Examining Palin's Pentecostal Background

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin addresses her party's convention in St. Paul, Minn. i i

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin addresses her party's convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 3. Palin's Pentecostal background may have influenced her worldview. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin addresses her party's convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin addresses her party's convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 3. Palin's Pentecostal background may have influenced her worldview.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

On June 8, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin dropped in on the Wasilla Assembly of God, the church she and her family attended until 2002. During the service, she addressed a group of young missionaries and said she had a "word" from the Lord for them. She prayed that Jesus would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation.

"That spirit of revelation also including the spirit of prophecy that God's going to tell you what is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to have that within you, and it's just going to bubble up and bubble over and it's going to pour out throughout the state of Alaska," Palin said at the time.

Margaret Poloma, at the University of Akron, has written several books on Pentecostalism and is herself a Pentacostal Christian.

Poloma has listened to the tape of the governor's Assembly of God address and says of Palin's faith: "It seems to me that she's the real McCoy."

Poloma says faith in divine revelation, prophecy and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit are hallmarks of the Pentecostal faith.

Palin now goes to a nondenominational Bible church when she's in Wasilla, but her years attending Pentecostal churches, including the one she currently attends in Juneau, have no doubt shaped her faith and, possibly, her view of world events.

For example, at the same service, Palin talks about the war in Iraq.

"Pray our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country — that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God," Palin said. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan."

Poloma says some people might hear that and say Palin believes this is a holy war, or that Pentecostals think this is a holy war.

"I would think it's fair to say. Yes," Poloma says.

One reason, Poloma says, is that most Pentecostals believe Islam is a false religion.

"Many times you hear it referred to as a kind of diabolical religion, and that comes from the idea of Christianity being the true religion, but also their support for Israel, because they contend that Israel [represents] God's chosen people and you dare not touch them."

She says this points to a central belief that there is a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. It was language Palin used when accepting the nomination on Wednesday night when she spoke of the war on terrorism and it was language used by Palin's current pastor, Mike Rose, at Juneau Christian Center.

"Have you ever felt that way about devil, the ultimate terrorist?" he asked.

Pentecostals believe God routinely intervenes in human affairs and Palin sounded like a Pentecostal when she asked people at Wasilla Assembly of God to pray about building a gas pipeline through Alaska.

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that," she said.

Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary, says some Pentecostals hold to their convictions in the face of opposition because they believe they are in tune with the will of God.

"What faith does in this case is fuel a sense of mission and direction," Bock says. "It can also produce a little bit of element of certainty about that direction."

Bock, however, warns against drawing conclusions about anyone's policies from his or her faith.

"Trying to figure out what the link is between a person's faith and their politics is very, very difficult business because there is so much pragmatically and ideologically that's also driving what's going on," he says. "There's not just the faith element."

Bock says President Bush and Democratic nominee Barack Obama have already been through this sort of spiritual vetting. Now it's Palin's turn.

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