Vetting the Candidates on Their Religious World Views

In the past, religion was used by politicians simply to win votes. While that is still the case, both parties are doing their best to understand and to address the concerns of the faith community. They realize that they cannot fool around on this—that if they do not address these concerns directly and actually do something about these issues, they will not gain or keep our support.

In this year's election, the candidates’ religious world views are a part of the public vetting process. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. What have you found? What is the significance of the religious world view of each of these candidates?

The Presidential Nominees’ Religious Word Views:

Barack Obama was once caricatured as a closet Muslim by radical right wing bloggers and viral e-mails. When it became apparent that he is indeed a Christian, having converted in Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ, a new can of worms exploded all over the place. Wright’s bombastic sermon style revealed that he believes that America has not been all that godly. He has railed against what he saw as injustice in this country, especially as it pertains to racial justice, and warned that the United States was in danger of damnation from God. This raised the legitimate question: After sitting for 20 years under the Reverend Wright’s teaching and having had this man baptize his children, how much of this world view does Obama embrace as his own? Obama has distanced himself from Wright, but this looks more like a politically expedient move than anything else.

John McCain’s religious views have been more difficult to pin down. He is very cautious about sharing much about his personal faith. In fact, it was not known where he attended church until a year ago when he was pressed on the issue. It was assumed that since he was raised in the Episcopal Church that he was still an Episcopalian. "I'd like to add there's been some talk about my religious persuasion,” McCain explained last September. “I was raised in an Episcopal church and attended high school at a high school called Episcopal High School. I have attended North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years, and the most important thing is that I'm a Christian. And I don't have anything else to say on the issue.” McCain refrains from calling himself “born again” and has not been baptized. The 7,000-member North Phoenix Baptist seems to be a typical Southern Baptist mega-church, with pastor Dan Yeary clearly opposing abortion, though he hasn't taken a position on stem-cell research because he has said it could help his wife's multiple sclerosis. Gays are welcome in this church, while their homosexual lifestyle isn't.

The Vice-Presidential Nominees’ Religious Word Views:

Joe Biden is a Roman Catholic who wrote in his biography, Promises to Keep that Sunday Mass has always been his "time alone" with God. He turned to his faith to overcome the personal tragedy of the deaths of his wife and young daughter in a 1972 traffic accident. Biden says that he attends Mass weekly. However, Biden has not followed his church’s teachings on abortion. For thirty-five years, he has mostly voted pro-choice, though he has also backed a federal ban on late-term abortions and has opposed public funding of abortion. Biden has drawn criticism from Catholic bishops for his stand on abortion. Democrats are hoping Biden will talk about how his faith shapes his political policies, but Biden has never articulated his politics in this manner.

Sarah Palin is a Pentecostal Christian, having been raised in the Assemblies of God. Pentecostals are known for their embracing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the theologically controversial issue of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” The AOG statement of “Fundamental Truths” says, “All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ… This experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth … The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.” Three months ago, Palin spoke at the Wasilla AOG, where she said, “It was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here, getting baptized by Pastor Riley.” (Watch the video here). Palin asked the congregation to “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 [U.S. soldiers] 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.” She revealed that an associate pastor at the church prayed for her victory in the gubernatorial race. "He was praying over me. He's praying, 'Lord make a way, Lord make a way...' And I'm thinking, this guy's really bold, he doesn't even know what I'm gonna do, he doesn't know what my plans are, and he's praying not, 'Oh Lord, if it be your will may she become governor,' or whatever. No, he just prayed for it. He said, 'Lord, make a way, and let her do this next step.' And that's exactly what happened. So, again, very very powerful coming from this church." Ed Kalnins, the senior pastor of this church for at least 9 years affirmed this as a "prophetic call." As a Pentecostal, he believes in “words of knowledge,” prophetic statements that the Holy Spirit reveals to certain Christians. He believes that God has revealed to him that Alaska will be "one of the Refuge States in the Last Days and hundreds and thousands of people are gonna come to this state to seek refuge and the church has to be ready to minister to them." He also has some interesting takes on politics. During the 2004 race, he praised President Bush's performance during a debate with John Kerry, then said concerning those who would vote for Kerry, “I'm not going tell you who to vote for, but if you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation. I'm sorry.” In response to the media’s criticism of Bush after Hurricane Katrina, Kalnins preached, “I hate criticisms towards the President, because it's like criticisms towards the pastor - it's almost like, it's not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell. That's what it'll get you.” How has this messianic warping of the Right Wing’s agenda effected Palin’s worldview? Does she believe that pastors and presidents are above criticism? How do we know that she will be humble about not always knowing God’s direct will? If she were President, would she be looking for a “Word of Knowledge” from prophetic Pentecostals about her important decisions?

