Palin, Jesus and Witches???

Seven days before America elects a new leadership team, Newsweek is making a last-ditch attempt to portray GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as a religious nut.

In her article "Jesus and Witches," Newsweek Religion Editor Lisa Miller suggests Palin believes in witchcraft, thinks the world is coming to a fiery end in her lifetime, and may have a "special sense of destiny" fueled by her "apocalyptic theology" and Alaskan "Last Frontier identity." Miller even hints Palin may be anti-Semitic.

The ominous subhead reads: "Video clips of Sarah Palin attending Alaska church services have raised questions about her views on Christianity and government." Miller raises those questions, but she never answers them. If you go to the story expecting to find fresh information about Palin's theological views and how she might apply them to public policy, you'll be badly disappointed.

Instead, Miller leads off by rehashing a 2005 video clip, long circulated on YouTube, of Palin being prayed over by her former pastor and a pastor from Kenya. Miller describes Kenyan preacher Thomas Muthee as, ‘a Pentecostal powerhouse who has a reputation for being able to cast out demons and witches through prayer." Muthee "urges the congregation to pray for Palin's success" in her political endeavors, and follows with a blessing: "In the name of Jesus. Every form of witchcraft is what you rebuke." Ipso facto, Palin must believe some of her neighbors ride broomsticks under the full moon.

Miller is fully aware of the impression that the video leaves with some viewers: "Left-wing observers cite the clip as evidence that Palin is a right-wing Christian nut who believes in witches and exorcisms and, most probably, in crazy end-times scenarios."

Miller cites a Pew study which claims that, "a third of American evangelicals believe the world will end in their lifetime." She then provides only the flimsiest evidence that Palin agrees: "According to a September piece on Salon.com, Palin told a political opponent in Wasilla she believes the same." This is thirdhand, through two hostile sources.

Rather than go straight to Palin and ask what she believes, Miller prefers to speculate about Palin's end-time beliefs by discussing her "religious milieu":

"Though we may never know what Palin really believes about God, we do know a lot about the religious milieu in which she lives... This worldview can best be summed up as ‘very conservative Christian plus Alaska.'"

According to Miller, "In a Pentecostal worldview, God talks directly to the righteous and the righteous talk to God." Pentecostals "...believe the world will end in a fiery battle sooner rather than later; that the forces of good (that is, Christians) will win," and "Christians are taught to think of themselves as soldiers in the cosmic battle between good and evil." For their part, Alaskans "see their wilderness as a refuge from the evil and corruption of the world."

Miller builds up to a frightening warning: "An apocalyptic theology combined with a Last Frontier identity can give evangelicals like Palin a special sense of destiny." And what might that destiny entail? Among other things, a vague threat against Israel: "Some Jews are suspicious about how Christians with end-times theology view Israel-and with good reason; certain fringe Christian sects hold that Jews deserve God's punishment for denying the divinity of Jesus."

Miller quickly acknowledges that "Palin has strongly and repeatedly articulated her support for Israel." She offers this caveat, however, in an article whose principal message is that Palin's churches are rather fringy, and she follows it immediately with a "but":

But among the most controversial YouTube clips is one of David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, preaching at the Wasilla Bible Church on the same day Palin was there for her new baby Trig's dedication ceremony. Brickner preached that terrorism in Israel was God's judgment on the Jews for their not believing in Jesus-comments that were roundly denounced by Jewish groups.

As a religion editor, Miller should know that Brickner's view that terrorism is God's judgment on Israel is not a belief accepted widely among evangelical Christians. In any case she should have added that there is no reason to suppose that Palin shares Brickner's perspective.

"Jesus and Witches" may be shoddy journalism, but it appears to be attractive propaganda. The article is currently at the top of Newsweek's "Most Viewed" list.