Here's Part 2 of "The Faith of Sarah Palin" by Julian Lukins in Charisma Magazine.
Within hours of Palin's nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate, the video of her 10-minute address at Wasilla AG was doing the rounds on the Internet. News reporters immediately picked up on Palin's plea to pray for those serving in the military: "Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God," Palin told the congregation. "That's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan."
Suddenly, in the media frenzy that followed her nomination, every church Palin had attended came under scrutiny. Eager to unearth controversy, reporters probed into the Charismatic practices at Wasilla AG, especially the experience of speaking in tongues, which commentators often presented as bizarre.
"I don't know if [Palin] has ever spoken in tongues," Riley told Charisma. "I know she is a very strong Christian."
In the video, Palin quips about the Charismatic-style worship she experienced at Wasilla AG. She tells the congregation that she jokingly reassured the pastor of another church: "I grew up at Wasilla Assembly of God. ... Nothing freaks me out about [your] worship service!"
Following the vice-presidential nod, though, the McCain campaign seemed perplexed by the media attention directed at Palin's Pentecostal roots. Campaign staff told reporters that Palin—who stopped attending Wasilla AG in 2002—did not consider herself to be a Pentecostal.
In fact, since 2002, Palin has attended several different churches—nondenominational evangelical and Charismatic—in Wasilla and in Juneau, her base as Alaska governor. Most recently, when at home, she has attended Wasilla Bible Church, a nondenominational evangelical congregation with an emphasis on the Word, prayer and—according to the church Web site—fostering a close relationship with God.
How deep do Palin's Pentecostal convictions go?
"I think it's important to recognize how [Palin] herself answers questions like this," says Michael Leahy, author of What Does Sarah Palin Believe? (Harpeth River Press). "She is pretty clear in stating that she does not belong to any particular denomination but is a Bible-believing Christian. I don't think there is any evidence that she places the same emphasis on the Charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit that some members of the Pentecostal tradition do. On these matters, [Palin] is very private in her thoughts."
Former pastor Riley has no doubt about the authenticity of her spiritual walk. Asked if he feels God's hand is upon Palin's life, Riley responds: "Yes, I very definitely do."
Other church leaders in Alaska who know Palin or have known her in the past attest to the genuineness of her faith.
Ted Boatsman was a youth pastor at Wasilla AG 31 years ago and remembers Palin as a young teenager in the church. "It was a very active youth group, and she was with the junior high," he recalls. "I remember this very nice, impressive young lady ... one you just enjoyed being around. She had a grounded sense of God."
That "grounded" faith continues today, Boatsman says, as is evidenced by her words and actions. Boatsman, who went on to become district superintendent for the Assemblies of God in Alaska, told Charisma that last April Gov. Palin attended the denominational banquet.
"She shared a little bit about her faith and some of the issues she was going through," he recalls. "We were thrilled to be able to pray with her. She seemed very comfortable with that and she said, 'I could always use your prayers.' I asked the Lord to protect her and keep His hand upon her."
Boatsman says Palin's faith is real. "Her faith is very consistent, and she does not go off on tangents," he says. "She has taken her honesty and lack of arrogance and turned them into real strengths. She's the same person now as when she was Wasilla's mayor. She treats people just the same ... and she is completely comfortable around prayer."
David Pepper, pastor of the 1,500-member Church on the Rock in Wasilla, told Charisma that Palin was a regular attendee at the Charismatic church in 2005, before she ran for the position of Alaska's governor.
"My take is that she is a Spirit-filled believer," 41-year-old Pepper says. "She was very comfortable in the environment of our church." That environment, Pepper explains, sometimes involves dancing before the Lord and other Charismatic expressions of worship. "She still comes here occasionally," he added.
Pepper grew up in Wasilla and remembers Palin as a senior in high school when he was a freshman. "I'd say she is very genuine, very authentic, and her values resonate with so many of us," he says.
Pepper told Charisma that although Palin did not teach a Sunday School class or lead a Bible study, he believed she was involved in ministry "beyond being just an attender," although he did not elaborate.
"I believe there is definitely a sense of destiny over her life," Pepper says of Palin. Taking a line from the biblical story of Esther, Pepper adds: "There's a sense that she is here for such a time as this."Part 3 tomorrow ...