Tempting truth about Palin, evangelicals

palin5Amy Sullivan of Time wrote an uncharacteristically unsubstantiated story about Sarah Palin’s possible difficulty in attracting support from moderate and young evangelicals. Usually, Sullivan’s stories are marked by thorough and insightful reporting. This was not one of them.

Early in the story, Sullivan characterized Palin’s relationship with evangelicals in general:

Lost in the stampede of social conservatives to embrace Palin this past week is the fact that she is culturally outside the mainstream of Evangelicalism. Over the past few years, a growing number of Evangelicals have been consciously distancing themselves from the more extreme stands of the Christian right. They live in the suburbs, hold graduate degrees, and while they might not want their children reading certain novels, would be embarrassed by attempts to ban certain books from libraries, as Palin is reported to have briefly considered while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. They don’t attend churches where speakers charge that violence against Israelis is divine punishment for the failure of Jews to accept Jesus, as happened at one of Palin’s churches two weeks ago (though Palin has now issued a statement saying she does not agree with those views). And they would disagree with Palin’s decision to use her line-item veto as Governor to slash funding for an Alaska shelter that serves teen mothers.

Later, Sullivan characterized Palin’s relationship with young evangelicals:

That goes double for younger Evangelicals. These voters tend to be even more pro-life than their parents, but abortion isn’t always a priority that moves their votes — it wasn’t when McCain was alone on the ticket, and there’s no reason for that to change with the addition of Palin. More important, Palin has problematic stances on many of the issues that do motivate young Evangelicals. Her insistence that global warming is not man-made, for instance, is unlikely to appeal to those Evangelicals who have embraced so-called “creation care” in the past few years. This is particularly relevant to the current race, as young Evangelicals account for much of that demographic’s undecided bloc. No one knows what the size of their impact may be in November because young Evangelicals are consistently underrepresented in polls of white Evangelicals. (Even a TIME poll of likely white Evangelical voters conducted last month used a sample in which just 10% of respondents were between 18 and 35. That age group made up 22% of the total electorate in 2004, and its share of the electorate is expected to increase this year.)

Without any polling on evangelicals’ attitude toward Palin, it is impossible to gauge the accuracy of Sullivan’s assertions. That’s right: Sullivan’s passages above are filled with assertions, not fact. And in one case, her assertion was misleading.

Sullivan writes that Palin is outside the evangelical mainstream. Really? She was a Pentecostal, and Pentecostalism is one of the largest denominations within evangelical Protestantism.

Sullivan writes that mainstream evangelicals don’t want to ban certain books from libraries. Yet like the story that she links to, she failed to specify which books Palin sought to ban. (Did the alleged books include books in the Harry Potter series or David Duke’s My Awakening ?) And she provides no evidence that mainstream evangelicals oppose banning certain books.

Sullivan writes that mainstream evangelicals reject the notion that violence against Israeli’s is divine retribution. This assertion is likely on firmer ground, but why not provide any citations or references, such as survey data from the Barna Group, the religious research firm?

Sullivan writes that mainstream evangelicals would disagree with Palin’s decision to slash funding for a home caring for teen mothers. This is misleading. In fact, Palin agreed to triple the amount of funding for the home in question, Covenant House. All she did was to reduce the amount of funding requested by the state legislature from $5 million to $3.9 million.

Sullivan’s characterization of Palin’s relationship with younger evangelicals is also little more than assertion. She writes that young evangelicals would oppose Palin’s position that global warming was not man made. But her proof for this assertion is sketchy. Her source is a Time story by about one seminary student who engineered a Southern Baptist declaration on “creation care.” Left unmentioned is whether young evangelicals were involved or poll data about young evangelicals’ views on this topic.

The story did have one virtue. Writing about Palin’s move away from Pentecostalism, Sullivan gave readers good theological and religious historical context, providing some evidence for her point that some evangelicals won’t embrace Palin:

That move away from the Pentecostal Church, which took place in 2002 when Palin first ran for lieutenant governor in Alaska, is the only potential sign she has given that her religious beliefs might be a political liability. Her spokeswoman now says that Palin does not identify herself as a Pentecostal. Historically Pentecostals and other Evangelical Protestants haven’t always gotten along, largely because of theological differences. Pentecostal theology elevates the role of the Holy Spirit and includes belief in spiritual gifts, such as healing and speaking in tongues. But the groups have often been able to set aside their doctrinal disagreements for political purposes. Pat Robertson, a Pentecostal, and the late Jerry Falwell, a Fundamentalist, famously had bitter theological disputes but still joined forces as leading figures of the Christian right.

