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Monday, October 27, 2008

Five questions for Sarah Palin about Israel

Straight from the Jerusalem Post,

Five questions for Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has been asking lately who Barack Obama really is. She particularly wonders why we aren't talking more about his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Fair enough. Obama has repudiated inflammatory aspects of Wright's black liberation theology and dissociated from Wright's church. Now let's ask the same questions of Governor Palin. She isn't talking about her own pastors or her faith and, given her spiritual background, that's probably politically astute. But what does she really believe? Here are five questions for Sarah Palin.

Does she believe that she knows God's plan?

Last June Palin spoke at Wasilla Assembly of God Church in her hometown and informed a class of missionaries that it's God plan to build a $30 billion oil pipeline in Alaska. She also spoke of the spirit of prophecy, saying "that God's going to tell you what's going on." Does she believe that God divulges his plans to humans? Would she base policy on that?

Does she believe in witchcraft?

When Palin was running for governor, Thomas Muthee, an evangelical pastor from Kenya, came to her church, laid hands on her and prayed for her success. In his sermon, he spoke of Jesus banishing every form of witchcraft. (Muthee himself takes credit for having driven a witch out of a town in Kenya.) Palin later looked back fondly on Muthee's boldness and power in praying for her that day. Is she comfortable with the idea of witchcraft? Muthee also referred to "Israelites" (Jews) running the finances of nations. What did she think of that?

Does she think that Jews should convert to Christianity?

Two months ago, Palin sat in the Wasilla Bible Church and heard her pastor introduce a spokesman for Jews for Jesus named David Brickner. That was reported soon afterward. What wasn't noted is how closely tied her pastor and her church are to that messianic Jewish organization. Brickner had spoken there in 2004 and had really connected with the congregation, said her pastor, Larry Kroon. In fact, Kroon added that Jews for Jesus is so important to him that it's one of the reasons that he's a pastor.

Messianic Jews believe that Jews can accept Yeshua (Jesus), but still retain their Jewish identity and religious traditions. Many Jewish leaders condemn them. Elie Wiesel, for example, calls them hypocrites who don't have the courage to declare that they have rejected their people.

In church that day, Palin heard Brickner report on the "good news" that Jews for Jesus missionaries in Tel Aviv had handed out 132,000 tracts on messianic Judaism. This, he said, was the first step in a six-year evangelistic campaign in Israel. He added that terrorism is God's judgment on the Jews for refusing to accept Jesus.

The McCain campaign said that Palin didn't agree with that idea. Okay. What did she think, though, when her pastor led the congregation in a closing prayer that Jews will turn to Jesus? Did Palin pray along with them?

Does she believe that we are in the end-times?

For more than two decades, Palin attended Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church. She still worships there on occasion. Pastors of that church say that we are now in the end-times and that events involving Israel reveal signs of the end. The Assemblies of God Web site says the founding of Israel very probably meant that the last days have begun. Jesus will return and take believing Christians to heaven, an event called the rapture. Then the antichrist will appear and horrible tribulations and Armageddon will follow.

These ideas are consistent with a theological view that expects Israel and the Jewish people to play a crucial role in the terrible days at the end of the world. In its classic formulation, this belief holds that one-third of the Jews will convert and the rest will be killed. The vast majority of evangelicals today do not believe that. Millions do, however, including many Pentecostals. Does Sarah Palin?

Why does she support Israel?

Although there are only 6,000 Jews in Alaska, Gov. Palin keeps a flag of Israel in her office and has spoken of her deep, personal, lifelong commitment to the Jewish state. Not even George W. Bush has ever said anything like that. She attends churches that read the Bible literally, and her former pastor in Wasilla says that her biblical worldview is central to her policies. Does that contribute to her love of Israel? Does she believe literally in God's promise to give the entire Holy Land to the Jews, and that Isreal fulfills prophecies of Christ's second coming?

Many Christian Zionists, including Pentecostals, see Arab opposition to Israel as Satan's attempt to block God's plan to redeem the world through the Jews. Does Palin? Perhaps not. In her debate with Joe Biden, she endorsed a two-state solution, which suggests that she is not solely guided by biblical literalism. But there are many streams of conservative Christianity. Many evangelicals will respect Israel's decisions and unhappily accept a Palestinian state, despite their belief that it will delay God's plan. What does Sarah Palin believe?

The writer, chairman of the English Department at Stony Brook University, is the author of Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism (Oxford), which will be published in November.

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