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Separating church and state

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, September 4, 2008

Just before praising a student for being a “redheaded Sasquatch for Jesus” in a June graduation speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God School of Ministry, Sarah Palin dropped this gem:

“I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline – about a 30 billion dollar project that’s going to create a lot of jobs for Alaskans and we’ll have a lot of energy flowing through here. And pray about that, also. I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.”

That’s right. The woman who could be one misplaced pretzel away from the most important job in the world said that God’s will is to have citizens and gas conglomerates unite behind the most noble cause of all: piping natural gas throughout the state of Alaska.

And though I haven’t yet found the Bible verse that discusses pipelines, at least this is a woman who has a vision of unity in America. Forget this post-racial, bipartisan mumbo-jumbo. She, too, has a dream: that one day, Pentecostals and Exxon Mobil can join hands as sisters and brothers. She has climbed to the glacier top, and seen the Promised Land.

Palin wasn’t done.

After talking about her son, Track, being deployed to Iraq, Palin asks the commissioned to “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 them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for: that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.”

Praying for the troops is admirable, but that’s not what Sarah Palin asked the graduates to do. She suggests – or, at least, implies – that our cause is divine. I thought They were the ones fighting a Holy War, not Us.

The worst was to come, though.

Palin’s pastor followed her brief speech by asking for a prayer for, among other things, “the natural resources,” as Palin had implored. He believes, “Alaska is one of the refuge states in the last days … Hundreds of thousands of people are going to come to the state, and the church has to be ready to minister to them.” Palin nods a few times; the congregation gives a tepid Amen.

Thank God. And here I was worried I’d have to dial international to reach my saved loved ones.

It’s embarrassing that any person serving as the most important political figure in a given state – let alone running for national office – should express anything close to agreement with the statement, “my state is likely a refuge in the impending end times.”

But Palin seemed to think that God has chosen Alaska. Maybe it’s because they have a redheaded Sasquatch for Jesus.

Sarah Palin may be a fantastic politician. She may be a great vice president. If elected, she may help root out corruption on a national level. In her time in Alaska, she hasn’t seemed to force her faith-informed conservativism on policy too much, which is probably why her approval ratings remain phenomenally high. So, maybe, this … different … worldview doesn’t deserve the scrutiny I’m paying it.

But here’s the problem: Sarah Palin, like Barack Obama, is running on her judgment. And, as a general rule, I question the judgment of someone who cannot separate her political beliefs – on the war in Iraq and an oil pipeline – with God’s will. Even if you agree with Palin’s political views in each, you might question this judgment. I question the judgment of someone who nods when her pastor says that her home state is likely God’s chosen land. And I question the judgment of someone who thinks we need to start planning for the “last days” by equipping Alaska to handle the hundreds of thousands who will inevitably come.

When Barack Obama’s church made controversial statements – a serious blow to his campaign – he condemned the statements and made sure everybody knew he was not at the service the day they were made. When Sarah Palin’s church made controversial statements, she was standing at the pulpit. She stood next to her pastor, bowed her head, and nodded.

If nothing changes, Sarah Palin will likely get her wish. People won’t want a one-breath-away who emphasizes her judgment but believes that Iraq and an Alaska oil pipeline are God’s will.

Maybe this embarrassing belief means she’ll get to stay in Alaska for all eternity.

Andrew Nesi is a senior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. In preschool, he forced a girl to wet herself when he locked himself in a bathroom during a game of hide and seek. He can be reached at anesi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.