Yet only that paragraph stood out in an otherwise lamentable story.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    When is the media going to delve into Palin’s appeal to Catholics who believe in traditional Christian morals as taught by the Bible and 2,000 years of Catholic History? Almost every Catholic I know who is also even marginally pro-life is happy to hear there is someone on the ballot they can feel very comfortable voting for. This is especially true when they hear of Obama’s negative attitude toward passing legislation to protect babies from partial-birth abortion and from being killed by abortionists after an accidental live birth.
    A few Catholic publications have already put Obama’s horrendous record on this issue on its front pages. I am sure more will follow.
    And, although, repeatedly Catholics have turned against anti-life national candidates– even when they have been Catholic–and Catholic swing voters are most likely of all voting blocks to swing the election in their direction–the MSM seems to be purposely avoiding talking about the Catholic vote except to say: “Rah! Rah! Rah! Catholics have a “lunchbucket Catholic” to swing to!” As if basic Christian moral values will quickly be dumped by Catholics if the right Catholic is running. (Talk about insulting!!!)
    Most pro-life Catholics I know don’t care if a Palin is a charismatic, Pentecostal, or evangelical–all three are better than a Catholic who trashes bedrock Catholic and Christian moral values. BUT where is the MSM coverage????

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just a follow-up. The just released Zogby poll shows McCain-Palin suddenly up by double digits among Catholics (4 points overall). According to past elections there goes the election–the Dems have lost–if this holds up. Even when Catholics BARELY went for the Republican, the Republican won in past presidential elections. That is because–even though we Catholics over the past few decades have been treated like garbage by the Dems–we –including most of my family who used to be Dem Party officials–were the voters the Dems counted on no matter how badly we were treated. But there has been no Big Tent among the Dems making room for serious Catholics.
    And little or none of this has, so far, been covered in the MSM.

  • Carl Vehse

    From the news [sic] stories and editorials over the past week there seems to be a major outbreak of PMS (Palin Madness Syndrome) within the MSM. ThePMSers have hyped anything negative about Palin despite it being irrelevant, unsubstantiated, or introduced with the weasal words, “Some say…” Newsbusters has provided a listing of Palin rumors, followed by the actual facts. The list probably will need to be expanded frequently.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    My favorite part was when Sullivan claimed that evangelicals were speaking to her “off the record.”

    Um, in an already unsubstantiated story, a reporter shouldn’t be claiming off-the-record quotes.

  • EricW

    Pat Robertson is a Southern Baptist, IIRC, though a tongue-talking one.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Is Pentecostalism considered part of evangelicalism? I know that evangelicalism is basically a completely nebulous term that is largely undefined, but I didn’t realize it included Pentecostals.

  • FW Ken

    “Pentecostalism” is also a nebulous term. In fact, Gov. Palin was not a member of “the Pentecostal Church”, but was a member of the Assemblies of God, which is a pentecostal church (actually denomination). I would venture there are dozens (hundreds?) of pentecostal groups large enough to be considered denominations, plus thousands of independent congregations to boot. You could also speak of “pentecostalism” in the mainstream protestant denominations and in the Catholic Church (though the preferred term is “charismatic”, it’s the same thing).

    Of course, as a pentecostal women friend of mine used to say, you could tell a real pentecostal by long second ‘e’ and the slight separation of the first two syllables when they said “pen-tecostal” :-)

    Well, at least the story (possibly) answered one of my questions about Gov. Palin, which concerns the motivation for changing churches in 2002. I do stress “possibly”.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Yet only that paragraph stood out in an otherwise lamentable story.

    Even that paragraph is weak. Sullivan implies that Evangelicals (undefined term) who have theological differences will have political differences and then contradicts herself with the reminder that Robertson and Falwell were political allies. I see no evidence that Sullivan gets religion. Like others in the MSM, she views religion through a political lens that distorts her view.

