A Palin Pastor Primer

If Barack Obama and John McCain each had one famously problematic pastor, Sarah Palin appears to have at least four, all of whom are biblical literalists, and one of whom explicitly preaches that the United States is a "Christian nation."

As Frederick Clarkson and I had to appear on Democracy Now! together this morning to discuss Palin’s religious affiliations, I spent time scouring the local and national news reports and the available video for what we know so far. Having discovered in the process that there’s a bit of confusion in the blogosphere about her various pastors and churches, many with similar-sounding names, I thought I’d offer a roundup here.

The early years: Wasilla Assembly of God, Pastor Ed Kalnins

Sarah Palin’s family joined the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentacostal Church, when she was a child; she was baptized there at age twelve and remained a member until 2002, when she first ran for statewide office. It was here that Palin gave the widely quoted speech in June [see video], where she called the war in Iraq "a task that is from God" and said that all of her efforts to build a $30 billion gas pipeline would be for naught "if the people of Alaska’s heart is not good with God."

The pastor there, Ed Kalnins, often preaches on the End Times, and made a reference, at the end of Palin’s speech [see video], to his belief that "Alaska is one of the refuge states in the last days." This is a reference, as Chip Berlet explains, to that period in the End Times when a remnant community has to retreat and defend Christianity.

The Huffington Post did a listening tour of Kalnins’ taped sermons before they were removed from his website and posted a useful roundup. Highlights include:

On John Kerry, in 2004: "I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but if you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation. I’m sorry."

On Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina: "I hate criticism towards the President, because it’s like criticisms towards the pastor — it’s almost like, it’s not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell."

On the war on terror: "What you see in a terrorist—that’s called the invisible enemy. There has always been an invisible enemy. What you see in Iraq, basically, is a manifestation of what’s going on in this unseen world called the spirit world."

On Palin’s election as governor: This was the result of a "prophetic call" by another pastor at the church, who prayed for her to win. "[He made] a prophetic declaration and there unfolds the kingdom of God, you know."

From 2002 on: Wasilla Bible Church, Pastor Larry Kroon

When Palin ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, she switched Wasilla churches, and began to attend Wasilla Bible Church, a nondenominational evangelical church, though she has continued to attend special events at Wasilla Assembly of God. Wasilla Bible Church is where David Brickner, the founder of Jews for Jesus, spoke on August 17, with Palin in the pews [see audio]. He told congregants that Palestinian attacks on Israelis were God’s "judgement" of Jews for their refusal to embrace Jesus Christ:

"Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. When a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment—you can’t miss it."

Wasilla Bible Church is now promoting a September 13 Focus on the Family event called Love Won Out, a workshop on how to cure homosexuality through prayer [see pdf].

From 2006 on: Juneau Christian Center, Pastor Mike Rose

Once Palin was elected governor, she affiliated with a third church, where she attends services while in the state capitol, the Juneau Christian Center, another Pentecostal church. In March 2009, Juneau Christian Center is scheduled to host a prayer evening organized by Christians United for Israel, headed up by Pastor John Hagee (yes, the one McCain had to distance himself from after a sermon surfaced in which Hagee said Hitler was a tool God used to force Jews to go to Israel). Interestingly, this tidbit was recently removed from CUFI’s web page, but The American Prospect found a cached page with the listing.

Ken Silverstein and Sebastian Jones at Harper’s have done some listening themselves and put together some useful tidbits from Rose, another End Times prophesier:

From an April 2008 sermon: "If you really want to know where you came from and happen to believe the word of God that you are not a descendant of a chimpanzee, this is what the word of God says. I believe this version."

From a July 2007 sermon: "We are living in the Last Days. These are incredible times to live in."

Sporadically, in recent years: Church on the Rock, Pastor David Pepper

According to Pastor David Pepper, Palin "frequently" attended his Wasilla megachurch, Church on the Rock, for about a year before she became governor, making this the loosest of her four church affiliations. But some of Pepper’s statements are real cause for concern, as he seems to be the most explicitly dominionist of all of the pastors in Palin’s orbit. Again, from Harper’s:

From a November 2007 sermon: "The purpose for the United States… is to glorify God. This nation is a Christian nation."

From an October 2007 sermon: "God will not be mocked. I don’t care what the ACLU says. God will not be mocked. I don’t care what the atheists say. God will not be mocked. I don’t care what’s going on in the nation today with so much horrific rebellion and sin and things that take place. God will not be mocked. Judgment Day is coming."


Clearly this theological milieu has shaped Palin’s politics, which reflect Christian right doctrine straight down the line: her position that abortion should be outlawed unless a woman’s life is in danger; her opposition to same sex marriage; her support for abstinence-only education and the teaching of creationism in the public schools. How she will bring this into public life going forward is less clear.

She campaigned for governor against same sex marriage and benefits for domestic partners, but once governor did not block implementation of an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that ordered the state to provide the same benefits to same-sex partners as to heterosexual couples. Nor, as Gay City News point out, has she tried yet to advance legislation forcing the teaching of creationism in schools or eliminating standard sex ed in favor of abstinence-only. Then again, she’s only been in office for 20 months.

Most troubling are two more telling incidents: One has now been widely discussed: In 1996 Palin approached the Wasilla librarian about whether she’d be willing to censor some books, should citizens have concerns about inappropriate language; a few months after the librarian refused to consider such a thing, Palin sought to fire her (though local protest saved the woman’s job). The second incident has only been picked up, so far, in the local press: Last winter, when the state rep from Wasilla was convicted of bribery and extortion, Palin appointed an elder from Wasilla Bible Church to replace him. That man, Wes Keller, has since sponsored a bill to make performing late-term abortions a felony and introduced legislation lobbied for by the Alaska Family Council, a Focus on the Family affiliate, requiring public libraries to install filters to protect young people from "inappropriate" material. The Anchorage Daily News reports, in a story well worth the read, that Keller hopes to win a state mandate that intelligent design be taught in public schools.

What is not yet known, and Palin remains mum, is how her religious beliefs would inform her approach to the vice-presidency—or the presidency. Her authorized biography only includes a few pages on her religious life, and so far she has refused interviews from both the local and national press about her beliefs. Does she support her pastors’ more extreme statements? And how will her lifetime of worship under the guidance of these pastors affect her approach to foreign policy, gay rights, reproductive rights, separation of church and state, science, and public health? These are questions Sarah Palin needs to come forward and answer.

A Palin Pastor Primer first appeared on Talk To Action.