Religious Left theologian Susan Thistlewaite at the Center for American Progress, writing for The Washington Post’s religion blog, has formulated the ultimate reason why Sarah Palin must not become Vice President. Belonging to an evangelical denomination, Palin must believe in the biblical injunction: "Wives be subject to your husbands, as unto the Lord." How can she serve in office while submitting to her husband, the Rev Thistlewaite querulously wondered. Must not Mr. Palin also be politically vetted, since clearly he is the master of his submissive wife?
To someone like the Rev. Thistlewaite, Governor Palin must seem as exotic and frightening as a Maori spearman. Indeed, even scarier, as the enlightened former seminary president and United Church of Christ (UCC) minister probably reverences all “indigenous” cultures, while conservative American Christians merit fear and suspicion.
Until recently, Thistlewaite was president of the radical Chicago Theological Seminary, where future activist pastors can study “womanist theology,” “postcolonialism,” and “homosexuality and hermeneutics.” She is now at the Center for American Progress, founded by former Bill Clinton staffer John Podesta, where she can help interpret troubling American religious trends to secular liberals curious about life west of the Potomac. The Rev. Jesse Jackson Senior is both an alumni and former professor at the school, where he probably, by comparison, was a moderating influence. In 2002, under Thistlewaite’s presidency, the seminary honored former Obama pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose “Godd-mn America” views are likely in sync with the school. Wright, of course, is a fellow UCC pastor.
Thistlewaite is very concerned that Governor Palin belongs to the disturbing Assemblies of God, which the former Chicago seminary professor no doubt regards as a “fundamentalist” sect. In fact, the 2.8 million denomination is one of America’s fastest growing religious bodies, having long ago surpassed in membership the once influential UCC, which at 1.2 million members has become one of America’s fastest imploding churches.
Perhaps in Thistlewaite’s imagination, women in the Assemblies of God wear bonnets, sit silently, and wash the feet of their husbands. In fact, the Pentecostal church has ordained women for many years, and Pentecostalism is well known for often elevating women to leadership. One of the best known Pentecostals in the 20th century was the flamboyant evangelist Aimee Simple McPherson, whose riveting radio broadcasts and alleged scandals enthralled Americans for over two decades until her death in 1944.
There are estimated globally to be about 400 million Pentecostals, and nearly 60 million belong to the international branch of Palin’s church. Pentecostals in the world probably outnumber liberal UCC devotees about at least 100 to 1, if not more. But Thistlewaite, retaining the frowning attitude of her Puritan tradition if not the theology, is worried that Palin’s church regards the Bible as "the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct." Seemingly unbeknownst to the former seminary president, seeing the Bible as divine revelation is a teaching common to most of the 2 billion Catholics, Evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox in the world. Far more exotic and unusual among the world’s Christians would be the feminist and sexual orientation emphases of Thistlewaite’s school, not to mention the gender neutral version of the New Testament and Psalms that Thistlewaite published. Hopefully the Center for American Progress is not relying exclusively on Thistlewaite to interpret the religious world, otherwise the curious liberals there are likely in for multiple surprises.
Perhaps tongue in cheek, or perhaps not, Thistlewaite wants Palin to assure the nation that she will not let her husband run the vice presidency, much as the Roman Catholic John Kennedy assured the nation that he would not let the Pope run America. For Thistlewaite, the threat of restored patriarchy is amplified by Mr. Palin’s employment with British Petroleum. Big oil!! Once again, oil is mixing with religion, as conceived in the worst nightmares of the far left about the other “fundamentalist” and former oilman, George W. Bush.
For Thistlewaite, it gets worse. Apparently Palin described the Iraq War in “messianic terms” when speaking to her home church earlier this year. The evidence? The Alaska governor “exhorted” some graduating students: "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 is from God.” If anything, Thistlewaite fretted, “Palin is even less aware of the idea of separation of church and state than is the "Current Occupant." Ah, touché!
It’s all very worrisome to Thistlewaite, who somewhat recalls her Puritan forebears' proclivity for witch hunts, though the modern UCC is friendlier to earth-friendly witches than to carbon producing Christians. Palin’s “fundamentalist” views on the environment and skepticism about the Global Warming scare scenarios that the secular and religious left relish are further counts against her, naturally.
Thistlewaite is emphatic. “I can tell you flat out I don't want somebody else in the White House who mouths conservative Christian views, takes us into faith-based wars, will cave in to the oil lobbies and who does not even understand modern science.” Presumably, Thistlewaite prefers her own denomination’s and school’s brand of “Godd-amn America” theology, Jeremiah Wright-style, to traditional Christians who still pray for America’s soldiers and read Bibles with masculine pronouns.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.