Monday, September 8, 2008

Double Standard on Candidates' Church Membership?

Everyone recalls--I assume--the drama and controversy surrounding Barack Obama's membership in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. There were non-stop loops of out of context sound bites by its pastor Jeremiah Wright played over and over on cable news shows. Wright did not help himself or his church member running for president when at the National Press Club he got up and acted exacted like the arrogant extremist he was accused of being. The end result was Obama denouncing his former pastor and leaving his church. (For one of the only responsible treatments of Trinity U.C.C. and the Black Liberation Theology of its founder Jeremiah Wright see these NPR interviews.) Although the mainstream media has let go of this bone, the overall controversy continues unabated fed by talk radio, unsubstantiated e-mails and other far-right rumor and innuendo mills.

Given all that, it is foxhunting to me that no one in the mainstream press has looked into the religious background of Sarah Palin--the new V.P. candidate for the Republican Party. It turns out that the Assembly of God church in her home town in Alaska that she and her family belong to espouses all kinds of extreme and scary beliefs about spiritual warfare in America, the war in Iraq, the antichrist, the whore of Babylon, etc. There's apparently plenty of video of Palin and her family at events where such views are espoused by her minister and other church leaders.

Talk to Action is a website that chronicles the practices of the Religious Right. Their coverage of Palin's church and its connections is extensive and for the uninitiated--myself included--kind of an effort to read. Nonetheless, what I could follow is plenty scary to me.

Her church is apparently closely connected with other groups, such as the one depicted in the documentary Jesus Camp. If you've ever seen that film, it's enough to make you want to let your kid go near a church again. I felt that way and I'm a minister!

It will be interesting to see if anyone bites on this story. It took the media a long time to look at Trinity U.C.C. and Jeremiah Wright--and what they ended up showing was haphazard and shallow and sensationalized. Unfortunately, we do not have such a long time before the November election to see if anyone picks up on Palin's religious background.

Another factor against most people hearing about Palin's church is that her church happens to be white and conservative. Trinity happens to be black and liberal. There are a lot more white conservative bloggers, writers, televangelists and talk show hosts out there to attack a church like Trinity than there are anybody else who would care about digging around in Palin's fundamentalist baggage.

I respect McCain's religious background--however vague it may be. He and his wife attend a North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona that is conservative but honorable. I may not agree with everything taught at his church, but I can respect it for doing its ministry with integrity. I met North Phoenix's pastor, Dan Yeary, when he spoke at my college when I was an undergrad. I haven't followed his career, but at least then he was a relative moderate in the fundamentalist controlled Southern Baptist Convention. Palin's church on the other hand seems like one I think we all should be concerned about. I fear McCain--who strikes me as a conservative Christian but generally moderate--has picked as his V.P. someone with extremely frightening religious beliefs.

I have little hope that the media will cover Palin's religious beliefs in any depth at all, and if they do, it will probably be in the same sensationalized manner that they covered Obama's.

Now more than ever we need an elevated level of discourse on the place of religion in our pluralistic nation.

Grace and Peace,


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