Sarah Palin’s Church, the State of Alaska, and God’s Plan

Andrew Sulllivan has a video up today of this speech Sarah Palin gave back in June at her former church in Wasilla to a graduating class of “commission” students. You’ll remember, this is the speech in which Palin urged the audience:

“… pray for our military. He [her son, Track]’s going to be deployed in September, to Eye-raq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan, and that that plan is God’s plan. So bless them with your prayers, your prayers are protection over our soldiers. …”

The fact that other U.S. leaders, in other times, have asked Americans to pray for our soldiers in war time does not make Palin’s words any less offensive. Note, she is not simply asking her listeners to pray that God give our soldiers the strength and faith and wisdom to bear up under the burdens of war. She is specifically asking them to pray for the mission — to pray that our [secular, political] leaders are sending our soldiers out “on a task that is from God.” She wants the students in that church to pray, not just that brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, make it home safely — she wants them to pray that there is a “plan” behind the mission — a mission that is both political and partisan in nature — and that the “plan” behind this political and partisan mission “comes from God.”

Put more succinctly, Palin is conflating religion and nationalism, and asking that Americans put religion in the service of nationalism, and nationalism in the service of religion. To me, religion is personal and private, and should never be used in mass or public settings as a bulwark for foreign policy, or to subtly coerce public opinion and behavior.

Earlier in this same speech, Palin said the following:

… I want to tell the … Commission students that just be amazed that the umbrella of this church here, where God is going to send you from this church, believe me, I know what I’m sayin’. Where God has sent me from underneath the umbrella of this church throughout the state. And Alaska is all over the world map right now. There’s something going on in Alaska where– you know, we get calls in our office all the time from national media outlets and international media outlets just wondering, What’s going on in Alaska? And I think that there’s something going on here with, where you all are going as Masters Commission students, and now graduates, and what’s going on in the state of Alaska. And a lot of people are looking at the state for our vast wealth that we, that we’re embracing right now; we’re the richest state in the union in terms of natural resources: our oil, our gas, our minerals, the gold that we have under the ground. We’re very, very rich, but our most important natural resource, of course, is our people. And I’m thinking, What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys, as you go out, throughout Alaska– I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline — about a thirty billion dollar project that’s gonna create a lot of jobs for Alaskans, and we’ll have a lot of energy flowing through here– and pray about that also. I think, God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gasline built, so pray for that. But I can do my job there in developing our natural resources, doing things like getting the roads paved, and making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded, but really all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God. And that’s gonna be your job, as I’m doing my job, let’s strike this deal, your job is gonna be, to be out there, reaching the people, hurting people throughout Alaska, and we can work together to make sure that God’s will be done here. [Clarification: Palin is using “hurting” as an adjective to modify people — not as a verb to mean that she wants the students to harm people throughout Alaska. This is clear when listening to her on the video, but when you read it, the meaning is ambiguous.]

To my ears, this sounds awfully close to Sarah Palin telling her church audience that her political priorities and God’s will are the same thing. These are not the words or the tone of someone who seeks to know, with her prayers, what God wants her to do. These are the words of someone who decided a long time ago what she wanted to do and what she was going to do and presumed God’s approval. I mean, come on now. Palin is not praying for divine guidance here, or suggesting that her audience pray for guidance. “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that pipeline built?” Palin has written up the contract and signed it in God’s name.

I think it’s repulsive.

You can watch the video, below:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG1vPYbRB7k[/youtube]

11 Responses to “Sarah Palin’s Church, the State of Alaska, and God’s Plan”

  1. gcotharn says:

    What she’s really asking for … is prayer beseeching God to inspire Pres. Bush and our military leaders to not waste her son and everyone else’s sons in foolish and meaningless action.

    Her unspoken subtext is: if I have to lose my son, if our nation has to lose its sons, let it be in a worthy cause – and not in a meaningless and wasteful cause.

    She is revealing the unspoken cry of her heart: I cannot bear the pain of losing my son in a misguided and meaningless action.

    Palin is, in unspoken words, referencing personal doubt about the strategic and moral rightness of military action in Iraq. She wants U.S. action to be righteous. She cannot bear the thought of losing her son in a wasted, unrighteous action. She is unsure if the cause is righteous. She says, in effect:

    Please pray that God inspires our leaders to make good and righteous choices; please pray that God inspires our leaders to follow His plan, as opposed to their own personal plans.

    Christians recognize that her language refers to arrogantly turning one’s back to God, thence following one’s personal direction in life – which direction inevitably leads to mischief. Palin is saying GWB is susceptible to the disaster of turning his back to God’s will; therefore, please pray that GWB and all our leaders are inspired by God’s righteous truth, and are not misled by darkness and personal arrogance.

    Palin’s words demonstrate that – though she usually has confidence about our mission in Iraq – she also has moments of doubt.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    A minor yet important change to the topmost quote in the above post, so as to ensure Palin’s word are understood in proper context. My change is in bold: . [Pray]

    “…pray for our military. He [her son, Track]’s going to be deployed in September, to Eye-raq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. [Pray] also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan, and that that plan is God’s plan. So bless them with your prayers, your prayers are protection over our soldiers.”

  2. Kathy says:

    Palin is, in unspoken words, referencing personal doubt about the strategic and moral rightness of military action in Iraq. She wants U.S. action to be righteous. She cannot bear the thought of losing her son in a wasted, unrighteous action. She is unsure if the cause is righteous.

    Okay, now I understand the problem I was having. I was listening to the words Palin was speaking. I assumed that those were the words she meant to use, and that the words she used conveyed the meaning that she intended.

    I should have been listening to the words Palin didn’t use. And I would have tried to do that, if I had realized that she meant what she didn’t say, and not what she did say.

