10.10.08

Palin's Pastor Problem

Rev. Thomas Muthee speaks in tongues and says Palin's political rise is part of God's grand plan

Reverend Thomas Muthee speaks in tongues and says Palin's political rise is part of God's grand plan.

When John McCain’s campaign began to falter in the face of financial disaster, running mate Sarah Palin resurrected the issue of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the incendiary one-time pastor of Barack Obama’s church in Chicago.

It’s a risky tactic because Palin has a pastor problem of her own, although for now it is mostly confined to a few grainy YouTube videos spirited out of the Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin and her family worshipped for 35 years.

"I believe that our population, one day, will lose their rights because of people like Sarah," says one Alaska Republican. "We'll have a political doctrine that will be church doctrine."

Palin has so far escaped close questioning about her religious beliefs, and the McCain camp refuses even to state what her religion is, beyond saying she was baptized a Catholic.

But judging from our visits to several churches in Wasilla—as well as this exclusive new documentary by filmmaker Max Blumenthal—that may be about to change. And Reverend Thomas Muthee should probably prepare for his close up in the national news media.

Rev. Muthee is a Pentecostal firebrand notorious in his native Kenya for his witch hunts, for example banishing a woman named Mama Jane from a village in Kenya, and then claiming that crime went down. He is also a popular visiting preacher on the Pentecostal church circuit in Alaska’s Mat-Su valley.

In Blumenthal’s documentary, Muthee is seen speaking in tongues at the Wasilla AG church. This film also incorporates the footage from church videos that popped up on the internet last month.

In the first, shot in 2005, Rev. Muthee prays over Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, “anointing” her political ambitions, declaring, “every form of witchcraft, it will be rebuked in the name of Jesus,” and asking the Lord to “make a way, and let her do the next step. Father, make her way now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

In the second video, shot just three months before she accepted the vice presidential nomination, Palin returns to the Assembly of God to relive that moment for a group of young missionaries. The remarkable thing about Muthee’s anointing, she said, was that he had no idea she planned to announce a long-shot, ultimately successful run for governor two days later.

For Palin and her audience that day, her remarkable political rise realizes a prophesy that she would reach the level at which the power to decisively enact god’s will becomes hers. Palin suggests that Alaska will lead the nation in a Christian revival: “We are the head, not the tail,” she proclaimed: “things are percolatin’, things are comin’ along.”

In the June 8, 2008 video, Ed Kalnins, the pastor of Wasilla AG church, who preaches often about an impending Apocalypse, explains to the congregation that "God wants it [Alaska] to be a refuge for the lower 48 in the Last Days. Millions of people will come to the state to seek refuge and the church has to be ready to minister to them.”

Pentecostals believe that God acts directly through them, Pastor Paul Manwaring of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry explained to us when we met him at the Crossroads Pentecostal church just outside Wasilla. All around us people were praying and speaking in tongues, a gift from God that they believe grants powers to heal the sick, prophesize the future, and even reform “whole cities and nations, by putting them on the path to Christian salvation, ” Manwaring said. Palin is now the symbol of that effort. Blumenthal’s film also quotes several Christians in Wasilla comparing her to Esther, the Biblical beauty who became a queen and saved the Jews from annihilation.

Deep in a valley and far from the coast, Wasilla started as a railroad stop for miners and graduated in the Sixties to a truck stop between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Palin’s childhood home is a rude plywood two-story with a pair of metal stovepipes. “We’d watch Monday night football zipped up to our chins in sleeping bags, and no one wanted to get up and put wood in the stove,” recalls Steve Menard, Sarah’s childhood friend who is now running for mayor of Wasilla.

Today, Wasilla is strip malls laid end to end, defacing the spectacular autumnal vista of jagged mountains lightly frosted with snow, or what the natives call “termination dust,” harkening the oncoming of a long, dark winter. Then, entertainment is mostly in two venues: the many evangelical churches that offer an alcohol-free social life, and the bars that close only between five and eight in the mornings.

When we were invited to watch the first Presidential debate at the home of Janet Kincaid, a local activist of 75 with an immediate family of 40, we asked members of this faithful tribe of Pentecostals and fervent Palin supporters about Rev Muthee, whom they know well.

What did it mean to be “anointed” by Rev. Muthee?

Leah, Janet Kincaid’s granddaughter, a fresh-faced 26-year-old who has trained at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, replies: “It means God has placed on you a particular call—you have a gifting—in Sarah’s case, to go into politics, and she will be given the strength to do it.”

At the Noisy Goose restaurant, with carved wooden bears peering in from the window at our food, we met Rev. Howard Bess, a retired Baptist minister who ran afoul of Palin when he welcomed homosexuals into his church and organized to preserve abortion rights, Palin has “a black and white understanding of life,” he says, "even more black and white than George Bush.“

“In personality structure, I do not believe that she is any different than a Muslim fundamentalist. They see the world in the same view,” Bess continues, “good and evil determinism.”

Laura Chase, a conservative Republican who managed Palin’s first mayoral race, in 1996, remembers sitting around the kitchen table late one night, talking about how to respond to a term limits proposal.

“Laura, if I haven’t moved on in two terms, I don’t deserve to be governor,” said the 32-year-old palin, whose youngest child was then still in a high chair.

“Sarah, you’ll be governor in ten years.”

“I don’t want to be Governor, “said Palin. “I want to be President!”

Chase laughed at the time. She doesn’t laugh now. “Alaska, especially Wasilla, has been leaning very far toward the religious right,” she says. “I believe our population, one day, will lose their rights because of people like Sarah. We’ll have a political doctrine that will be church doctrine.”

The idea of Palin becoming vice president “scares the shit out of me,” Chase adds. “Make no mistake about it, if she gets in as vice president, she will be President.”