Neglecting Palin’s faith, mostly

palin2 01The major news magazines’ coverage of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s religiosity was more like that found in newspapers than, well, magazines. It contained a few facts but no explanations. While there were a couple of exceptions to this trend, those exceptions are instructive.

Time magazine provided the least information about Palin’s Christianity and how it shapes her political views. Reporter Michael Sherer wrote about Palin’s impact on the female vote this November without mentioning a) Palin’s faith and b) female voters tend to be more religious than male voters.

When Palin’s faith and political views were mentioned, the reporter did so in a less than sophisticated way. Take this passage from Claire Suddath’s story:

She is Christian and pro-life, but also a supporter of birth control: she’s a member of Feminists For Life (FFL), an anti-abortion, pro-contraception organization. In 2002, she wrote a letter to FFL stating that she had “adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.

Perhaps Suddath’s editor removed the context or explanation of Palin’s faith and politics. I hope so, because her story would have been better served had she mentioned the relationship between her Christian faith and anti-abortion convictions. As GR contributors have written, a person need not be religious to be pro-life, although religious tradtionalists are more likely to hold that view.

Newsweek reporters did little better. In their brief profile of Palin, Evan Thomas and Karen Breslau mentioned the governor’s faith only in the context of her tentative support for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. The reporters described her position this way:

Palin said during her run that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools. She was baptized in an Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal denomination that believes God created the world at every step. Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said Palin attends different churches and does not consider herself Pentecostal.

This description is better than Suddath’s above; at least it notes the theology of the Assemblies of God. Yet the passage does not quote Palin’s explanation for her view. And Palin no longer identifies exclusively as a Pentecostal. So this passage leaves as many questions as answers.

The two exceptions to this poor to middling coverage were not magazine stories. AP reporter Eric Gorski wrote a characteristically informative religious profile of Palin that appears on Newsweeks‘ Web site. While most of the story was of the go-through-the-rolodex-of-Christian-leaders variety, Gorski deserves praises for starting to dig beneath the surface, quoting from Palin’s previous pastor:

The 44-year-old mother of five, who led her high school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was baptized as a teenager at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church, where she and her family were very active, according to her then-pastor, Paul Riley.

She now sometimes worships at the Juneau Christian Center, which is also part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, said Brad Kesler, business administrator of the denomination’s Alaska District. But her home church is The Church on the Rock, an independent congregation, Riley said.

“The church was kind of a foundation for her,” said Riley, who said he gave the invocation at Palin’s inauguration and had her address students at the church last month.

The other exception was Time reporter Jay Newton-Small’s interview with Palin. Rather than being a strict journalism story, it had a question-and-answer format. Small’s questions were interesting, as were Palin’s answers. One example is this exchange:

What’s your religion?

Christian.

Any particular…?

No. Bible-believing Christian.

What church do you attend?

A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life.

Another example was the previous Q & A in the piece:

Where do you see yourself going? Staying on in Alaska. Washington?

You know, I don’t know. I knew early on that the smartest thing for me to do was to work hard, do the best that I can, make wise decisions based on good information in front of me. And then put my life, get myself on a path that could be dedicated to God and ask Him what I should next. That will be the position I will be in as long as I’m on earth — that is, seeking the right path that God would have laid out for me.

Give credit to Newton-Small and her employer for interviewing Palin before she was chosen as McCain’s running mate. By hedging her bets, Newton-Small told her readers a lot about Palin’s faith and religious outlook.

However, I must fault the magazine reporters for not exploring why Palin decided to give birth to a son with Down Syndrome. As Mollie noted, 90 percent of mothers whose embryo or fetus has Down Syndrome decide to have the unborn infant killed. Did Palin’s faith play a role in her decision? It sounds logical considering her answer above to Newton-Small. Was it her non-religious pro-life principles or some other factor?

Palin’s decision to carry her son to term is not simply a personal story. It will have political ramifications. Take this post by anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek about the birth of Palin’s fifth child:

But Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in April, “We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed.”

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, actively opposed legislation as IL state senator to protect little babies with Down syndrome who had survived their abortions but were being shelved in a hospital soiled utility room to die….

Conservative-leaning writer Michael Barone agrees that Republicans will contrast Palin’s decision with Obama’s vote. I expect that more magazine reporters will dig into Palin’s faith and religious outlook. But if they don’t and it ends up affecting the election this November, don’t say Get Religion did not warn you.

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  • Francis X. Maier

    Nice piece, Mark. I can’t shake the feeling that many media types just don’t want religion to be anything more than an irrelevant and retro personal quirk.

  • Hans

    I’m still trying to figure out where the WSJ got their information posted yesterday that she was a Lutheran. There doesn’t seem to be any indication of that anywhere.

