BUZZFLASH: Of the many Christian denominations, what general denomination does Sarah Palin belong to?
Bruce Wilson: Well, if we simply look at Palin's Alaska churches, there's no clear answer - Sarah Palin belonged to Wasilla Assembly of God for over twenty years, up until 2002. The head pastor, Ed Kalnins says she maintains a "friendship" with his church and still attends seminars and special events there -- including speaking at the graduation of the Master's Commission class this past spring. When she is in residence in Juneau she attends Juneau Christian Church which is also a member of Assemblies of God. She also is currently a member of an independent church in Wasilla. So it might seem appropriate to peg Palin as being in the Assembly of God but that would be very misleading, because both of those churches are in a non-denominational movement that's independent from, and actively trying to take over, not only the Assemblies of God but all other branches and denominations of Christianity.
BUZZFLASH: Within that denomination, is she an adherent of a particular type of theological movement?
Bruce Wilson: Journalists who simply try to answer the question as to what Sarah Palin's denominational affiliation is are completely missing the point. Just because a church is attached to a particular denomination doesn't mean it teaches that denomination's official religious doctrine. I've been working in a research team that has put in probably hundreds of hours into studying what goes on in her churches as well - listening to sermons, identifying guest speakers and seminar leaders, analyzing church curricula. To know what a church believes, look to what it teaches kids and young adults. On that basis, we can show Palin's churches teach believes well out side of the traditional Assemblies of God teachings.
What our research tells us is that both of Palin's Assembly of God churches are deeply involved in a movement called the Third Wave or New Apostolic Reformation, a religious movement in Christianity that's been gathering force for the last several decades and which rejects denominationalism completely.
Third Wave beliefs are so different from traditional Assemblies of God belief that the national body of the Assemblies of God denounced Third Wave beliefs, in 1949 and again in 2000, as heresy. I can't say with certainty what Palin personally believes but she certainly has been extensively exposed to the Third Wave worldview and theology.
It's a movement that claims, under the rubric of Christian unity, that all Christian denominations are invalid--their members aren't true Christians or, at least, they aren't truly saved. This is a sort of hyper-fundamentalism which thinks that not only all Protestant denominations, but the Catholic Church as well, aren't valid expressions of Christianity. And, not too surprisingly, the movement thinks all other religious and philosophical belief systems on earth are invalid too and even under demonic influence.
I have been writing about this regularly at Talk2action.org and have posted two videos on the movement and the ties to Palin's churches. This movement is drawing from many different denominations, not just Assemblies of God, but these particular churches happen to be very well connected to the Third Wave/New Apostolic Reformation movement. Just to add a wonkish note - we're using those terms because those are the terms that both the movement and its critics (and there are lots of them) within fundamentalist Christianity use. The Third Wave is part of a movement that's been around for decades, but the New Apostolic Reformation is very, very recent -- it's come out only in the last decade or decade and a half. But it's growing explosively.
BUZZFLASH: What are some of the more extremist views of this movement?
Bruce Wilson: Well, they believe in raising up an "end-time" last-generation army that will cleanse the world of evil, as they themselves define it. They also say that believing Christians can develop the power to raise the dead. And, they're not waiting around for the rapture.
Now, even though the idea of the Rapture may still seem new and shocking to some Americans, that idea is really part of long standing, orthodox Assemblies of God belief. Unfortunately, much of the press has drawn the conclusion from her denominational background that Palin believes in the doomsday end time narrative in which the born again believers are waiting to be suddenly yanked from the earth in the Rapture and everyone else will be left to the mercy of the Antichrist.
We've heard a lot about this theology in recent years with the attention to the Left Behind Series and televangelists like John Hagee. But Palin's churches, particularly Wasilla Assembly of God where Palin has spent most of her adult life, have a much more aggressive theology. They haven't completely discarded some of the narrative of the Rapture but they have a very different spin on it. In their version, the end time church is going to a great conquering power -- sort of like the Tribulation Force in the Left Behind books -- but they are starting now [here on earth through seizing governmental power].
BUZZFLASH: Most Americans believe in the separation of church and state and follow their religious beliefs but do not impose them on others. Does Palin's church believe that it is its mission to convert others to its religious outlook?
Bruce Wilson: The short answer to that is - they reject separation of church and state altogether.
The longer version is: they're working to bring about a Christian theocratic government which, writes head of Morningstar Ministries Rick Joyner, "may seem totalitarian at first."