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

    Mollie asks,

    Is Pentecostalism considered part of evangelicalism? I know that evangelicalism is basically a completely nebulous term that is largely undefined, but I didn’t realize it included Pentecostals.

    For journalistic purposes, I think the answer is yes. Christians fall under four main headings: Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals, and orthodox.

  • Dave G.

    Technically, many Southern Baptists do not consider themselves to be evangelicals. They will say ‘we’re not evangelicals, we’re Baptists.’ Believe me, it’s not some small group. Others object to the term at all, feeling it has become politicized and nothing more than a (sorry) media label. Many who are evangelicals don’t consider Pentecostalism to be part of it, but then also see a difference between Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity. So I guess as long as the media is always using the terms the same, that’s what matters. Though the Pentecostal influenced movements, being the fastest growing and largest in the world (in terms of non-Catholic Christianity), might deserve a label unto themselves.

  • Jerry

    Mark, I agree with the points you made about lack of references to actual findings. There is too much speculation going on. At least the web version should have pointers to actual findings. But I have another point to mention below.

    Mollie, I disagree with you about “off the record”. Attributing something to a private conversation is appropriate even in this case. It’s at least one piece of evidence, albeit based on a private conversation.

    Also, there’s a very important point that should not be forgotten:

    If Bristol Palin were the daughter of Democratic parents, she would undoubtedly be held up as an example of the failures of a liberal, permissive culture. Instead, she is viewed — as are the majority of teenage mothers in Evangelical churches — as a Christian who sinned, is forgiven, and needs to be embraced and supported.

    Many Democrats are well aware of how the media is reporting the intense scrutiny by the right of Obama’s relationship with his church and intense search for something with which to attack him compared to the very different reaction to a similar process now going on with Palin’s church affiliations. If Obama had said that his church affiliation was off the record the way Palin’s are, you would have heard the right wing uproar and heard the intense attacks from Fox News on Pluto.

  • Dave G.

    If Bristol Palin were the daughter of Democratic parents, she would undoubtedly be held up as an example of the failures of a liberal, permissive culture. Instead, she is viewed — as are the majority of teenage mothers in Evangelical churches — as a Christian who sinned, is forgiven, and needs to be embraced and supported.

    I think the difference here is who is doing the holding? For instance, maybe, just maybe, someone like Limbaugh or Hannity might come out and do that. Though it is unlikely. When the Holy Law of ‘leave their kids alone’ was established when Chelsea went to college in the late 90s, just about everyone dropped her from the conversation. What was shocking is that folks in the MSM, for a few days even, made it headline news. Then tried to cover it up. On CNN, the newer anchor, when discussing this, looked at the camera and said, “After all, we scrutinized Chelsea Clinton when the Clintons were in office.” That’s false. Either he never watched the news before 2000, or he knows full well that is false. The media spent weeks, when Chelsea was preparing for college, establishing the ‘leave them alone’ ethic for dealing with politicians’ kids. That it was the MSM that allowed the story of Bristol to become headline news, in the face of what was once a sacred rule, is what shocked so many, and suggests a certain drop of credibility and consistency in news coverage.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Four groups? Where does that leave confessional Protestants who in many ways share more with Catholics than evangelicals? I agree that the media tend to break Protestants into “mainline” and “evangelical” but that doesn’t mean they should.


    I disagree. While there is a time and place for off-the-record sources, this was not one of them. I frankly didn’t trust Sullivan to be accurately characterizing the views of evangelical conservatives here. She’s a great writer, but she’s a partisan. I wanted to be able to judge for myself whether she was quoting the right people. Particularly after her anti-Christ piece, I think she needs to rebuild some trust.

  • Grupetti

    Mollie wrote:
    “Is Pentecostalism considered part of evangelicalism?”

    Oy vey! The NAE at it’s inception was by a majority Pentacostal in terms of the actual constituent members, if not in terms of member organizations. They certainly qualify according to the Bebbingtonian Quadrilateral. In some respects they have been like oil and water, but there has been a long history of collaboration through para-church groups like Youth For Christ and Campus Crusade.