Artcile VI of The Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” However, as we have seen, the discerning process for this election cycle has included the process of understanding how the candidate’s faith will effect their decisions. The Religious Right is downright giddy about Sarah Palin, and has absolutely skewered Barack Obama’s association with Jeremiah Wright. So, let’s talk about this fairly. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!


Byron Harvey said...

For whatever it's worth--IMHO, at least a decent amount--the Palins left the AOG six years ago and began attending Wasilla Bible Church.

Bob Robinson said...

Yes, that's true. I'm wondering why that happened. We haven't heard any reasons why. However, the video of her in the Wasilla AOG is from just 3 months ago, and she seems to be embracing the AOG's Pentecostal culture in this video.

Bob Robinson said...

In a blog post I did concerning Obama and Jeremiah Wright, you asked, "You telling me that as an evangelical, you could in good conscience recommend a person to be a part of this far left-wing UCC church where the gospel is distorted?"

Same question here: You telling me that as an evangelical, you could in good conscience recommend a person to be a part of the Wasilla AOG, where they mandate Chrsitians to seek the "Baptism in the Spirit" evidenced by tongues, and where "Words of Knowledge" substitute for seeking wisdom from the Scriptures?

Byron Harvey said...


I think that's certainly a question of degrees. Of course I have problems with AoG theology on certain points; there's no doubt about it. The AoG isn't the first place I'd tell a person to look, but under certain circumstances, I could recommend an AoG to people, because the gospel, to my understanding, is preached in AoG churches. Yes, on matters of pneumatology, I have disagreements, but they differ in both nature and degree from the differences I have with the UCC (or many other mainline churches, for that matter). A PCA wouldn't be my first choice to recommend someone to, nor would a Free Methodist church, nor would an independent Baptist, all for different reasons, but could I in good conscience do so under certain circumstances? Absolutely...just as I could, at least potentially, Wasilla AoG. Under no circumstances could I imagine encouraging anyone to be a part of ANY UCC, though I'm sure there are some where the gospel is preached.

Perhaps the reason why we haven't heard the reasons that the Palins changed churches is because it's not any of our business? I mean, it's one thing to consider the Palins and the Obamas current church affiliation, and whatever baggage that might entail, but boy, if we get to the point where we're worried about the reasons our candidates changed churches 6 years ago, we're going a little deep, don't you think?

John Fea said...

Hi Bob: Wasilla Bible Church may not be AOG, but their doctrinal statement does talk about the "baptism of the HS" in a way that seems to be somewhat pentecostal. http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2008/08/maybe-palin-doesnt-speak-in-tongues.html

Byron Harvey said...

Sounds right, John; I don't agree with that particular understanding, but it's in line with Pentecostal faith.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, John, for the update. Are you still teaching at Messiah and writing those long, boring tomes on obscure history?

Are you familiar with the CCO's ministries there at Messiah? People that are in our CCO ministry there at messiah: Wendell Witter is Director of Issachar’s Loft. Serving in the Agapé Center are Matt Hunter, National and International Service and Mission Director, and Becky Owen, the Local Community Service Director. Brandon Hoover works at Messiah as the S.A.L.T. House Coordinator, and Jeremy Stoltzfus serves as the Outdoor Leadership Team Resource for South Central Pennsylvania. Chad Frey, Alec and Alece Nauck-Heisey and Dave Tanis all reach out to students in a volunteer capacity as CCO associate staff members.

John Fea said...

LONG BORING TOMES!!! Come on, Bob! Don't judge a book by its cover (or title). You should not only read, but spend a long series of blog posts reviewing it! :} Actually, I thought Lauren Winner gave my book a nice review in the recent Books and Culture! You need to check it out! (Both the review and the book.

Yes, I am still at Messiah. I recognize all the CCO names you mention, but have not gotten to know any of them. (I was on sabbatical last year and I think a lot of these folks are new). I did know Jon Yawger (our parents are close) and taught and play hoops with Drew Hart. As for the Geneva crowd, Dave Guthrie and Don Opitz are friends. Dave is in my yearly NCAA basketball pool--an extension of the one I used to run in the Trinity Quad. I almost took a job teaching at Geneva.

This summer I spoke at Ocean City Presbyterian Church (NJ) and met many CCO folks who were affiliated with that church. One of the leaders--Pete Ware--was the best man in my sister's wedding! Small world.