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Sarah Palin and the Wasilla Church of God

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New revelations about Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin continue to raise questions about how her religious views might affect her decisions on public policy. Much of the scrutiny has focused on Palin’s church, the Wasilla Assembly of God. This past a week, a video emerged of Palin telling students there that the US invasion of Iraq is a task from God. Her comments have raised concerns she could see some government actions as inevitable or preordained as part of a theocratic belief in “end times.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the campaign trail. New revelations about Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin continue to raise questions about how her religious views might affect her decisions on public policy. Much of the scrutiny has focused on Palin’s church, the Wasilla Assembly of God. This past week, a video emerged of Palin telling students there that the US invasion of Iraq is a task from God.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan. So bless them with your prayers, your prayers of protection over our soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Palin was speaking in June. During the same address, she said the construction of a new oil pipeline in Alaska is God’s will.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline, about a $30 billion project that’s going to create a lot of jobs for Alaskans, and we’ll have a lot of energy flowing through here. And pray about that also. I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Palin’s comments have raised concerns she could see some government actions as inevitable or preordained as part of a theocratic belief in “end times.” Governor Palin has also drawn criticism for other reported moves. Among several, she is said to have inquired about banning books at the local library during her stint as mayor of the town of Wasilla. She has also come under criticism for serving as mayor while Wasilla maintained a policy of forcing alleged rape victims to pay for their own forensic tests.

I’m joined now by two guests. Here in our firehouse studio, Esther Kaplan, investigative editor at the Nation Institute, frequent contributor to The Nation magazine, author of the book With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House.

And on the line from Springfield, Massachusetts, Fred Clarkson, independent journalist. He has covered politics and religion for more than twenty years, editor of the forthcoming book Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics. He is also author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and has been blogging extensively about Governor Palin’s views and public record at talk2action.org, a website dedicated to politics and faith-based issues.

Let’s begin with you, Fred Clarkson. What are you most concerned about in Governor Palin’s views?

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, I’m most concerned with the point that you raised earlier, and that is her well-documented belief that she’s living in the “end times,” we’re all living in the “end times,” and that her interpretation of the Book of Revelation may be driving her public policy and particularly her foreign and military policy views.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what is meant by “end times.”

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, that means that if you take the Bible, and you begin with Genesis and Creation and the Book of Revelation, which describes God’s plan for the end of the world, we’re at the end of the book, and that it ends in a bloody conflagration before God’s people are saved. And she and people who think like her believe them, themselves, to be the people who are going to be saved, and the rest of us are not looking so good.

AMY GOODMAN: And these comments about the war being a task of God, the Alaska pipeline, you know, praying for the companies and the people.

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Yes, certainly, the idea that the war in Iraq could be a task of God could be interpreted in that way. But I think, more specifically, it’s a conflation of one’s particular political or public policy views with that of the will of God that makes for a very unstable kind of political thinking.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, I mean, that whatever idea may be popping into your head, that you might be inspired to invade a nation, could be the will of God. That’s where it gets very dicey. And sometimes you can find what you’re looking for in metaphor, such as what most of what the Book of Revelation really is.

AMY GOODMAN: Esther Kaplan, you’ve been writing about religion for a long time. Your book is called With God on Their Side. You’ve been looking at Governor Palin.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, I think that it goes far beyond the one church that you mentioned. There’s actually four churches that Palin’s been affiliated with since childhood and into the present. She changed churches when she began to run for statewide office back in ’02. And all four of the pastors at all four of these churches indicate that they follow a very strictly Christian fundamentalist, biblical literalist line. At least three of them are on record with “end times” beliefs. The pastor that you talked about — of the church that you mentioned earlier —-

AMY GOODMAN: The Wasilla Assembly of God.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Right. He has actually talked about it, about his beliefs specifically in relationship to electoral politics, saying in ’04 that if people voted for Kerry, he questioned their salvation, saying that if they criticized George Bush, that they -— that was a path straight to Hell. No question that she comes from a milieu that really understands politics, electoral politics, in biblical terms. And several of these churches have relationships with groups such as Focus on the Family, Christians United for Israel, some of the stalwart institutions of the political Christian right.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of Palin’s church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, there also is the issue of the recent controversial speaker. Just weeks before McCain tapped Palin to be his running mate, the executive director of Jews for Jesus, David Brickner, spoke at Wasilla Assembly of God. He blamed the Middle East violence in part on Israeli Jews who haven’t accepted Jesus. Palin was in attendance when Brickner spoke. These are some of his remarks.

