Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin and Pentecostals

A few weeks back I noticed a status update from one of my facebook "friends". It was from George Wood who is the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. In an effort to stay connected with the emerging generation, he solicited friends on facebook who had roots in this tradition. His status said that "George is back in the USA, and excited that Sarah Palin, who attends an AG church in Alaska, has been selected to run as VP. Congratulations!" which was partially right. This was August 30th, and I knew at that time that this would mean a media magnifying glass would be aimed at the AG.

And good or bad, the AG has never received so much national press. The first of many stories had Governor Palin quickly making it clear that she no longer attends an AG church. Several network shows pulled out their stock footage of people speaking in tongues (not sure why any church would let tv cameras in to video this- it just looks weird and is an invasion of privacy), people waving banners around while they do the holy ghost hop to some old time religion music and then of course you have to see the token bodies hitting the floor after the tv preacher gives them the forehead slap. NPR interviewed my friend Margaret Poloma from Akron U about whether we should be worried about Pentecostals' end-time views and Palin's ability to lead this country, to which she replied that "yes, there is cause to worry." Even Christianity Today had a home page link to a story, All You Need to Know About Pentecostals. I'm waiting for someone at a town forum to ask her what her policy on snake handling is.

While I am the first to admit that Pentecostals and the AG have many issues that need to be addressed, I find myself defensive of the movement that I grew up in. When you remove the critical stereotypes, you find a movement of people who believe that God is not a distant force, but as close as a prayer. You find people who desire more of God through his holy presence. They want to experience God in every way possible. And you find people dedicated to the great commission, a cause bigger than themselves (estimates have 500 million people worldwide who identify with Penteocostals/Charismatics- with potential of 1 billion by the middle part of the century). And with the AG, there is a belief in the sovereignty of the local church which means that every church is unique. While some churches handle snakes, some wave banners, some stir up revival fires etc., many do not. In fact, many are shocked to see how they are depicted on television.

But this political climate has had this effect on faith in general; it has brought out the best and the worst. Rick Warren's faith forum was an example of showing faith in a positive light. Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, misinformation about Obama's religious backgrounds and George W. Bush's unpopularity (while being cozy with evangelicals) are examples of showing faith in a negative light. And since Palin is such an unknown, Pentecostals have been caught in the jetwash of scrutiny.

The magnifying glass will soon be removed and what's left will be a continued tension between the media and people of faith. Maybe that's the truest "status update" of all.