God, Palin and Politics

Pentecostalism, a non-rational form of Christianity whose adherents believe they speak directly to God and favor apocalyptic prophecies, is adding to the polarization of American politics behind the movement’s champion, Sarah Palin. Rev. Howard Bess explains the emergence of this distinctive brand of Christianity.

 By the Rev. Howard Bess

All Christians are theologians, but they do not think of themselves in those terms.  Most Christians think of their pastors as theologians and also gladly give that office to learned women and men who teach in colleges or seminaries, but they do not give the title of theologian to themselves.

When doing theology, mainstream Christian theologians consider Bible, reason and tradition in some sort of balance. However, Pentecostals break with this approach because the foundation of their faith is a direct, personal experience with God. 

Tradition, reason, and even the Bible take a back seat to the personal experience of the Pentecostal believer. Pentecostal Christians are all theologians because they believe they have met God personally.

Thus, Pentecostalism is a non-rational, experiential religion. Note also must be made that Pentecostalism is non-rational, not irrational. What this means is that reason does not play a significant role in theological formations. Ultimate reality is based on an individual’s personal encounter with God.

Some observers suggest that Pentecostalism attracts the poor and the under-educated. However, research is showing that this is not true. Many highly educated and professional people are being drawn to this experiential faith.

Understanding Pentecostals on the American religious scene may be difficult, but their arrival on the political scene seems even more puzzling. Pundits have completely missed the difference between Pentecostal Christians and mainline Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians.

While fielding candidates for every level of elected office, Pentecostals have produced one high-profile candidate for President of the United States. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is that Pentecostal.

As Sarah Palin has made unorthodox decisions, pundits have declared that she cannot handle politics in her independent manner and be a winner. But she will not go away. She has now said that she will make her candidacy intentions known in September. 

When she makes her decision, it will not be at the encouragement of advisers or poll numbers. Her decision will be based on God whispering in her ear. It will be the same God who, she believes, has called her to be a special person in divine history.

Some pundits have compared Sarah Palin with declared presidential candidate Rep.  Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, but they are very different. Michelle Bachmann is a member of a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church. Bachmann’s theology is based on a tightly held union of Bible and reason. It has zero space for the experiential faith found in Pentecostalism.

Sarah Palin stands alone as the representative of the fastest-growing religious movement in the United States. When she says “I can win,” she is not speaking with tongue in cheek. She is speaking out of a profound personal relationship with her God.  

There have always been Pentecostal Christians, but church hierarchies have successfully contained their influence. However, America was the perfect seedbed for that pattern to be broken. Freedom to practice one’s own faith is a cardinal right of Americans.  

The first great wave of Pentecostal Christianity has its root in a revival that took place on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in the first decade of the 20th century. It was a revival that lasted for three years. Yet, formal program structures were not apparent. 

The Spirit reigned in uncontained freedom. The Azusa Street revival is considered the birth event of what is known as the First Wave. The impact was nationwide, but numerically insignificant. 

The Second Wave developed after World War II and the advent of television. Pentecostals mastered television. They made religious television exciting. Pentecostal evangelists such as Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, Rex Humbard, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart led the way. 

Each developed huge followings and Pentecostal numbers were no longer insignificant, though exact counts are difficult.

There are now over 1,000 Pentecostal denominations in the United States, but they hold very loose controls over their member churches and many Pentecostal churches are completely unaffiliated.  Current estimates are that 15-20 percent of American Christians are Pentecostal, and that one-quarter of the world Christian population is Pentecostal. 

Some Pentecostals believe that the world is now in the early stages of the Third Wave. They believe it is the movement that will bring world domination to Pentecostals.

Agree or disagree, the waves of Pentecostalism have ushered in a new day in American politics.

The Rev. Howard Bess is  retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net.

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17 comments on “God, Palin and Politics

  1. Angie O'Gorman on said:

    Thank you for this information. Does any official connection exist between Pentecostalism and The Family, the Fundamentalist sect to whom God also speaks. The Family promotes prayer groups among the rich and famous. Thanks.

  2. Corey Mondello on said:

    When I discuss my extreme distaste for Christians, I try not to offend all Christians by stating “Conservative Christian”. I would hope one day that Christians can do the same when they are discussing their distaste for Muslims, since they too have different branches or “versions” of their religion also. Unfortunately, we in America, are looked upon as a “Christian Nation” by much of the world, most unfortunate to those in the Middle East. The reaction is, Muslims terrorism. Why wouldn’t it be, these people see us as in a holy war, hell bent on killing all non-Christians, which many Conservative Christians believe and flat out support, many being in the US military and Congress. This makes me despise conservative Christians even more than all other Christians, because they are truly making the world less safe and more cruel. I believe the USA will one day be attacked from the outside, this is called “Blow back”, which 9/11 was. I empathize with Muslim extremists more than Conservative Christians, because they are just reacting to the USA’s behavior. The more power conservative Christians are allowed to have in the USA, the more “blow back” we in America will have to deal with.

  3. sulphurdunn on said:

    We need more lions!

  4. rosemerry on said:

    Freedom to practice one’s own faith is a cardinal right of Americans. It seems that the USA has many more “Christians” of dubious validity than most other nations, and their power, despite official separation of church and state, is great. Pres.”W” claimed that God told him to invade Iraq, among other personal communications, and Pres.Obama “takes Jesus Christ as his personal saviour”. I do not find these to be rational acts, especially with the terrible effects of their God-given decisions. Pentecostals just seem to be a little worse.

  5. Jody Mason Powers on said:

    How do I best explain an answer from our great citizens and those that respect the United States for our debt. There is no one to blame and I have an idea to “help” us get in some way out of our debt; I ask that I help with this along with Sarah Palin. I do believe that much of our debt through the help of all can come. After 2 death experiences at age 38 on….I feel I have no absolute answer; but something that can help for our future in helping our great country out of debt. I ask to just have someone contact me for my ideas. Jody Mason Powers 610-725-0569 (it will work)

  6. william legge on said:

    Pentecostal pastor’s for the most part are very studious bible expositors. There are accredited Pentecostal theological seminaries, colleges and universities all over the world. Some of our greatest, most reputable nationally known pastors are Pentecostal, such as John Hagee, Jack Hayford, Greg Lory,Joel Olsten and David Wilkerson, who just passed away, and many more. The Pentecostal movement has succeeded greatly, in the area of worship, which style even the Baptist’s are adopting as their own now. Also world evangelism, the Pentecostal movement is the fastest growing worldwide Christian movement. Sarah Palin would be a great President, I think one of the greatest in our history.

    • My god, Palin who still can’t utter a coherent paragraph and is morally bankrupt to boot can’t articulate one complete thought and just blabs her talking points over and over again and has no knowledge of anything. Hey, she couldn’t complete the piss ant Alaska governors job which by the way she was not a lame duck canditate because you can run as many times as you wish. Wow,

      • sodakhic on said:

        She’s a 4 million bestseller, dork. She’s an amazing speaker that draws thousands. She was a Governor that had an 80% approval rating and left the state with a 12 billion surplus. The stupid talking point I keep hearing is hope and change from the Chicago thug politician Obama.I can see 2012 from my house.And now Biden is calling tea partiers terrorists.Oh man this is going to be a battle to the death. Way to call for civil discourse Barry.

        • Gregory L Kruse on said:

          God gave Sarah a beautiful female body and an ambition far beyond her ability to achieve. If her speeches were delivered by an ugly woman, nobody would watch her or listen to her.

        • mendoblather on said:

          Selling ghost written books isn’t an indicator of stature. J.K. Rowling sold millions more books than Caribou Barbie and no one is asking her to be president. St. Sarah’s squeaky voice and poor grammar will alienate all but the dim witted, but I guess you just proved that for us.

  7. Bess writes, “Michelle Bachmann is a member of a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church. Bachmann’s theology is based on a tightly held union of Bible and reason.” Comment: I am not a Lutheran, but I have read quite a few good Lutheran authors, and Bachmann isn’t even close to their depth—judging by her aggressive desire to shred the social safety net. And I do not think Palin is dumb; she, like Bachmann, has little wisdom to go with the intelligence. When it comes to social justice, these two and the Christian Right, know only one verse in the Bible from Paul: :if any will not work don’t let them eat.” This is followed by the self-justifying assumption that all the down and out people are uneducated and lazy by their own choice, so we owe them nothing. These two are like the Pharisees that define the neighbor as ‘one of us.’ I do not see a major difference between them.

  8. There’s no end to the lengths Mama Grizzly will go to market her image for profit including evoking the name of God almighty in whatever sect she’s speaking to that day for $100K. She IS Ruthless and will do ANYthing for money. See what I mean with her indecent proposal at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/06/ecstasy-of-sarah-palin_15.html

  9. JB in VA on said:

    What bizarre lengths people go to to come up with rubbishy lies about Gov. Sarah Palin.