Once again, they are not waiting around for the Rapture. In that doomsday scenario the true believers escape the world before the violence really gets going and the ungodly are ultimately destroyed. The danger in that theology is that since they believe the world is spiraling to a terrible end anyway, why bother preserving the environment? Also, they find everything from war to natural disaster quite exciting because it means the Rapture is near. So, for instance, Hagee very blatantly preached to his congregation that the Iraq war would bring about the Rapture.
Third Wavers, on the other hand, believe that God is anointing them with special powers in order for them to battle the ungodly themselves, and that Jesus can't actually return until they have finished conquering the world. This is actually a much more aggressive endtime belief than the one that people are attributing to her, and it means that journalists are asking the wrong questions.
The central figure in this movement named it the New Apostolic Reformation about a decade ago because they believe that they will conquer the world by conducting spiritual warfare around the globe to expel demons and transform cities. In order to do this churches are supposed to be reconstructed under the authority of Apostles and Prophets anointed for those roles by God. They believe that all other churches and religions that don't accept this outpouring of supernatural powers and join their battle are obstacles to their mission. And, it doesn't stop with "spiritual warfare" - they believe the battle in the spiritual realm precedes the physical realm and their army of God is networked all over the world from Kazakhstan to Korea, preparing to battle the ungodly.
BUZZFLASH: You have collected and disseminated over the Internet available footage from Palin's church. What are some of the more provocative things that you found in viewing the videotapes?
Bruce Wilson: My video clips are mostly from Wasilla Assembly of God and its Master's Commission program, from Morningstar Ministries and of Bishop Thomas Muthee. Wasilla Assembly of God and their pastor have very close ties to Morningstar and Muthee's ministry, and both are major players in the Third Wave. The video and other videos which I and my research team have linked to in our articles, show things like people making cell phone calls to zap their friends from a distances, to 'anoint' or "slay them in the spirit'. There's healing through expelling demons, Holy Laughter, etc.
In some of the video clips, Wasilla people talk about learning to raise from the dead. In an audio of a sermon, by Wasilla's head pastor Ed Kalnins, he leads his church in a frenzied, building song (there's a heavy bass guitar accompaniment) about "breaking the back of the enemy." It's supposed to be about internal spiritual struggle. He also declared a "Jehu Anointing" on his church. Jehu was an Old Testament character who violently dealt with Jezebel, who had brought Baal worship to Israel. Jehu ran her over with his chariot, her blood spattered the walls of the temple, Jehu's soldiers slaughter the 400 Temple priests of Baal - and so on.
One recent speaker at the Wasilla Assembly of God described his young kids as his "Bin Ladens" - and he seemed quite serious about that. In one of the video clips from Morningstar Ministries, the Morningstar Executive Vice President Steve Thompson shouts to his audience about how Jesus is waiting until the enemies of God are put under the feet of the body of Christ.
This movement shouldn't be taken as some sort of circus. It knows how to have fun, and it doesn't let down its hair because its hair is down to begin with. But, it's anything but casual - rather, it's very, very serious and focused on conquest.
The manifestations that you see in their worship amount to their growing divine empowerment, with supernatural abilities, as part of an end-time army for God. The army is referred to in the movement as Joel's Army or Gideon's Army and they are particularly successful in attracting young people. Keep in mind that much of religion in this country today, particularly from what we call the Religious Right, is direct marketing. You don't just get it from your church but from television, all kinds of media, and participation in the kind of youth events that this movement is holding all over the country. These events are something like a cross between church and a Grateful Dead concert and the message has a great appeal to young people. They have music - often really good music - and free form dancing, lots of atmospheric lighting - it's very sensually oriented. People can dress pretty much as they like - it's very casual - and there aren't many strict behavioral rules if it falls in the realm of spiritual expression.
BUZZFLASH: Of the many peculiar and atavistic views held by Palin, she is among the extremists who is opposed to even teaching abstinence education because it implicitly raises the issue of sex. How does one come to this bizarre perspective, especially considering that Palin herself was allegedly pregnant when married and her teen daughter became pregnant and is still not married?
Bruce Wilson: This movement is also rabidly anti-choice. If you ever saw the movie Jesus Camp, where the kids hold little plastic fetuses and scream and cry, then march in D.C. with tape over their mouths - that was this movement. Becky Fischer was with Morningstar Ministries and Lou Engle, who took the kids to DC, is a Prophet in one of the inner circles of leadership. They are so focused on the evil of abortion and fighting teaching kids about contraception that the use of birth control can become more of an evil than the sex itself. The bio of one of the junior pastors at another church that Palin has attended, states that he has taught abstinence in public schools.
BUZZFLASH: Although Palin is part of a distinct sect of Dominionism believers, can you explain how Dominionists believe that all the resources and environment of the earth were put here to be used up by men and women without concern for conservation? Does this relate to End-Times adherents?
