Sarah Palin's Blasphemy
September 27, 2008
By Eric Mader
To listen to the news media, it would seem that John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is a big hit with American Christians. I myself am an American Christian, and her candidacy is not a big hit with me. Palin is not a good model for Christians. Those who support her should be thinking twice.
As a fellow follower of Jesus, I believe that the Alaska governor misrepresents our faith and that, as her political star rises, she is likely to continue doing so. Giving Sarah Palin a prominent position in our government would be good neither for our country nor for the Christian faith.
Many have written of Palin's long-standing ties to the extremist Third Wave movement, whose teachings she absorbed through her membership in the Wasilla Assembly of God church. Third Wave church leaders cheerily seek to prod the world toward Armageddon--an event they both welcome and, bizarrely, believe they can foresee in detail. Third Wave doctrine and its eager embrace of military conflagration for the Spirit are frightening in the extreme, but become especially so when one imagines an American leader subscribing to them.
One can already read about the Third Wave and its twisted ideology in other places. Here I'd rather approach things on a simpler, more direct level. I'll try to be as specific in my criticisms as possible, because I've already found that those who support Palin often misunderstand what I'm getting at.
To begin with, I should say that I don't think it's always easy to know exactly what God wants of us. It's not always easy to live so as to bring about the Kingdom, or even to know what path one should choose. But as a Christian I believe Jesus is the Messiah, and because of this belief I'll wager the following: If a course of action accords with Jesus' teachings as found in the Gospels, then we can be confident it is in accord with God's will--i.e., acting in such a way might truly be part of the work of the Kingdom.
Most believers will agree with me here. If we see something stressed by Jesus in the Gospels, then as Christians we will recognize it is part of what God expects of us. Particularly if Jesus returns to it repeatedly in his teachings, we should know it is of special concern.
There's a corollary to this, one that should be obvious, namely: If something is not stressed by Jesus in the Gospels, then we probably have no business being confident it comes from God.
I stress Jesus' teachings here, not the Bible as a whole, because I believe Jesus brought a New Covenant that made the Old Covenant obsolete. Again, most Christians will agree with me. Moses is important to the history of God's revelation, but Jesus is much more so.
How does Sarah Palin relate to all this? What do we see in the Alaska governor?
In Palin we have a political figure who evoked the Iraq war as a "task from God." Palin's syntax wasn't the clearest in this instance, and it's hard to know for certain if she was claiming the war is a task from God or praying that it is a task from God. I incline to the latter reading, but the difference, in terms of the statement's underlying theological nationalism, is not as great as some would suggest. Palin also said that a gas pipeline ought to be completed because doing so was "God's will."
Now please don't misunderstand me. I am not presently saying anything about whether or not the Iraq war was or wasn't the right idea (I think it wasn't, but that is beside the point). I'm not saying anything about that here. What I am saying is that evoking the Iraq war as a "task from God" is not something one should do. Not in church. Not in the barracks. Nowhere.
Why shouldn't one do so? The reason is simple. There is no way one can link a military invasion, the firing of missiles and bombs on cities (whether "smart bombs" or not) with what Jesus teaches us in the Gospels. I as a Christian don't see any way one can make such a link.
Do we find anything like the following in the Gospels: "And it will come to pass that you will have to gather together in force, and your armies will attack the powers of evil, and you will kill their leaders and put better leaders in their place."
Do we find any words like that?
Or: "And those who are of the Father's Kingdom will gather in force and will attack the evildoers wherever they are found, and they will kill their leaders and raise up new leaders in their stead."
I'm sorry, but, once again, do we find anything even remotely like this in Jesus' words? If we don't, then it means, at the very least, that we shouldn't be talking of the Iraq war as "a task from God." In fact, if we really listen to Jesus' words in the Gospels, we should maybe be second guessing ourselves and asking whether God might not, through his Son, be forbidding us from any such action to begin with.
I won't even address the ridiculous claim that God wants the gas pipeline to be completed. Is Sarah Palin one of the prophets? Did God speak to her during a meeting with the gas company?
