Her personal faith

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A month ago, Sarah Palin identified herself to Time as a “Bible-believing Christian” and, asked what church she attends, replied:

A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life.

The non-denominational Bible church is, by all accounts, the Wasilla Bible Church, which she and her family began attending six years ago. It is hardly the case, however, that her family previously went to non-denominational churches. It belonged to the Wasilla Assembly of God, part of the largest historically white Pentecostal denomination in America.
Fast forward to now. Palin tells Katie Couric she’s not a member of any church, a position she reiterates in the following exchange on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show yesterday:

HH: Do you think the mainstream media and the left understands your religious faith, Governor Palin?
SP: I think that there’s a lot of mocking of my personal faith, and my personal faith is very, very simple. I don’t belong to any church. I do have a strong belief in God, and I believe that I’m a heck of a lot better off putting my life in God’s hands, and saying hey, you know, guide me. What else do we have but guidance that we would seek from a Creator? That’s about as simple as it gets with my faith, and I think that there is a lot of mocking of that. And you know, so bet it, though I do have respect for those who have differing views than I do on faith, on religion. I’m not going to mock them, and I would hope that they would kind of I guess give me the same courtesy through this of not mocking a person’s faith, but maybe perhaps even trying to understand a little bit of it.

Whether or not the Palins are enrolled members of Wasilla Bible Church–and I have no idea how that church counts members, if at all–it is misleading for her to say, simply, that she doesn’t belong to any church. And to describe her faith simply as putting her life in God’s hands is to jettison the evangelical identity signified by the term “Bible-believing.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but what’s on display is Sarah Palin distancing herself from who she is religiously. I’m more inclined than ever to attribute her departure from Wasilla Assembly of God as a political move intended to remove a stumbling block to her political career–and wish some interviewer would ask her about it.
Be that as it may, however, it’s nonsense to claim that she has been mocked for “putting my life in God’s hands.” Mockery there’s been, some of it based on ignorance and anti-evangelical prejudice, but it has had to do with specific beliefs and practices that Palin is now disavowing, such as (see here) making a place for teaching creationism in the public schools. Simple avowals of trust in God do not elicit mockery in American culture, beyond the small world of Christopher Hitchens and company. Personally, I’d like to see Palin bearing true witness to her faith, and to see some of her blogospheric defenders–yo, Getreligionistas!–acknowledge that she isn’t.

  • MARK:
    I do not believe that calling for accurate coverage of her beliefs and quotations represents any strange stance on journalism.
    As for the material you quote from these interviews, and how she is wording her current church status, it all looks like valid material to cover. Now do the same for Biden and for another politician who currently, after attacks, has no church home — Obama.
    What a year.

  • Mark Silk

    I don’t believe so either, Terry. Obama has said he’ll church shop after the election. Biden has one, although some of his co-religionists might wish he didn’t. What a year indeed.

  • Daniel

    I would really like to know more about Palin and how her faith informs her public policy views. We went through this with Obama to a great extent during his primary race, but less with McCain and Biden.

  • Mark Silk

    I would too. So far, not even the friendliest of the interviews–Hannity, Hewitt–have attempted to elicit this. People have tried with McCain, and mostly what he has to say is that faith is something that’s there for you to rely on when the going gets tough.

  • Daniel

    I’m not entirely convinced that the faith of McCain is that significant in his public policy views. If that’s the case, it’s not as necessary for him. On the other hand, the Palin’s faith seems very significant to her. Same with Obama and to an extent with Biden. Therefore the questions from the reporters are necessary for voters to make an informed decision.

  • Mark Silk


  • I don’t think it’s misleading for Palin to say she doesn’t belong to a church–it’s quite common for nondenominational evangelical churches such as hers to eschew membership rolls entirely, and the distinction between “member” and “regular attendee” in such cases is not just semantic. It reflects major theological/ecclesial beliefs of U.S. evangelicals generally and nondenominational folks in particular–in short, that no one “belongs” to a church but only to God or to the world/Satan/whatever…

  • Mark Silk

    That’s just why I think it’s misleading. Saying you don’t belong to a church suggests to most people (non-evangelicals, non-non-denominational types) that you just don’t have a church. And Sarah Palin does have one.