Bruce Wilson: This is another place where journalists are missing the boat. The doomsday endtime believers were not at all concerned about the physical earth and therefore didn't care about global warming or limited resources. The Third Wave puts a slightly different spin on this. They are planning to take control of the world so they do have some concerns about the environment. However, they again believe that you do this through the expulsion of demons. Our research team recently posted a story on the Transformations videos. This is where the story of Thomas Muthee chasing the witch out of Kiambu was originally told. Muthee anointed Palin before she became governor. The Transformation video also demonstrates their belief that you save the environment through this same spiritual warfare. This video and other examples that they use supposedly show that you can save the earth, and have supernaturally large harvests, after the territorial demons are expelled and the area is thoroughly Christianized with their type of belief.
It is reported that Palin won her bid for mayor of Wasilla because she ran on an anti-abortion platform, bringing in religious and culture war issues to a race in which only a few hundred votes were cast. Is there any reason to believe that she won't seek to impose her religious beliefs on America were she to become president?
BUZZFLASH: No. This is also one of the most aggressive movements in the push to tear down the wall between church and state. They actually go further than many in the Religious Right and believe that their Apostolic structure will become the new authority in the United States and the world. Furthermore, their obsession with driving out demons means that the end always justifies the means. If you are against them, you are working for the devil. The New Apostolic Reformation has a current campaign called Seven Mountains. My research team will be reporting on this soon on Talk2action.org. This is about their efforts to take control of society and government and they blatantly state their intent to do so. The seven mountains are religion, family, education, arts, media, government, and business. They believe that once they take full control of these seven mountains they will be well on their way to conquering evil in the world.
This means that they see everything from science to foreign policy through the paradigm of combating what they call powerful territorial demons. They soft pedal this by saying they are fighting the demons not people through strategic level spiritual warfare. However, the example of Muthee driving out the witch and many other Transformations stories demonstrate that they are not squeamish about imposing their will on others. This is the ultimate in faith-based policy. If you drive out the demons and set up your Christian community under the authority of God-anointed Apostles and Prophets, your social and environmental problems go away.
BUZZFLASH: If so many journalists including others who cover religion are getting this wrong, how do you have this information?
Our small research team happened to have been working for several months on a related story. My colleague, who writes under the name Ruth on Talk2action.org, has spent the last six years specializing in Christian Zionism. We were working on the involvement in John Hagee's Christians United for Israel, CUFI, by a number of major Apostles and Prophets in this movement, including the hosting of joint events attended by churches and Jewish leaders. Without going into a lot of theological details, the doomsday endtime scenario required that Jews move to Israel and rebuild the Third Temple. Like you can see in the other examples, this shifting theology also means changes to the meaning of Christian Zionism and we have been working to document those changes.
The movement in its current organized state is also quite new and that makes it hard to report. Also, it sees itself as the unified church of the end times so they resist being easily labeled as a denomination. Strands of this movement have been around for decades, and it is actually a revival of a movement from the 1940s, but what has happened in just the last ten to fifteen years is that the movement has become better institutionalized. It has also managed to take over large numbers of Pentecostal and independent churches. For instance, they credit themselves with bringing the Australia Assemblies of God around to their theology, and that denomination has recently changed its name to the Australian Christian Churches. The leader of the denomination during much of this transition then went on to found Australia's Family First Party. In addition to the Apostolic network that we've been writing about, there are many others around the world that are networking together and share the same theology, and interconnect through revivals, schools, media, etc.
Despite the fact that this movement appears to be invisible to most people, it is well known to some other Evangelical groups. There are hundreds of internet sites documenting their activities and a lot of controversy about their animosity toward other churches that refuse to join in their beliefs and their embrace of a very hypercharismatic style of worship.
We had spent many hundreds of hours on this, so we were very familiar with the New Apostolic Reformation and its leadership before Palin was named. The movement has very unique characteristics including its own very colorful lingo. They use a great deal of militant terminology and have given names to various aspects of their spiritual warfare efforts and operations. We immediately recognized that Palin's churches were plugged into the movement's top organizations and leaders, and have been working around the clock to try to get this information out to the public. Again, we cannot speak for what Palin thinks, but we have now digested hundreds more hours of sermons, videos, curriculum, etc. and feel confident that this movement has at least had some impact on her world view. Regardless of Palin's future in politics, this is a story that needs to be out there because this is a rapidly growing threat to the separation of church and state.
Email interview by Mark Karlin.
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The Laughing Church: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_CkZWTvKBc
Is Palin's Church a Cult? http://vimeo.com/1679097
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW