A Heartbeat Away, or Why Palin's Churches Matter

When religion becomes mainly experiential, when theological content is stripped away, it can serve as a powerful and dangerous vehicle for political ideology.
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"Muthee exclaimed, "We come against the spirit of witchcraft! We come against the python spirits!" Then, a local pastor took the mic from Muthee and added, "We stomp on the heads of the enemy!" - Journalist Max Blumenthal, describing Palin-anointer Thomas Muthee's appearance at the Wasilla Assembly of God, September 20, 2008

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Disturbing evidence pointing towards the likely nature of Sarah Palin's religious beliefs continues to emerge. Yesterday "scrubbed" footage, from a 2005 "anointing" of then-Alaska gubernatorial contender Sarah Palin, resurfaced on the website of the net-based alternative news service The Irregular Times. The footage showed Kenyan minister Thomas Muthee not only praying over and blessing Sarah Palin, to advance her bid for the Alaska governorship and protect Palin from a "spirit of witchcraft", but, prior to the blessing, Muthee gave a seven to eight minute speech in which he called on believing Christians to "infiltrate" a number of key areas of secular society including Banking and finance, schools and education, media, politics and government. [continue reading this story]

Sam Harris - an emergent, outspoken American atheist - has written a new Newsweek op-ed which shows what is to my mind very appropriate concern over Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy. But Harris also garbles Palin's likely religious beliefs, under the rubric that all religion is suspect. Precision, whether in surgery, politics or religion, matters. It is unlikely that Sarah Palin believes in the premillennial dispensationalist "Rapture" and, to move beyond the realm of wonkish religious terminology; "speaking in tongues" is not the proper issue of concern - it's just a form of religious expression, no more or less, and not a wise human behavior, if any could be, to mock.

Hundreds of millions worldwide think glossolalia is a valid form of religious expression and, more to the point, charismatic Christianity is not necessarily a stronghold of the political right. Indeed, currently a left-wing Pentecostal, non-violent movement of Brazilian peasants is challenging landlords and elite power structures, in Brazil, over farming rights.

Harris mentions "The Rapture" in his op-ed but also declares that Sarah Palin may believe in a conquering "end-time" Christian army of true-believers that will cleanse the earth of evil.
On that latter possibility Sam Harris is appropriately concerned.

Religious behaviors are in themselves mainly irrelevant. What we can observe in Sarah Palin's churches is a form of Christianity in which the experiential aspect of religious experience has been dramatically amplified but from which theological content has been largely drained away. "Jesus is perfect theology" declares Wasilla Assembly of God head pastor Ed Kalnins but "Jesus" in this case in an empty vessel. We're not studying the New Testament Book of Mark, declares Kalnins, nor are we studying the words of Moses. We are studying Jesus, declares Kalnins, but Jesus is not so much "studied" as felt, or intuited, and because what "Jesus" means is almost completely undefined such a Jesus can function as an empty vessel into which leaders of the Third Wave and the New Apostolic Reformation can pour their aggressive and intolerant political ideology. Parallels to the religious ideology held by The Family, as described by Rolling Stone and Harpers author Jeff Sharlet, in The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at The Heart of American Power are striking. When religion becomes mainly experiential, when theological content is stripped away, it can serve as a powerful and dangerous vehicle for political ideology.

So, religious behaviors, in the case of the Christianity of Sarah Palin's churches, matter insofar as they are yolked to religious doctrines that effect the temporal, earthly realm. Triumphal and exceptionalist religions teaching their believers to "infiltrate" and gain control of governmental, business, educational and media sectors are toxic to the pluralist ethic that has characterized America's over two-century long pioneering experiment with democracy.

That's why Sarah Palin's churches matter : not because people at Palin's churches speak in tongues or for any specific gestural or behavioral expression. These things are deeply felt and not properly mocked or stigmatized, Rather, Palin's churches matter because pastors in those churches espouse an aggressive form of Christian nationalism and also the doctrine that all forms of religious and philosophical beliefs other than their own are invalid and even under demonic influence.

Christians caught up in the Third Wave or New Apostolic Reformation tend to believe that all Christian sects and denominations are invalid and even under demonic influence because their theological substrate holds that when Adam and Eve sinned in The Garden, God withdrew his protective cover from the Earth and demons flooded in. Palin's churches are demon-haunted churches which tend to view the Catholic Church (especially) as well as all Protestant denominations as invalid and as manifestations of a "religious spirit" that's held to be demonic. Things devolve from there - the Third Wave stigmatizes much of Protestant and Catholic Christianity but it vilifies and literally demonizes Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and all non-Christian religions and belief systems as manifestations of "witchcraft", to be driven from the Earth by "spiritual warfare" and by a physical, end-time, purifying last-generation army.