  3. gcotharn says:

    She said exactly what she meant.

    “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan, and that that plan is God’s plan.”

    This is a humble sentiment about praying that we are doing the right thing in Iraq. It comes immediately after her mention that her son will be deploying to Iraq. It’s not a timid sentiment. Humble does not equate to timid.

  4. Kathy says:

    In other words, she supports the war, and she hopes God supports it, too?

  5. gcotharn says:

    Are you serious? She asks the students to pray for God to open the hearts of Pres. Bush and American military leaders; to inspire them towards Godly decisions; to dissuade them from any misguided path. The 23 Psalm says “He leadeth me down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” She wants U.S. leaders to be led down paths of righteousness, as opposed to going off on their own paths of arrogance and bad choices. This is clearly what she is saying.

    If you can’t see it, maybe it is due so some unfamiliarity with Christian thinking. Or, maybe Gov. Palin is using Evangelical lingo which is unclear – which, lingo would normally be an unhelpful thing, yet in this instance she was speaking into the listening of her audience, so I don’t think lingo was out of line in this particular instance.

    Maybe the confusion comes from this:
    Every Christian sins and falls short on a consistent basis, then must recreate within themself a heart which is open to God. Every Christian goes through this process many thousands or tens of thousands of times. Gov. Palin and the students fully expect that Pres. Bush could’ve made a selfish, arrogant, ungodly decision on Iraq. They are praying for God to be with him in future.

  6. Kathy says:

    Gov. Palin and the students fully expect that Pres. Bush could’ve made a selfish, arrogant, ungodly decision on Iraq. They are praying for God to be with him in future.

    Okay, so you’re saying that Palin is opposed to the war and thinks it was a selfish, arrogant, and ungodly decision on Bush’s part, and she’s asking the students, who also are opposed to the war, to pray that God will forgive him?

  7. gcotharn says:

    Palin supports the war, yet is humble enough to acknowledge she might be misunderstanding God’s will. Every student understands the prayer she is requesting: Lord, let GWB correctly interpret Your will. If he is misguided, let his eyes be opened.

    When Palin says: “[Pray] also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God”, everyone in the church understands her meaning to be: Pray that GWB is not misguided. .

    Palin then restates what she just said: “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan, and that that plan is God’s plan.” Everyone in church understands her meaning to still be: Pray that GWB is not misguided. If he is misguided, let his eyes be opened.

    I can see, in explaining this in detail, that words and lingo which were clearly understood by the audience are more difficult for a non-Christian audience to understand. I interact with hundreds of Christians every week, from various, mostly Protestant, churches. To the last person, they understand exactly what Palin was saying. Most are outraged at what they consider wilful mischaracterization of remarks which – to their ears – are perfectly comprehensible and laudable. Most have seen the video themselves, others have heard their friends describe it.

  8. Kathy says:

    Palin supports the war, yet is humble enough to acknowledge she might be misunderstanding God’s will.

    I don’t see that as being humble. I see it as trying to cover all her bases, or trying to have her cake and eat it, too. She supports the war because her political party supports the war, and because she has to support the war to be vice-president. As I’m sure you know, God doesn’t speak in a loud voice. God’s voice is still and small, and you have to listen very attentively to hear it. What if God really doesn’t support this war? How likely is it that Sarah Palin would hear God telling her that the war is wrong, when she has such a strong political stake in supporting it?

    Which came first — Palin’s support for the war, or her prayers that there is a plan behind the war and that it’s God’s plan? Obviously, no one can know the mind of God, but if you are going to make a major moral and ethical decision, shouldn’t you work out in your heart and in your prayers *before* you make that decision or that commitment whether your understanding of what God wants allows for the possibility that your decision is the correct one? Sarah Palin seems to be doing this process in reverse.

    Most are outraged at what they consider wilful mischaracterization of remarks which – to their ears – are perfectly comprehensible and laudable.

    Well, to those people I say, Tough nuggies. That’s what you get for supporting public displays of religious beliefs that most people don’t share. If those people don’t want Palin’s views to be mischaracterized, perhaps they should be telling her to confine her religious perorations to her private life. It’s pretty rich to be told that not only do we have to listen to Palin expressing her evangelical fundamentalist Christian understanding of the world, but we have to understand what she’s “really” saying and if we don’t, we’re willfully mischaracterizing her. I’ve got an idea — how about Palin speak in a language that most Americans can understand and identify with, rather than imposing her narrow religious views on everyone else and expecting us to get it and like it? Because that’s what *I* find outrageous.

  9. gcotharn says:

    one point regarding “displays of religious beliefs that most people don’t share”. You’ve gone a bit far with that characterization.

    Palin was not making a public display. She was speaking, in a church she has an emotional connection with, to a private group of religious students. Her words were designed to be understood by her audience.

  10. Kathy says:

    Palin was not making a public display. She was speaking, in a church she has an emotional connection with, to a private group.

    I’ll give you that. But the speech *was* filmed, and somehow got onto the Internet. Which I’m not saying is Palin’s doing, at all. But the point is that the other Christians you know who are outraged by what they see as Palin’s religious beliefs being mischaracterized need to understand that millions of Americans who don’t belong to Palin’s church, or her particular religious tradition within Christianity, are hearing her actual words, and not what her words mean to people versed in that particular theological language. So when they hear her exhort her student audience to pray for God’s will to be done in “bringing people and communities together” to get a gas pipeline built, to them, it sounds pretty crass.

  11. gcotharn says:

    I agree with your point. It would be good for perturbed Christians to remember that Palin’s message – which is obvious to Evangelicals, for instance – is not as obvious to non Evangelicals.

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