When I first heard that Sarah Palin had landed a gig as a contributor to Fox News, I thought: now Fox News viewers will have a taste of Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Not that Palin will be preaching — or preaching explicitly, that is. But to my ears, her speaking style is so unmistakenly influenced by the sort of personal testimony and revelatory expressions of what God says, does, or wants, as expressed through the speaker, that is a staple of televangelism pioneered by Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, and Paul Crouch.
As our Anthea Butler said to me when John McCain picked Palin as his running mate:
Religion professor Butler says that warrior spirit — or Palin’s “Pentecostal-ness” — is the reason why her candidacy excites the conservative base more than a non-Pentecostal would. Watching Palin’s speech to the Republican National Convention, Butler says she thought to herself, “This is a flat-footed, I’m-in-the-back-of-the-camp-meeting-truck-preaching-woman” in the style of the trailblazing early 20th century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
But it’s not just the excitement Palin will bring to the Fox News viewers who aren’t already rapt by Mike Huckabee’s show (and Huckabee, too, learned at the feet of televangelist James Robison). It’s that Palin will bring that unmistakable me, me, me vibe that defines televangelism. Fox might have brought her on board for the ratings, but it will be all about Palin. Kind of like Rod Parsley cares more about his own fundraising than TBN’s ratings.
Like the televangelists, I’d expect Palin to thrive on criticism and ridicule she’s sure to elicit as soon as she opens her mouth on the air. Just like with the televangelists, mockery will feed the beast, by enabling her to continue to portray herself as the embattled victim of a liberal, secular culture that ridicules God and country. That’s exactly how prosperity televangelists raise money, and will be exactly how Palin will promote herself — not the conservative movement, and certainly not Fox News.