AP Wrongly Charges Palin with Deception over Faith

Associated Press religion writers Eric Gorski and Rachel Zoll are accusing GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin of concealing her Pentecostal religious roots by identifying herself “simply as Christian” in her biography on the Web site of the National Governors' Association.

In their Sept. 4 article headlined “Pentecostalism obscured in Palin biography,” Gorski and Zoll rely on Duke Divinity School's Grant Wacker to suggest a motive for Palin's alleged duplicity.  Wacker says, “the public still perceives [Pentecostals] as sectarian and uncompromising, and those traits will not help Palin's image.”

“Sarah Palin often identifies herself simply as Christian,” Gorski and Zoll begin.  “Yet John McCain's running mate has deep roots in Pentecostalism…[a Christian tradition] often derided by outsiders and Bible-believers alike.” 

Palin grew up attending a Pentecostal church, Wasilla Assembly of God, but has attended the non-Pentecostal Wasilla Bible Church since 2002. Pentecostalism is a branch of evangelical Christianity that emphasizes discernible spiritual gifts from God, such as speaking in tongues.  Many Christian denominations embrace Pentecostal theology.

Gorski and Zoll misunderstand Palin's use of the word “Christian.” Evangelical believers, especially those like Palin who attend independent Bible churches, commonly refer to themselves as “Christians,” not as members of any particular denomination or school of theology. 

The article says more about Gorski and Zoll than about Palin.  Though they cover the religion beat for AP, Gorski and Zoll have a great deal to learn about evangelical culture and theology.

In addition to misunderstanding the term “Christian,” Gorski and Zoll make a serious theological mistake.  They incorrectly accuse Wasilla Assembly of God senior pastor Ed Kalnins of questioning, “whether people who voted for Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election would get into heaven.”

Kalnins's exact words were, “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.” 

Orthodox Protestant theology teaches that salvation is possessed in the present.  Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of evangelical Christian doctrine should understand that Kalnins was not saying God would send Kerry supporters to hell. In fact, Kalnins was suggesting that people willing to vote for Sen. Kerry might not already be saved. 

In misinterpreting Kalnins's remarks, Gorski and Zoll committed the same mistake made by leftwing Huffington Post writers Nico Pitney and Sam Stein, and explained in greater detail in another CMI article, Pro-gay Journalist: Palin's Religious Worldview “Controversial”

Such a fundamental theological error is understandable coming from a pair of youthful leftwing bloggers, but not from two Associated Press religion writers.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.