing and prophecy. The First and Second waves dealt mainly with speaking in tongues only. It has been condemned by the General Council of the Assemblies of God since 1949.
PALIN CONNECTION: Three of Palin’s churches have at least some involvement with Third Wave through regular guest pastors or pastor associations. Wasilla Assembly of God, Palin’s church for most of her life, has very strong connections to the movement.
Thomas Muthee: A self-proclaimed evangelical “bishop” from Kenya, Muthee is the minister who in 2005 bestowed upon Palin the now-notorious anti-witchcraft blessing that has made it into heavy rotation on YouTube (video’s here). An exemplar of one of the many Pentecostal strains to take hold in Africa, Muthee was previously best known for claiming to have rooted out the cause of crime and hardship in a village called Kiambu: a witch named “Mama Jane.” Muthee assisted townspeople in ousting the woman from Kiambu.
PALIN CONNECTION: Muthee laid hands on Palin when she announced her run for governor of Alaska at the Wasilla Assembly of God. He asked God to protect her from witchcraft. He also said, “Come on, talk to God about this woman. We declare, save her from Satan. Make her way my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus. … Use her to turn this nation the other way around.”
“Young Earth” Creationism: A belief that God directly created the Earth in a period of seven days at some point between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Among the many contradictions of geological fact involved in this belief is the conviction that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted on earth.
PALIN CONNECTION: Associates of Palin say they heard her confess her belief in young earth creationism. According to their account, Palin said not only that dinosaurs and humans had walked the Earth at the same time, but further claimed that “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks.”
Steve Perry contributed research to this story.