    Maybe they just assumed she was Lutheran because she’s so awesome?????

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Hans should ask Mollie, though I wonder if the WSJ noted whether Palin was a Missouri-Synod Lutheran. :-)

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    This quote from Newsweek is plain false:

    Palin said during her run that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools.

    Please see this article from the Anchorage Daily News published October 27, 2006, and last modified October 30, 2006 at 09:40 AM:

    In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

    “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

    She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

    Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

    “I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

  • Francis X. Maier

    Perpetua, great information, thanks. I admit to really liking what I know about her, so I’m biased, but biased or not, the media are attacking her exactly as I would expect — including the creationism cudgel.

  • http://shaun.pressbin.com Shaun G

    Um, why hasn’t anybody called Claire Suddath out on the glaring factual error in her story?

    Feminists for Life is not a “pro-contraception” organization.

    From the Feminists for Life Web site’s FAQ:

    What is Feminists for Life’s position on contraception?

    Feminists for Life’s mission is to address the unmet needs of women who are pregnant or parenting. Preconception issues including abstinence and contraception are outside of our mission. Some FFL members and supporters support the use of non-abortifacient contraception while others oppose contraception for a variety of reasons. FFL is concerned that certain forms of contraception have had adverse health effects on women.

    Our membership enjoys a broad spectrum of opinion that reflects the diversity of opinions among the American public.

  • Jerry

    Reporter Michael Sherer wrote about Palin’s impact on the female vote this November without mentioning a) Palin’s faith and b) female voters tend to be more religious than male voters.

    Perhaps because of timing, he also did not include some early polling that shows Palin appeals more to men than women. The instant analysis is that gap is due to men being, on average, more conservative than women.

    At least from the left, Palin’s belief that creationism should be taught in public schools is getting a lot of attention at a couple of earlier posts here attest to. So I would assume her religion will be at least as hot a topic and perhaps as controversial as Obama’s has been.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    … Kindly please stop commenting on the views of the subject, in this case Palin’s. GR is focused on one thing only: the media’s COVERAGE of religion or lack thereof.

  • FW Ken

    Apologies if this crosses the line, but this phrase grabbed me:

    an Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal denomination that believes God created the world at every step.

    As it happens, this Catholic boy believe that God created the world at every step. In fact, I believe He is “creating” it as He sustains it moment by moment. That says NOTHING about any particular mechanism He might use as He does it, whether ex nihilo creation in 6 days or a variety of biological mechanisms (evolutionary in nature) mixed with catastrophic events, or whatever.

    My point: As stated, this might or might not represent the AG theology of creation. It certainly confuses the questions around what Gov. Palin might (or might not) believe about the origins of life.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    All this evening long I have heard on TV and cable news how Palin’s pro-life, conservative stands on cultural-moral issues will draw or solidify evangelical Protestant support for McCain. But not a word about us Catholics who also believe in traditional Christian morality and are revolted and disgusted with Obama’s refusal to endorse laws protecting already born children (in effect, endorsing infanticide) and his opposition to banning partial-birth abortion. And, so far, there have been no “ironic” stories (or columns in print)about how evangelical Palin on these issues is a better Catholic than the Catholic Biden tossed out there by the Dems to reel in “lunch-bucket Catholics.”
    No Dem wins the presidency without its traditional base Catholics and in the last election Catholic (but anti-Catholic on cultural-moral issues) Kerry lost among Catholics by a pretty good margin to evangelical-Methodist (but almost traditionally Catholic on cultural-moral issues)Bush.
    My suspicion is that Palin will be a huge hit among Catholics who take the core pro-life moral teachings of Christianity and Catholcism seriously while I already hear Biden is considered a typical Catholic political sell-out to secular anti-life values-although not quite as bad as Obama originally(where Biden stands now is anyone’s guess since the media is protecting Obama-Biden on pro-life issues. I’m sick and tired of hearing and reading about how McCain and Palin have (basically minor really) differences on ANWAR drilling and how will they ever resolve them, while NEVER mentioning the differences Biden and Obama have had on partial-birth abortion and abortion-infanticide issues of life and death and if have they resolved them. Is the primarily pro-choice Biden now also like Obama in favor of allowing partial-birth abortion and against laws like the Infant Born-Alive Act???-

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just got back from looking at some Dem Party favorite internet sites (like Daily Kos-some Dem candidates are big supporters of this site)). I wonder if Sarah Palin (and her family) are ready for the diseased, depraved, insane garbage that will be slung around directed at a woman with a family and a Down’s Syndrome child?? Will the MSM let the general public know how sick and deranged some Democrats have become over pro-life Palin??? How dare a woman be against the liberal-Democrat sacrament of killing the unborn????