What would it mean for America to have a vice president, let alone a president, who might feel (though she would of course deny it) that Catholics and most Christians, and all non-Christians, hold invalid religious or philosophical beliefs and are under demonic influence ?

Phrases Mr. Harris uses indicate to me that he might be reading the articles my research team has written. So, if that's indeed true I'd like to suggest the following to Sam Harris :

Precision matters - in politics, in surgery and in religion. My research team's efforts led to the 3:40 video, shown around the world, credited by the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and Newsweek with forcing John McCain to renounce the political endorsement of Texas megachurch evangelist John Hagee. That simple video three minute, forty second video was informed by years of research on Hagee and the Christian right. In other words, there is much to learn about contemporary religion, and politicized religion, of our age. And, religious traditions evolve and change, sometimes very rapidly. Understandings of American fundamentalism rooted in research done years or decades ago may no longer fit emerging traditions - many fundamentalist Christians are no longer waiting for the Rapture.

What does Sarah Palin believe ?

We'll never know for sure if she doesn't make a public declaration, and beliefs can change, of course, over time as well.

But Sarah Palin has spent roughly two and one half decades, most of her adult life so far, at the Wasilla Assembly of God. At twelve year's old, Palin - along with her entire family, was baptized at the church.

According to the Wasilla Assembly of God head pastor, Ed Kalnins, Palin maintains a "friendship" with the church including going to special church events.

One of those 'special' events might have been a May, 2005 anointing of Palin, shown in a video that was scrubbed from the Wasilla Assembly of God website and which has just resurfaced.

IN 2005, as she was starting her bid for the Alaska governor's seat, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was "anointed" by three pastors, in a ceremony at the Wassila Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska.

Two of the pastors who anointed Palin have stated that believing Christians, as they define those, can learn to raise from the dead. Those two pastors have also made statements indicating they believe that crime and social pathologies are caused when "demons" possess geographic areas and that "curses" can be transmitted from one human generation to the next.

[below: "May 2005 anointing of Sarah Palin, courtesy of The Irregular Times ]

I have no interest in disputing the validity of speaking in tongues, being "slain in the spirit", or miraculous healing. Many major religious have traditions that allow for such phenomena, real or not.

But in terms of dealing with the prospect that GOP Vice Presidential contender Sarah Palin might be a heartbeat away from the presidency of the most militarily powerful nation on Earth I'd suggest this approach : let's try to ascertain what her core beliefs might actually be.

Religious belief matters and is a valid subject for discussion - especially if a vice presidential candidate, who might be a heartbeat away from the US presidency, might believe that her sectarian form of religious belief is the only valid form of religious belief on earth.

Judging by statements made by the pastors who blessed and anointed Sarah Palin, as shown in a newly-surfaced May 2005 video taken at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, Sarah Palin may well believe that the majority of Christians on Earth, and all humans living with non-Christian religious and philosophical belief systems, hold beliefs that are not only invalid but also even demonically influenced.

For the last several weeks I have been working in a research team that has been mapping out the emerging Christian religious stream Sarah Palin falls in. It is not synonymous with Pentecostalism or the Assemblies of God. It is a new, highly experiential and extremely militant form of Christianity that, until now, has outstripped the best efforts of journalists and academics who might have classified it. You can read about the New Apostolic Reformation, and the third Wave, in the following series of Talk To Action articles:

Sarah Palin's Churches

Series of Documentary Videos and Supporting Articles

Sarah Palin's Churches and the Third Wave, Part One


Sarah Palin's Churches and the Third Wave, Part Two


Sarah Palin's Demon Haunted Churches, Complete Edition
With videos, documentation , and article


Palin's Churches and the Holy Laughter Anointing,
Video, Documentation, and Article


YouTube Censors Viral Video Documentary on Palin's Churches


Palin, Muthee, and the Witch- Journalists Miss the Major Story

The "Lions in the Pews"


Direct video links:

Sarah Palin's Churches and the Third Wave, also titled
Palin's Demon Haunted Churches


Palin's Churches and the Holy Laughter Anointing


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