Sarah Palin, the evangelical candidate
With my mind on the upcoming election, I read this morning a moderately interesting editorial in Christianity Today, "Misunderstanding Sarah: Media reaction to Gov. Palin shows ignorance of evangelicalism," (October 28, 2008). Two issues are briefly treated, but I'll address only the first, which involves the assumption among nonevangelicals concerning the supposed puritanical views of evangelicals.
[This assumption was revealed in] reactions to news of Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy: liberal pundits gleefully announced that this was going to seriously undermine Governor Palin's standing with the Republican Party's evangelical base. Any informed evangelical watcher or evangelical believer could have told them that this is a non-issue.Right. I knew immediately that the out-of-wedlock pregnancy wouldn't matter. Evangelical believers regularly deal with this situation. Almost nobody was shocked. Some might have been dismayed, but most empathized. Why? The editorial explains:
It is a non-issue because John Newton's famous line, "I once was lost but now I'm found," defines the evangelical ethos. We specialize in troubled lives. Stories of transformation from sin and degradation to righteousness and wholeness frame the way evangelicals see life. From the slave-trading Newton to the White House "hatchet man" Chuck Colson, God saves people from their slavery to sin and uses them to restore others. Indeed, those of us who never did anything particularly shocking sometimes have trouble fitting in.That's my problem. I never did anything wrong. Just kidding. I've done plenty that wasn't quite right . . . very quietly. When I was home in the Ozarks last February, one high school friend remarked, "I never heard anything bad about Jeff Hodges." I could only smile in chagrin and say, "I just got away with it because I was quiet." Then, pointing over at my wife, I added, "If you want some details on my faults, just talk to her."
Actually, my wife doesn't bad-mouth me, and evangelicals generally accept a lot of awkward situations because that's the untidiness of life:
Evangelical pews are full of people whose family lives are untidy. If we get angry when a teen gets pregnant, it is not at the hot-blooded teens but at the fashion and entertainment industries that persistently sexualize the images of the young and set them up for bad choices. It's no wonder: One recent study showed that adolescents with a sexually charged media diet are more than twice as likely as others to have sex by the time they turn 16. Teen pregnancy is one of the situations in which it is easiest for us to hate the sin but love the sinner.The evangelical reaction to Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy was thus one of immediate acceptance. Evangelical empathy for the Palin family probably even strengthened Governor Palin's personal support.
But as I noted yesterday in a conversation with my philosopher friend Dan Ernst over coffee at an Ewha campus coffee shop, although Palin may have personally energized the Republican Party's evangelical base, she put off many other conservatives. I mentioned Charles Krauthammer, George Will, David Brooks, and other conservative pundits who expressed disappointment at McCain's selection of a running mate so 'inexperienced'. By that, they also meant "ignorant" even if they were careful about not quite saying so.
In my own opinion as amateur pundit (if that's not a redundancy), Palin is highly intelligent but needs -- to put it generously -- at least four more years of exposure to national and international issues before she'd be minimally prepared to take on the responsibilities of high office. Evangelicals remain excited by Palin the person, in ways that surprise nonevangelicals, but I sense that many of these same evangelicals have some uncertainty about Palin the candidate -- though most will fervently pull the lever for her on November 4th and even more fervently pray that McCain lives a long, healthy life.
To be frank, however, I don't think that the evangelical vote will be enough to give the Republican Party this election, and Palin's untimely, national political career will be tragically over, fallen victim to the blame game as Republicans fight over who lost the White House.