Has Sarah Palin Spoken in Tongues?
Last night a CNN reporter asked that question of Palin’s former pastor. Because of my work as religious liaison in past presidential campaigns, I have been inundated with calls from the media asking about Sarah Palin’s church, the Assemblies of God, their doctrine and what this will mean. A national magazine has asked me to send them an 800 word assessment of how Pentecostal-Charismatic doctrine is “distinct.”
The media is on the hunt and they smell a kill. Didn’t Obama’s pastor seriously damage his cause? Won’t Palin’s Pentecostalism hurt her? So why does Barack Obama still seem to be in a stupor over John McCain’s pick for Vice President? And what is the source of John McCain’s cocky smile?
Because Obama and McCain are politicians and not just your average politicians, they are among the best. The American people are getting their money’s worth in this contest. And as politicians, they know the numbers, the numbers that the media in their supreme arrogance toward anything religious, always seem to disbelieve.
And here are the numbers. Beware. You may be a bit surprised by what I am about to tell you but the references are all at the end of the blog, so hang tight and follow the numbers and the logic. John McCain did just that and it is why he is still in a race that the Democrats should have already won. And it is why Obama is looking stunned.
Here they are. According to Barna, 36% of the American public are charismatic or Pentecostal Christians. We are talking about huge numbers, probably 80 million adults.
Consider that 24% of the American public are Catholic. 13% are African American.
To give you an idea of the numbers, just remember that anyone who is baptized as an infant as a Catholic, is counted as a Catholic. But to be counted in this 36% you had to say that you had been “filled with the Holy Spirit” and that you believe that “the charismatic gifts, gifts such as tongues and healing, are still valid and active today.” So the 36% Penteocstal-Charismatics are hot. They are adult and active.
Now, here’s where it gets even more ironic. It turns out that 33% of all Catholics are charismatic, that is, they believe in these same gifts of healing and speaking in tongues. Again, the same logic applies. Cultural Catholics are less likely to have been involved in the “charismatic renewal” within their own Church. Most of the 33% are adults, and active.
So here is what is happening. Some in the media are falling all over themselves to show that Palin is out of step with the nation, that she is a fanatic or, at least, her church is fanatical. They are rushing to do Obama’s work for him, attacking Palin’s faith. And they justify it all by saying that they were just as aggressive in looking at Obama’s faith too. The problem, which Obama and McCain understand well, is this. What percentage of Americans would agree with “God Damn America” as opposed to “the charismatic gifts, gifts such as tongues and healing, are still valid and active today”?
It is even more ironic, better or worse, depending on your preference. Obama was specifically attempting to peel off the Pentecostal-Charismatics from the rest of the evangelical herd. Democrats had several meetings set up with Pentecostal leaders. McCain had misstepped with endorsements from John Hagee and Rod Parsley, both Pentecostals. Republican, Chuck Grassley, a Baptist, had awakened the Baptist – Pentecostal doctrinal rift by specifically targeting Pentecostal ministries in an “investigation” but exempting any Baptists.
If the Baptist-Pentecostal fracture had endured, it would have rent the last remaining base of the beleaguered presidency of George W. Bush and the melting iceberg from which the McCain team had to launch their campaign.
Now, with one decision, a VP pick, John McCain has turned it all on a dime.
The media rushes greedily on, thinking they have something of interest that will break McCain. But Obama and McCain know the truth. The more the media confidently ridicules and attacks the Pentecostal-Charismatics, the more they unite what had been a fractured Republican base and drive this massive constituency into the Republican fold. In their ignorance, or innocence, the media will use a shotgun approach, (now here’s where their failure to do any homework on religion really hurts them) and they will end up hitting all evangelicals, not just Pentecostals. When they attack the idea of healing for example, they make Mormons, Christian Scientists and even many New Agers nervous. Oh, yeah, there is that 33% of Catholics who will wince when media pundits laugh at Palin’s doctrines. And when they ridicule the born again experience they blow out Baptists and fundamentalist Lutherans.
Thus the media will do the work that a clumsy, liberal Democrat nominee usually did in the past. In forty years, only two Democratic nominees have won, Carter and Clinton, and both hailed from the South and understood and appealed to evangelicals. (42% of all Americans claim to be born again Christians, which includes the Pentecostals and Charismatics.) Barack Obama had this all figured out. He needed the Pentecostals to balance his liberal voting record in the Senate, to make him something more than a Dukakis or Kerry. Indeed, the head of his religious outreach is a young Assemblies of God political operator. (Maybe the media will ask him if he has ever spoken in tongues?)
So Obama will helplessly watch this unfold these next two days, as the media tide washes ashore and does its job, confidant that they are providing Obama some redress for his own pastor problems. And unfairly, Obama will be tarred with the same brush. He will suffer for the media’s attacks on Palin’s faith, as if he himself had orchestrated it.
And what is the point? That Sarah Palin is not qualified to be vice president because she was raised in such a church and exposed to such doctrines? Maybe Pentecostals and Charismatics should not able allowed to operate heavy machinery or be doctors or lawyers. Maybe 36% of the American public should be exempted from public life.
Obama can only pine as he watches all of his brilliant, nuanced work slip away. It will take the most informed in the media a few days to figure this out and add a measure of balance to their reporting, to at least offer Pentecostals as much respect as they do Muslims fundamentalists but some won’t ever know what they have done.
Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “He who says that religion and politics don’t mix, understands neither one.”
This race is not over. With a damaged Republican brand and a faltering economy it is still Barack Obama’s to lose. And this a moment in history, the election of an African American, that many want to see happen. But they will have to take out Sarah Palin first. I expect her to be laid bare in the next few days and weeks.
Here is that reference:
Is America Turning Charismatic?