    This raises questions of your understanding of Evangelicals. You recently seemed to not understand Sally Quin’s views. Have you not heard of Phyllis Shlafley and all the work by conservative organizations for decades to to fight against anything feminist? And your comment about confessional protestants answers your puzzlement from long ago about why the Missouri Synod isn’t growing like much of Evangelicalism. An average evangelical can’t relate to your brand of Lutheranism any more than they can to those who insist that speaking in tongues is a neccesary sign of salvation.

    Deacon John, please look at the whole story regarding Obama and abortion:


  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I’m trying to get at a point. While some Pentecostals identify as evangelicals, not all do. And evangelical, as a term, has a loose definition as it is (I joke that, like pornography, I know it when I see it).

    Perhaps, though, I should have been more careful with my language. Not perhaps. I just plain should have been more precise.

    Anyway, I don’t get your other points. I understood Quinn. I understood that she painted Protestant Christians who are culturally conservative with a very broad brush. She has since apologized, for what it’s worth. And I don’t recall ever engaging the topic of Missouri Synod growth in the manner you describe. Others have, though.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Grupetti–My sources are politically independent Catholic publications. Your link sent me to an Obama-Biden propaganda site. As for the claim there was already a law to cover newborns who survived an abortion–according to one independent source I read– the Attorney General of Ill. had ruled that under the circumstances–a live baby born after an attempted abortion and then left to die–the child was not protected by existing Ill. law.
    Remember,even Obama’s campaign reluctantly and grudgingly later admitted that the final Born Alive Act voted on in Ill. (and fought by Obama) was the same as the federal Born Alive Act even the most fanatic pro-abortion people in the U.S. Senate voted for.
    This came out after, on national TV, Obama called pro-life people and a New York newspaper liars. It turns out he was the one who couldn’t get his facts straight.

  • FW Ken

    those who insist that speaking in tongues is a neccesary sign of salvation.

    This is a minority opinion among pentecostals. To most of them ,speaking in tongues is a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, given to believers, i.e., to those already “saved”.

  • Harris

    Several observations.

    First, I would never trust the Baptist girl before the Catholic boy on this matter. (The observation that Sullivan doesn’t get religion only reveals a lack of knowledge of her considerable paper and digital trail). Indeed, she has some pretty strong connections with the Evangelical Left.

    Second, this clearly is an opinion piece not straight news. She was clearly drawing on data that had been in the news flow over the past week.

    Third, the topic is that of cultural evangelicalism. That’s clear when she uses the phrase “mainstream Evangelicalism” (note the cap E). That mainstream version is both a matter of worship and culture, more suburban in nature than small town. Theologically its center lies in the Baptist-Reformed tradition, with a strong mix of parachurch. This cultural location is different than the theological (think how the same distinctions have been noted with Catholics).

    Her home church lies at some distance from that center. Consider those Evangelicals slightly to the left of that center — these young ones — and there is a gap; and here the issue of the environment does come into play.

  • Dave G.


    So what are you trying to say? :)

    By the by, the experience issue kills Obama every time it is mentioned (sorry Dems, their resumes are almost identical). But as for the ‘what evangelical this or that or the other’, I was pastor of enough different churches that would have been called evangelical, I can tell you that it wouldn’t be hard to find just as many happy to hear about Palin as our contributor Rebecca isn’t. And vice versa. While the media’s dash to her church and background can be expected, it probably won’t tell as much as one might think if it’s all in the world of sweeping overstatements and generalizations.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I know I sometimes get off the track. But I at least try to bring in a specific religious-moral issue (although I naturally skew toward a Catholic angle, maybe when sometimes it makes it a stretch if the original topic started with something Protestant) plus something to do with media coverage (past or current).
    However, I think this comment posting reads much more like a political tract. I saw not even an atom of media coverage mentioned or analyzed. Plus I find it very hard to believe a real wife of a pastor would repeat the word “c**t” even when supposedly reporting on someone else’s words.
    Also, virtually everything in her diatribe against Gov. Palin was of a personal attack nature, not on things political.
    Just this morning a talk show host here in Boston, Michael Graham” (who likes to brag he ferrets out the “Natural Truth” on news stories) went through a list similar to Burts and revealed some of the sources of the worst lies and smears (most from liberal Dems and people now or formerly connected to the Dems and Obama– for example, Us magazine owner is a big Obama donor and supporter and former activist in Obama’s campaign)
    On the other hand the Burt list is so “over the top” it puts in a spotlight how debased and degraded the liberal news media has become since most of Burt’s examples of Palin’s nefariousness are drawn right from the liberal media’s smear machine.

