Sarah Palin is a front-line culture warrior whose election as vice president would be a “disaster” for the country, says an American Baptist pastor and longtime nemesis in local politics in the governor’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska.
Howard Bess, who earlier this year retired as pastor of Church of the Covenant in nearby Palmer, has recently made news as author of a 1995 book promoting non-judgmental ministry toward homosexuals that he says Palin tried to get removed from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor.
Bess, 80 and an American Baptist minister for 50 years, said he and Palin have consistently been on opposite sides in the local culture wars.
In an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com, Bess said both Palin’s former and current churches are fundamentalist. “I am making a clear distinction between Fundamentalist and Evangelical,” he said. “I am an Evangelical ¦. I hold Tony Campolo and Rick Warren in high regard. Her churches are literalists and are into inerrancy.”
“My central concern is her brand of Christian faith,” Bess told EthicsDaily.com. “She embraces Christian triumphalism. She sees the world as a dualist. Life is a battle between good and evil. She draws a hard line between the two. In some situations it makes her a genuine hero. In her view good does no business with evil. Evil is to be confronted, fought and defeated. It is this side of her world view that makes me very nervous.”
Her present church, he said, “is dispensational in theology and embraces end-of-the-world theology.”
Bess said he has been asking reporters to “take a hard look at her churches to understand her understanding of life and her personality make-up.”
“She scares me,” Bess told Salon.com. “She’s Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.”
Palin, who grew up in Wasilla, rose to political prominence with help of socially conservative Oklahomans and Texans who moved to the oil fields of Alaska over the last three decades, filling evangelical churches and reviving the Republican Party in the traditionally Democratic stronghold.
“It wasn’t just a matter of her using the Religious Right to get elected. She was one of them,” Bess told ABC News. “This whole thing of controlling information, censorship, that’s a part of the scene.”
Bess’ first confrontation with Palin’s religious community was when he decided to write a book, Pastor, I Am Gay, based on his own soul-searching after a member of his former church in California in the 1970s sought his counsel in deciding to come out as a homosexual.
Controversy over the book prompted the American Baptist Churches of Alaska to withdraw fellowship from Bess’ church, which remains in good standing with American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
Palin has denied reports that she tried to censor books, but Bess told Salon his book was on a “hit list” that Palin wanted removed from the library. “I’m as certain of that as I am that I’m sitting here,” he said. “This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do.”
Later Bess and a local obstetrician/gynecologist sued to stop evangelicals from taking over the community’s hospital board and banning abortion. Palin was reportedly part of a boisterous picket line attempting to disrupt the physician’s practice that prompted the doctor’s 16-year-old daughter to write: “My mother no longer talked about managed care and AIDS; she talked about buying a bulletproof vest.”
“Her personality is not different from that of a Muslim Fundamentalist,” Bess told EthicsDaily.com. “How does this black and white understanding play out on a world stage?”
Bess’ criticism contrasts with widespread enthusiasm for Palin on the Religious Right. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he was “ecstatic” over her selection as John McCain’s running mate. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called it an “outstanding” pick. James Dobson of Focus on the Family said choosing Palin was enough to convince him to “pull that lever” for McCain.
In 2007 Gov. Palin issued a proclamation emphasizing America’s “Christian heritage,” which drew praise from CBN’s David Brody. “I’m telling you folks. The Evangelical base is revved up about this pick,” Brody wrote. “A McCain campaign source told me that there is so much excitement from the Evangelical community about this pick that it’s making their head spin. This source told me, ‘The event at Saddleback was the baking of the cake. Sarah Palin is the frosting.'”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.