  • Our purpose at GetReligion isn’t to get candidates to discuss their religion more or to critique what they say, it’s to look at how well the mainstream media treat religious news.
    I tend to have a much more narrow scope for what I think constitutes legitimate news for political candidates when it comes to their religious beliefs.
    Basically the minimum requirement is that we learn how their public policy views might be affected. Other than that, I’m curious how religious voters might be affected by various candidates.
    If I were to weigh in on Gov. Palin’s religious views or political views, I would have a lot to say. But GetReligion is not the proper place for that.

  • Mark Silk

    I’m aware of that, but any critique of coverage entails an independent assessment of what’s being covered. And Palin’s slipperiness about her religious commitments, in my view, needs to be factored in to the critique.

  • Michael

    Ultimately, Palin hasn’t talked much about anything, so it’s hard to really paint a clear picture of her faith. GetReligion has largely viewed Palin as a victim of coverage and haven’t made the kinds of calls for more scrutiny it made for more coverage of Obama’s faith and preacher.
    We actually have a number of snapshots of Palin’s faith life and many have created controversy. Yet, there’s been no call for a “religion speech”–which was the prescription for Obama–but instead commentary which paints her as a victim and culture war figure.

  • I believe the call for a religion speech was made by Terry for Mitt Romney, not Obama.
    The coverage of Palin has been awful thus far and I think some actual questions about how her religious views impact public policy would be great, rather than the fevered imaginings of the collective press corps.
    Whether she’s a member of a church or not is an issue that can be ascertained objectively. Palin gave her answer in the context of Couric trying to hold her accountable for something the congregation in question had done. If she’s not a voting member, it seems to be a valid point to state she’s not a voting member.
    It’s also interesting that the media have been saying she’s a member of a certain congregation if she’s not.
    It’s certainly difficult, though, to learn as much as some would like about her religious views because she’s actually — contra the image painted by the media — not terribly open about her religious views. And I imagine that in the antagonistic climate she’s in, she’s probably not going to open up anytime soon.

  • Michael

    But hostility towards Palin’s faith is not greater than hostility towards Romneys and Obamas. The difference, of course, is the hostility against Romney and Obama was largely coming from people on the right while hostility towards Palin is coming from the left.
    Romney and Obama were never viewed as victims of coverage to the level Palin is viewed as a victim. No one suggested that Romney and Obama were justified in not talking about their faith, while excuses are made for Palin. Romney and Obama were encouraged to make speeches when things got controversial about their faith; Palin’s failure to talk about her faith is merely justified because of her alleged treatement.
    It is a very different standard.

  • Romney and Obama and Palin have all been viewed at GetReligion as victims of crappy mainstream media coverage. It is a lie to suggest otherwise.

  • Grupetti

    Michael wrote:
    “Romney and Obama were never viewed as victims of coverage to the level Palin is viewed as a victim.”
    and in response Mollie wrote:
    “Romney and Obama and Palin have all been viewed…”
    Mollie, I don’t know if you are lying, but you are obviously not responding to what Michael wrote. He is obviously claiming that Palin has been treated differently. Your comment was non-responsive.
    And whether she is an actual voting member or not is a moot point. If she has such a strong disagreement with her church, why does she attend it? Remember that actual membership is not the be all and end all of one’s association with a church – at least as far as many Evangelicals are concerned.

  • derek

    It strikes me as odd to hear a self-professed “Bible believing christian” say that she is not a member of any church. The Bible is quite clear that once a person chooses to accept God’s grace – salvation through faith in Christ – that person becomes a member of the one true Church, the body of believers. The apostle Paul makes this clear in his first letter to the early church in Corinth, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1Cr 10:17
    Christ, the one bread, has united all who partake in salvation through his sacrifice as one body, one Church.
    So which is it is, Mrs. Palin? Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and saviour or not? “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 1Cr 12:12-13
    The ‘new conservatives’ have sought to divide this country – and this election – among lines of religious morality by painting the ‘liberals’ as God-less baby killers all while seeking to evade the one central question of faith. Before we can understand how Mrs. Palin’s faith may affect any potential executive decisions we must first know what her faith is or isn’t. Answer the question, Mrs. Palin.