    DAVID BRICKNER: But what we see in Israel, the conflict that has spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment. There is judgment that is going on in the land, and that’s the other part of this Jerusalem dilemma. When Jesus was standing in that temple, He spoke that that judgment was coming, that there’s a reality to the judgment of unbelief.

    Judgment is very real, and we see it played out in the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It’s very real. When Isaac was in Jerusalem, he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing a numbers of people. Judgment, you can’t miss it.

AMY GOODMAN: David Brickner is head of Jews for Jesus. The church he spoke in, Esther Kaplan?

ESTHER KAPLAN: This is actually her more recent affiliation in Wasilla, the Wasilla Bible Church. There’s also a third church that she’s attended more recently in Wasilla, and that’s David Pepper’s church, the Church on the Rock, a megachurch there. And this guy has been extremely explicit that he believes that America is a Christian nation and that the role of public servants is to bring Christian theology into government.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about this issue of separation of church and state, even raising what her religion is, that there is a separation? She’s entitled to believe what she wants to believe.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, she — again, she comes from a world, a theological world, in which the idea is the role of Christians is to bring God’s will into public life. She hasn’t said that explicitly herself, but there’s no question that, since age twelve, she has been attending churches whose pastors explicitly believe this. She’s said things that indicate that she understands herself that way, as well.

Her pastor at her home church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, sort of takes credit for her election as governor through his prayer. In that same speech that you played excerpts from earlier, she does thank him for that and more or less implies that she also believes that God helped to put her in office. She clearly is not immune to this idea that God is guiding her public life.

And what’s really troubling is she’s been turning down all interview requests to clarify her positions, to clarify — is she a Dominionist? Does she believe in legislating based on the Bible? Her authorized biography almost — I think there’s two or three pages, total, that refer to her religious beliefs at all. There’s a sense that she’s hiding what her true beliefs are. And she needs to answer a lot of questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Assembly of God is John Ashcroft, the former attorney general’s church, as well.


AMY GOODMAN: Fred Clarkson, how do her views compare to President Bush’s?

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, that’s a good question, because we don’t really know very much about what President Bush’s beliefs even are. As we later came to know, a lot of his religious narrative was manufactured by his close political associates, such as his famous walk on the beach with Billy Graham, which Billy Graham says never happened. So, I think that the evidence shows that George Bush is a sincere evangelical, but I don’t think his theology runs very deep at all.

And that’s where the contrast really is and one of the reasons why the religious right is excited about Sarah Palin. She’s the real deal. As Esther says, this has been her life since she was a small child. The churches she’s affiliated with have similar ideas. And because she’s validated by the religious right, it’s good reason to believe that they’ve checked her out and that she thinks very much as they do, both politically and eschatologically.

AMY GOODMAN: The firing of the librarian, though she ultimately was allowed back, in Wasilla when she was mayor of Wasilla, because she wanted some books banned — that’s Palin. But because there was such outcry, she was forced to allow her to come back.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, that’s an interesting episode. There is a list of these alleged banned books circulating that’s apocryphal. It’s not — it’s not — there was no, I think, real list. But as soon as she was elected mayor, that was an inquiry that she made, and she did threaten to fire this woman shortly thereafter.

One of the things that I find sort of more indicative even is that last winter a state rep from Wasilla was indicted and ultimately convicted on bribery and other charges, and she replaced him with an elder from her church. And what this guy has done since he’s been state rep is to sponsor a bill making late-term abortions a felony in the Alaska state legislature. He’s been working very hard to get intelligent design taught in Alaska’s public schools. This is actually one of the clearest indications of where she stands and how she sees the role of the Bible in public life.

AMY GOODMAN: Esther Kaplan, I want to thank you for being with us. Her book, With God on Their Side. And Fred Clarkson, thanks so much for being with us. Upcoming book is Dispatches from the Religious Left.

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