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Deacon John,

    I appreciate you commenting for this site, but please stick to the media’s coverage of these issues. I am afraid that next time you write a post like the one above I will need to delete it.

  • Jerry

    There were some interesting comments on Dallas News Relgion Blog site. Most of that post is reproduced below because I could not decide what to cut.

    John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has an interesting take:

    The initial confusion surrounding Palin’s denominational identity, therefore, has a simple explanation: She doesn’t have one.

    Instead, Palin appears to be part of that rapidly expanding galaxy of “post-denominational” Christianity, where elements of Evangelical and Pentecostal styles of faith and worship fuse into a myriad of unique local combinations, and where old denominational loyalties are essentially dead.

    Bob Smietana, the religion writer for The Tennessean, has been exchanging e-mails with me as we both set out on the hunt. He says: “Looks like she’s a charismatic, or charismatic leaning, if her home congregation is Church on The Rock…

    If Bob is right, she’d be the first Charismatic on a ticket, I think? Whether or not she categorizes herself as such?

    I wonder if Palin (or the GOP campaign) will find it useful/necessary to have her explain her religious worldview? The presidential candidates have answered more religious questions than a seminary student. Will she put herself in the position to face those kinds of queries

    I was struck by the phrase rapidly expanding galaxy of “post-denominational” Christianity. That one point alone could open up quite a few questions including why she chose that particular identification rather than a more traditional one.

  • Stephen A.

    Like others here, and Mark, am blown away by the lack of coverage about Gov. Palin’s religion, just as I have been about the failure to report much about McCain’s.

    There’s got to be a reason for this. Could it be that the newsrooms are burnt out about religious background stories on the candidates after the whole Jeremiah Wright fiasco? I’d like to hear editors explain this.

    I’m also VERY curious, being an admitted “fan” of Palin, to learn the truth about her religion. Is she a fundamentalist heck-bent on introducing Creationism into the curriculum (though thanks to Perpetua’s post, I have an idea that such claims *may* be a bit exaggerated by the Left, and the media) and her views on abortion are still a bit fuzzy to me. Does she oppose ALL abortions, or just MOST abortions, such as a “life of the mother” exception? And does that viewpoint have anything to do with her religion, as Mark asks? Very confused on that point, and it will have very strong ramifications for the Traditionalist Catholic vote.

    Reporters need to get crackin’.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mark–I thought the comment was apropos because half the stories on this site are about what the MSM is NOT reporting on. And I thought I made it clear that I was pointing out that there are things going on in the internet involving Palin that the MSM should take notice of and report on. Sorry if I was so verbose my main media point got lost. And I would rather have you delete a comment of mine than have something printed that is counterproductive to the goals of GR–better news coverage of religion which is also a goal of mine.

  • Julia

    From the Anchorage Daily News, an article with an interesting title:

    The Joan of Arc of Alaska Politics:

    She had strong support from social conservatives and often speaks of her religious faith. The Palins have five children, including their first-born, Track, who enlisted in the Army on Sept. 11, 2007. Track Palin is 19 and stationed at Fort Wainwright with the Stryker Brigade, preparing for a deployment to Iraq in September. The Palins also have three daughters: Bristol, Willow and Piper.

    The newest member of the family, a son, Trig, was born in April ago after a pregnancy that Palin managed to keep secret for seven months. Trig was born with Down syndrome, which the Palins had discovered through testing.

    But as governor, she has not pushed any big-agenda items of social conservatives. She spoke favorably in her campaign of schools teaching the creationism debate with evolution, but lived up to her pledge to do nothing as governor to push the idea. Her first veto was of a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships — she said she supported the idea but accepted legal advice that it was unconstitutional. This year, she declined to call a legislative special session on two abortion bills because they would have interfered with her top priority, a measure promoting a new natural gas pipeline.

    Source: http://www.adn.com/news/politics/story/510048.html

    If you click on the photo, there is a gallery of 40+ photos.
    I read quite a few articles in this paper and did not find any references to which church she attends.

  • http://www.originalfaith.com/ Paul Maurice Martin

    Looks pretty clear that she’s designed to appeal to A) the remaining disgruntled Hillary voters and B) social conservatives.

  • Mark Stricherz

    Paul,

    Please stick to the media coverage of Palin, not her outlook.

  • CTD

    I too was shocked by the error in Claire Suddath’s story. Anyone familiar with Feminists for Life knows that the organization is neutral on abortion. Where did Suddath get the notion that FFL is pro-contraception? This is not a little mistake. It is a big mistake.

