During the presidential campaign, the religious convictions of the candidates frequently dominated the headlines. However, unlike stories about whether Barack Obama was really a Muslim masquerading as a Christian or whether John McCain was sufficiently loyal to the Christian right’s social agenda, and unlike the reputation-tarnishing videos of sermons delivered by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Pastor John Hagee, the religious beliefs of Sarah Palin remained mostly a mystery.
In early 2008, when an assortment of Republican Party presidential hopefuls were hunting for endorsements from religious right leaders, Senator John McCain’s team landed a major player, Pastor John Hagee. In late February of last year, in a nationally televised press conference, McCain proudly accepted Hagee’s political endorsement, and went one step further when he endorsed Hagee.
Hagee, the pastor of the 19,000-member San Antonio, Texas-based Cornerstone Church—a multi-million dollar evangelical enterprise—is also the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist lobbying group supporting conservative Israeli politics and politicians. "Think of CUFI as a Christian version of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)," Hagee told the Jerusalem Post in February 2006, a few days before the organization’s first summit.
In May 2008, Bruce Wilson, co-founder of the blog Talk2Action, wrote that he had "discovered an astonishing audio recording of a sermon, by Hagee, in which [he] elaborates on his view that Hitler and the Nazis were divine agents sent by God to…chase Europe’s Jews towards Palestine."
Hagee’s "God sent Hitler" sermon was given in late 2005, broadcast internationally, and sold by John Hagee Ministries through 2008 as part of a three-sermon DVD set titled Jerusalem: Countdown To Crisis (Hagee’s ministry still sells a CD version of the set). The find was one of many Wilson discoveries. Delving deeper into the archives, Wilson uncovered a host of anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-abortion, and anti-gay rights commentaries, and a startling one in which Hagee pointed out that, "As a nation, America is under the curse of God, even now."
Wilson’s short video, featuring a recording of Hagee preaching about how God had sent Hitler to hunt the Jews and force them to Israel, went viral roughly 24 hours after Sam Stein of the Huffington Post covered it and then Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s "Countdown" picked up the story. From there, Wilson’s minimalist packaging—scrolling text that mirrored Hagee’s words—quickly moved to mainstream broadcast networks and newspapers. Then it was shown around the world by numerous outlets, including Iranian television.
Hagee’s utterances became a major story and McCain was forced to repudiate Hagee’s endorsement. Fast forward to September 2008. McCain, now the GOP’s presidential candidate, chooses a relatively obscure political figure, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Palin wows the GOP faithful at their convention and becomes an instant celebrity with a few choice sound-bites, a combative spirit, and a designer wardrobe. But when a CNN reporter asked GOP campaign spokesperson Meghan Stapleton about Palin’s religious beliefs, she "would only say the Republican vice presidential candidate has ‘deep religious convictions.’"
CNN reported that she was "a practicing Pentecostal" who had once "belonged" to the Wasilla Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska and that she was now a member of the non-denominational Wasilla Bible Church. Palin’s former pastor Tim McGraw acknowledged, "that like many Pentecostal churches, some members speak in tongues," although he had never seen Palin doing it.
McGraw told CNN, "Some Pentecostals from Assembly of God also believe in ‘faith healing’ and the ‘end times.’ Our basic belief is that God is God and he knows where history is going and he has a purposeful plan and within the middle of that plan we live in an environment in our world where certain events would take place. Sarah wasn’t taught to look for one particular sign—a cataclysmic sign. She knew as every Christian does…that God is sovereign and he is in control."
This is when Bruce Wilson and his research partner began looking into Palin’s religious background. They uncovered material that eventually led to more than 20 stories and 6 short documentaries about her church affiliations.
However, unlike the Hagee discoveries, little of what Wilson found resonated with the mainstream media. A media awash in Palinography seemed more interested in her family life, personal style, and wardrobe rather than her religious beliefs and worshipping habits.
In an interview, Wilson told me that in the beginning the stories Talk2Action was putting out probably "sounded outlandish—millions of Christians worldwide trying to bring about an earthly utopia by driving out demons alleged to infest cities and towns, inanimate objects: cars, alarm clocks, rosary beads, big rocks, toothbrushes."
The "stories connected [Palin] to a religious movement that relatively few Americans know even exists—which looks, acts and holds theological beliefs, even a basic outlook on life that is very different from what secular and liberal America might think or envision as coming from the ‘religious right,’" Wilson pointed out.
Wilson said that they had "identified Palin as in a majority tendency of post-denominationalism known as the neocharismatic movement, or the ‘Third Wave.’" According to the reference work "World Christian trends," the Third Wave is "a new and disturbingly different" kind of Christianity whose members "can accurately be called radical Christians with some pentecostal/charismatic parallels." Wilson said that "one of the distinctive characteristics of Third Wave Christian ministry is a heavy emphasis on healing miracles including raising the dead—an emphasis promoted from the pulpit in sermons at Palin’s church.
"We also found extensive evidence that Palin is in a religious movement founded in 2001 that has coalesced out of Third Wave Christianity: the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)…which is bent on radically reinventing Christianity and is fast becoming the vanguard of the global Christian Right. Its leaders have openly declared their aim of achieving worldwide biblical government and a utopian age in which evil—as an ontological category—has been banished by purging demon spirits and unbelievers from the earth."
Although the headlines of his Palin stories were provocative enough ("Palin’s Movement Urges Godly to Plunder Wealth of Godless"; "Palin Linked to Second Witch Hunter"; "Palin Put Religious War Advocate on Alaska Suicide Prevention Council") and their work "did get out through some smaller progressive media platforms," for the most part the mainstream media pursued other Palin-related stories.
Given that Palin is considered a "rock star" within the Republican Party, Wilson and his partner will certainly have ample opportunities to bring their information to light.