To claim something as "God's will" without any justification is to commit blasphemy. The Alaskan governor's way of talking of God's will skirts this kind of blasphemy; the remark on the gas pipeline is a straightforward, if banal, example of it.
But let's return briefly to the question of the Iraq war: If there's any distantly faint possibility of linking the war to God's will as we find it in Jesus, then I suppose it would have to be in the claim that we launched the war to liberate the Iraqis from evil. The Iraqis were "in chains," and we invaded their country to liberate them.
But again: in the Gospels Jesus does not teach us to use military means to accomplish anything of the sort. It is not His way, and I believe most American Christians know it is not. That they act otherwise, supporting pre-emptive military action just because it is called for by their president, does not change what is there in Jesus' teachings. There is in Sarah Palin, and in much of the religious right, a completely unfounded mixing of national politics, particularly in its military aspects, with faith in Jesus. That this perilous mix has a long and complex history should not prevent us from addressing it in the simplest critical terms.
We should repeatedly be saying to these people: Where, in Jesus' teachings, do you find such an agenda? And if you don't find it in Jesus' teachings, why do you think that is? Why did He not mention it? Why is it that you can only extrapolate this agenda from certain tortured readings of the Old Testament and Revelation? Are you so confident in your ability to interpret these ancient texts?
This penchant for linking government policies with "God's will" has been growing for decades. I want to say something about just why it should bother us.
Anyone who has studied history can see what happens when political leaders start down this path. And when citizens willingly, often enthusiastically, follow them. I won't write here of the potential disasters (such as nuclear war) that might result from extreme forms of this nationalist theology gaining ascendancy in America in the 21st century. No, I will write instead of how this mix of mundane politics and faith can ultimately harm the faith.
Consider: The first result of going down this path is that it takes our faith and makes it into a banner that leaders then wave about as advertisement for their policies. Yes, our faith becomes a kind of state advertising. I don't know about you, but I find advertising an often dishonest business. The problem here is that the policies advertised for usually aren't as clearly linked to what God wants of us as the leaders would imply. Once again, the Iraq war or the gas pipeline are good examples. Often the policies in question, even if they do have virtuous elements, will also have as much to do with power and greed and corruption and profit. Thus our leaders begin using something holy, using what we should hold sacred, to drum up support for what are really secular political agendas. Many citizens, unfortunately many believers among them, don't seem to notice this is so.
Linking policy initiatives to faith often simply politicizes faith and, finally, when the political projects in question don't work out, which happens as often as not, it discredits faith. Which means that it hampers the spread of our faith to those who didn't accept the political agenda to begin with.
If we are wise, we should carefully protect our faith from politicians' pet projects. Leaders who imply they are making policy under some kind of direct link to God should be criticized by the general public and--even more so--by believers.
To repeat my basic point: if we can't link some policy to Jesus' teachings, we don't have any basis, as Christians, for saying it is what God wants or expects from us. And if that policy is to make war, in particular to launch a pre-emptive war, I believe we are on especially shaky ground as far as Jesus' teachings are concerned.
If Sarah Palin attains high office, I think it likely she will do more of just this kind of damage to the reputation of Christians and the faith she espouses. I think this because of the overconfidence I see in her, her tendency to link whatever she supports politically with God's will.
Palin has all the marks of the outspoken smart alec. She appears to believe that whatever she wants personally, or whatever her party's leadership wants, is something God also wants. Christians should recognize that this is, first of all, delusional, and, secondly, blasphemy of a particularly shallow kind. They should be assessing her nomination with this recognition in mind.
I've done my best to make a variety of points regarding this "blasphemy" issue. To insist in her support that Palin is a Christian woman who wants to "do good" for our country is to ignore the issues raised. Because I'm not as concerned here with wanting to "do good" for our country as I am with following Jesus' teachings. But whatever one's priorities, Palin gives reason to be wary. Shallowly using faith as a banner to press this or that political agenda is neither good for the country nor for the Kingdom.
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