  • Dave

    Without regard to how it affects the outcome of the election, I too am stonkered by the lack of media coverage of the connections among Palin’s faith, opposition to abortion, and decision to carry a Down Syndrome pregnancy. It’s an essential story as to who she (and her husband) are.

    Perpetua (#4), “teach the controversy” is a common fallback of educational creationists, especially of the intelligent design flavor.

  • Dale

    Without regard to how it affects the outcome of the election, I too am stonkered by the lack of media coverage of the connections among Palin’s faith, opposition to abortion, and decision to carry a Down Syndrome pregnancy. It’s an essential story as to who she (and her husband) are.(emphasis mine)

    I think it may be that her life story doesn’t strike most journalists as important: it’s the anti-abortion policy that matters. I know that for me, that part in italics makes a huge impression. If the Democrats nominated an environmentalist who had chosen to live “off the grid” on alternative electricity sources, maybe they’d get it.

  • http://sinaiticus.wordpress.com Ray McCalla

    “Palin said during her run that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools.”

    I have read several reporters use this phrase non-chalantly, but the term “creationism” remains totally undefined. I could use a little explanation and context here. People are not limited to just 2 choices (“creationism” vs. “evolution”) when it comes to their beliefs about the universe’s origins. It seems as though the term is used by reporters to subtly pigeon hole someone–to label them as an unenlightened dolt. Am I being conspiratorial?

  • Dave2

    Dave wrote:

    Perpetua (#4), “teach the controversy” is a common fallback of educational creationists, especially of the intelligent design flavor.

    But if we take Palin at her word, she’s not saying to “teach the controversy”. She’s saying that if the controversy naturally arises from the kids in the class, then teachers should allow a bit of open discussion on the topic, I guess instead of shutting it down and moving on to other stuff. And if indeed that’s all she ever intended to say, then it looks like she doesn’t deserve to be ranked among the creationists/IDers. I would expect any good biology teacher to allow the kids to have some discussion, so long as it was never officially treated like a genuine scientific controversy.

    Of course, it also looks she’s simply being dishonest about what she intended to say. Her original remarks are pretty unequivocal: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” As to what might have led her to shift her position, I couldn’t say, but it sure looks like an enormous shift.

  • Dave2

    Ray McCalla wrote:

    I have read several reporters use this phrase non-chalantly, but the term “creationism” remains totally undefined. I could use a little explanation and context here. People are not limited to just 2 choices (“creationism” vs. “evolution”) when it comes to their beliefs about the universe’s origins. It seems as though the term is used by reporters to subtly pigeon hole someone—to label them as an unenlightened dolt. Am I being conspiratorial?

    First I must point out that evolutionary biology has nothing to say about “the universe’s origins”. That topic falls under cosmology, not biology.

    You might be right about the reporters. Few take the time to understand the similarities and differences between young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, and intelligent design, much less such main players as the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, Reasons to Believe, and the Discovery Institute. And many of the reporters might indeed view creationists as unenlightened dolts.

    But to be fair, plenty of creationists are guilty of the same carelessness. Dover school board member Alan Bonsell notoriously started out calling for “creationism” but then switched to “intelligent design” soon enough. In Louisiana, state senator Ben Nevers told the Hammond Daily Star that (according to his political ally the Louisiana Family Forum) “scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory”, but then had to take back the reference to “creationism” pretty quickly (as it was a political liability since Edwards v. Aguillard).

    For everyone in this controversy, ‘creationism’ has become a useful word for describing the attempt to challenge or undermine evolutionary biology (especially the teaching thereof) on behalf of a preferred, more supernatural, account of matters biological.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave 2, I know that you were responding to Ray McCalla’s question and that one of your passages deals with reporters, but please cut the comments about Palin and the controversy over ID and evolutionary biology. Thank you.

  • mollysgran

    Becoming a member of a church family requires real commitment. Bouncing from one church to another indicates a lack of commitment and ambivalence in the foundation of a persons faith. I am skeptical about Mrs. Palins Christian commitment.

    Glen Howell is 100% wrong about Obama, who is very pro-choice and not at all for abortion!

    No one I have ever spoken to is FOR abortion. But the issue of abortion should absolutely NOT be politicized. That is an issue that should only be between the person(s) involved and their Maker. Certainly not legislated by people who call themselves Christians.

    Today the person my heart goes out to the most is the young Palin daughter who has just been exploited by her parents and John McCain and the GOP. Shame on them all.

    Think about being 17 and having your life laid open -literally – to the whole world just because your Mom wants to advance her political career.

    Bringing a new life into the world is a wonderful thing, usually, but this new precious baby is being used in a very evil way.

  • marshall

    Ever get the idea that asking people to stay on topic is like yelling down a well?

    Sheesh.


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