    Gov. Palin does not belong to any church, hasn’t been a Pentacostal (if she ever was one) since her teens, and is certainly not “the movement’s champion”. Since high school she has attended a variety of different churches, none of them Pentecostal congregations other than for the type of political appearances that all politicians routinely make to churches of all denominations.

    Palin has stated quite clearly that her decision whether to run is based on a number of factors — none of them having to do with God speaking to her — principally the toll it will take on her family, and whether another candidate emerges who she believes can with and has the experience, principled public service, and track record she can support. Here’s a pretty good synopsis of what she’s looking for:

    “The office of the presidency is too important for on-the-job training. It requires a strong chief executive who has been entrusted with real authority in the past and has achieved a proven track record of positive measurable accomplishments.

    “Leaders are expected to give good speeches, but leadership is so much more than oratory. Real leadership requires deeds even more than words. It means taking on the problems no one else wants to tackle. It means providing vision and guidance, inspiring people to action, bringing everyone to the table, and with a servant’s heart dedicating oneself to striking agreements that keep faith with our Constitution and with the ordinary citizens who entrusted you with power. It means bucking the status quo, fighting the corrupt powers that be, serving the common good, and leaving the country better than you found it.

    “Most of us don’t see a lot of that real leadership in D.C., and it’s profoundly disappointing.”

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150235296718435

    Not a word in there about God speaking in her ear or religion, period, just a principled understanding of what good, effective public service is all about.

    • bobzz on said:

      Perhaps saw the youTube showing Palin telling a religious assembly, “We are doing God’s work in Iraq.” We know Bush went over his father’s head to his heavenly Father to go to Iraq. How did Ms. Palin know God’s mind on the matter in light of the fact that the Bush administration lied to get us into the war? To my mind, one born-again president is one too many, and I say that BECAUSE I am a Christian, not an unbeliever.

  10. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    I add my appreciation for the partial illumination of that dark corner of our politics. I’ve been a Lutheran all my life, and a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran in my early married life until I couldn’t stand it anymore. It seems that many people take the easy path in life and latch onto some belief system or other and try to live inside of it as if forever. Few ever seem to realize that they are in a belief system that depends upon some basic assumption that is not substantiated and sometimes outright false. Even science is based on assumptions, although it does test the assumptions regularly. Belief in a closed system produces a closed mind, and unfortunately many people close their minds after Sunday School. I am still hoping that more people will get out of their belief systems more and see them for what they are. The world is shrinking and the population is rising. We must accomodate each other, so as a pastor friend recently told me, “God has to make that possible”.

  11. Seth Drewry on said:

    The author has misconstrued or is unaware of several key facts. The idea that reason and rationality plays little role in Pentecostalism is a misnomer. While it is true that personal religious experiences are encouraged and are common within Pentecostalism, this does not mean that the movement originated in a non-rational form. To be more accurate, the movement began in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas–not 1906 at Azusa Street. Charles Fox Parham was the director of Bethel Bible School in Topeka and assigned his students to study the book of Acts. The young scholars determined, after examining the book that there was a subsequent experience to conversion called the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and that the reasonable evidence for said baptism was the ability to speak in tongues. The rational exegesis came before the experience. Not until after they had studied the scripture and found this doctrine to be reasonable, did they experience this gift. Therefore, it is inaccurate to claim that reason, tradition, or the Bible take back seat to experience. Likewise, the gift of tongues did not begin in the 20th century but in the New Testament and there are consistent records of instances where the gift of tongues was exercised throughout Christian history–the early church, medieval period, the renaissance, the enlightenment, and into the modern era.

    I would also like to point out: The author mentioned that the media has failed to determine and accurately represent “the difference between Pentecostal Christians and mainline Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians.” The author has only contributed to the confusion by failing to illustrate the difference between “mainline Christians” “evangelical Christians” and “Fundamentalist Christians”. These are three separate and distinct branches of Protestant Christianity. The author has inaccurately presented them as one.

    The author should do his research before pontificating on the nature of any more religious movements.

    • Not being a tongue speaker, I seek information. Is the Holy Spirit communicating in language that only the receiver understands? If the receiver cannot understand, is it just the experience of being overwhelmed that suffices? When tongue speaking breaks out in worship, do interpreters make their messages clear? Paul did mention the need for interpreters. What does tongue speaking give us that the NT does not? Does the Holy Spirit, for example, tell you how to vote? If the Holy Spirit is even telling you to vote, I would be suspicious in light of the early church’s avoidance of politics up to the time of Constantine. I mean no disrespect, but as an outsider, I can see no advantage to tongue speaking other than an emotional experience that provides certainty of God’s blessings to the recipient, which we already have in the Scriptures.