  • Jerry

    The charges and counter-charges in a political campaign lead me to wonder if the “Prince of Lies” does not thrive in such times. It is hard to know the truth when so many are so vested in lies and distortions. Neither side is pure in this regard. I think factcheck.org provides a valuable public service and should be given much more attention than it’s getting.

    And, of course, it often seems that truth is not important to many. Sometimes the comics such as Non Sequitur says it best when it comes to the media.

  • Dave

    However conservativess — including some on this board — may be irked by coverage of Palin’s religious background, it’s clearly fair game, warts and all, given the blowout over Obama’s religious background.

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

    I need to spike future comments on this thread about abortion; Obama; liberals and Palin; and other replies not related to my topic. In fact, I will spike Deacon John and Linda’s posts about abortion.

  • Dave G.

    I think her religious background is fair game. Of course how it is covered vs. how it was covered with Obama will be worth watching. With Obama, the gist of the story seemed to be ‘Obama attacked by opponents for his association with a pastor who may be offensive, but no more so than other pastors like Jerry Falwell are to those with whom they disagree.’ Will the coverage of Palin go the same way?

  • http://www.jeffsharlet.com Jeff Sharlet

    Amy also implied that evangelicals are unlike Palin because they live in suburbs and many have graduate degrees. Of course, many live in suburbs — as I understand it, Wasilla is a suburb, essentially — but not many have graduate degrees, since only 8.9% of Americans of all sorts have graduate degrees.

    But I wonder about your concern with THIS article. When Amy is declaring the Democrats need to be more religious and move rightward on some issues, she gets praise. When chastises conservatives, condemnation. Thing is, in her work both exercises are part of the same project: Amy is a centrist, and she seeks to both describe and shape that center. She’s an advocate. Nothing wrong with that — she’s one of the most thoughtful advocates of centrism — but let’s not say she’s right when we like where she’s going and wrong when we don’t. It’s not a matter of right and wrong; the center is an assertion, not a fact.

  • beke

    it is good keep it up

  • http://parableman.net Jeremy Pierce

    Sullivan said that most evangelicals don’t go to churches where they might hear that view about Jews expressed. Well, most evangelicals do go to churches where a Jews for Jesus representative might come to speak once in a while, and this was a guest speaker from Jews for Jesus. It’s not terribly unlikely that the vast majority of evangelicals could easily find themselves sitting in a pew hearing exactly that view.

    One fact-checking item that hasn’t been mentioned is that Palin never said that global warming has no human component. What she said is that she doesn’t think it’s entirely human-caused, which is actually pretty obvious to most people who think about it even a little. It’s a pretty boring view, even.

  • Eric Swanson

    Sorry, but Mrs. Palin cannot even be considered as an Evangelical.

    If she were, she wouldn’t be Governor of Alaska or running for VP. She’d be sitting quietly at home, looking after her children, and submitting to her husband.

    “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (I Timothy 2:11-13)

    “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. (1 Tim 2:8-11)

    “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

    “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.” (Eccles. 25:22)

    “A silent and loving woman is a gift of the Lord” (Eccles. 26:14-15)

    If she really wants to galvanize our vote, she’ll drop out of the race, leave her position as governor, and stay home, raise her family, and let her husband speak for her.

    That would show real courage and conviction.

    We can’t just pick and choose from the Bible. It is the word of God.

    I admire her pro-life stance. Let us hope that when, as a woman, she retires from speaking in public, that her husband — who should be speaking for her — will let us know that a child is a child, regardless of whether it was created though rape or incest. There are plenty of people who want children and haven’t been blessed with the capacity to conceive. God made them that way, opening the door for babies conceived through unconventional means. There are homes for these babies! I pray that he will also say that being pro-life means being against the death penalty. the old “eye for an eye” view is against Christ’s view. He should also speak out against war. How many innocent children have been killed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan?