When Sarah Palin began shopping around a "Planet Earth-type" reality series based in Alaska earlier this month, the media responded with its usual gleeful incredulity: Caribou Barbie on a fishing boat! The former governor is reportedly seeking upwards of $1 million per episode, and, with Discovery and A&E interested in the project, she just might get it. Not only are her antics the best thing for Internet pageviews since Paris Hilton invented the no-panties dismount, they're TV ratings gold. Jimmy Fallon said it best, "Any reality show about Sarah Palin will have to compete with that other reality show about Sarah Palin: the news."
If you're among those speculating about Palin's intentions, I'm here to help. As a casualty of a tongues-speaking, faith-healing, demon-battling storefront church childhood, I keep track of Pentecostals and Charismatics the way some people stalk abusive exes, and I have a sick feeling that I can decode this new iteration of her mission for you.
"Planet Earth," like many of Palin's favorite phrases, has one innocuous set of associations for the population at large, and also an inflammatory shadow resonance for her base. While most of us naturally think of the popular documentary series, the touchstone for holy-rollers is Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, an incendiary fundamentalist text published in 1970 that forecast the imminent dawn of the End Times.
Lindsey purported to read the Bible in conjunction with the events of the day, and advanced a detailed prophecy: within a decade, the Antichrist would wrest control from the world's governments, the Jews would flock to Israel, war would erupt in the Middle East, plagues would rain down, and Spirit-filled Christians would need to convert as many heathens as possible while preparing to be swept away in the Rapture.
Those Left Behind would endure the Tribulation starving and diseased; any who still failed to repent or who took the Mark of the Beast — bar codes on their hands and foreheads — before the Lord's return would be consigned to the Lake of Fire for all eternity.
Planet Earth was the "no. 1 non-fiction bestseller of the decade," according to the New York Times. It had its own shelf at my mother's fundamentalist bookstore.
Since then, Lindsey has (with his co-author) published sequels — including Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, The Liberation of Planet Earth, and Planet Earth: The Final Chapter — and become one of the Rapture Ready crowd's elder statesmen.
During the last presidential campaign, he emerged to proclaim Obama a messenger sent by Satan to pave the way for the Antichrist. Other End Times pundits argued that Obama is the Antichrist. No doubt there were vicious arguments between the factions about how the Tribulation countdown clock should be adjusted, but when Assembly-of-God-raised Sarah Palin was named McCain's running-mate, the fundies united to rejoice. She had, they felt sure, been sent by God to battle the Satanic Obama.
I suspect Palin herself believes God chose her for this purpose.
Palin's autobiography, Going Rogue, is an erratic, cagey, and self-glorifying book. It's also (thanks to her ghostwriter) a canny exercise in dog whistle politics, a narrative intended to electrify her base while benignly appealing to the broadest possible audience.
Her family, she says, left the Catholic church after Palin's mother "became interested in an expanded faith," "sought further spiritual fulfillment," and turned to the "most â€˜alive' congregation," "our local Assembly of God." "Alive" in this context means Spirit-filled — tongues-speaking, faith-healing, prophesying, demon-eradicating — in contrast to traditional (as my mother would say, "dead") Protestant outfits like the Baptists and Methodists and Lutherans.
Palin depicts her race for governor as a David-and-Goliath fight, one she valiantly took on because of a "fire in my belly" that led her toward the victory God had planned for her. "Fire" reads like mere passion to the uninitiated, but for Palin and her ilk, it's a signal of God's anointing, evidence of a spiritual design and blessing that covers her political career — and, as the book winds on, her decision to jump from the governorship. Whatever Palin does, then, is what God intended; those who question her are by definition ungodly.
Mocked a couple weeks ago for writing part of a Tea Party convention speech on her hand, she defended herself by citing Isaiah 49:16: "'See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.'"
"If it was good enough for God, scribbling on the palm of his hand," she said, "it's good enough for me,"
Going Rogue craftily implies a distance between Palin and the Wasilla Assembly of God, the Pentecostal church she was baptized into in the frigid waters of Little Beaver Lake as a child and officially left a few years ago.
Although she characterizes her former house of worship as a place "I hadn't attended regularly since I was a teenager," three months before landing on the Republican ticket she visited the church, stood at the pulpit, and spoke of "having grown up here, and having little kids grow up here also." She joked that, because of her background, "Nothing freaks me out about the worship service."
While standing before the congregation that day, Palin allowed the pastor and another minister to lay hands on her and to pray that the Lord would give her wisdom and strength to make the right decisions about "natural resources" as Alaska becomes "a refuge for the lower forty-eight" in "the last days."
She giddily recalled the day in 2005 that demon-obsessed Kenyan bishop Thomas Muthee laid hands on her for victory in politics. "He didn't know what I was going to do," she said, but he's "so bold," he just kept saying, "Lord, make a way." Muthee also called on God to protect Palin from "every form of witchcraft." (Those last three links are to videos, by the way, so you can see the proceedings for yourself. The Muthee clip is especially disturbing. A warning for anyone with a background like mine: may induce flashbacks.)
To view her submission to these prayers as political pandering is to underestimate the zeal and hubris of someone like Palin. "'She scares me,'" a liberal Wasilla pastor has said. "'She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face… [P]eople in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology."
This is pretty mainline evangelical stuff, but there's every reason to believe her religious convictions only get more extreme. If the media spent less time being entertained by Palin's antics, and more examining her connections, they'd find ample evidence of her fanaticism.
Bruce Wilson and others have done an excellent job compiling proof of Palin's connection to a Charismatic group of New Apostolics, who advance "the most radical restructuring of Christianity since the Reformation" and "believe they are unifying an end time church that will harvest millions of souls before the return of Jesus."
In a 2008 sermon, New Apostolic Mary Glazier repeatedly Hallelujahed over Palin, who she says joined her prayer group in 1989, at twenty-four years old, and spoke at that time of entering politics, and who ultimately dedicated Alaska to Jesus Christ in her gubernatorial address many years later. ("Hallelujah! Hallelujah!")
Evidently Palin really does — or until recently did — look to Glazier for spiritual guidance. Earlier in 2008, according to a profile in the Christian magazine Charisma, Palin called Glazier, "asked her to pray with her over the phone," and invited her to the Governor's prayer breakfast.
Shortly before the 2008 presidential election, Glazier predicted that a terrorist event would leave "Sarah Palin standing alone … mantled with the American flag. The flag was upside down because things are inverted (upside down) right now. I knew she was stepping into an office that she was mantled for."
"God," Glazier has said, "is preparing a people to displace the ones whose sin is rising… [One group] is removed, and the church moves in and takes the territory…. [The displaced people] are given an opportunity to change allegiances." How thoughtful.
Not only Palin, but Alaska itself, has been chosen. Glazier sees "the membrane [of the Spirit of God] bulging over this state. There is a fullness that we are coming into. And God … is going to cause something to happen out of the land of Alaska, and it will sweep south and across because Alaska is one of the global gates from the earth."
Like Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, and many other fundamentalist leaders, Glazier believes in "Spiritual Mapping" — the idea that Satan can and does possess entire territories, while the Lord, with the help of Christians like her, keeps other areas holy.
John Dawson's Taking Our Cities For God: How to Break Spiritual Strongholds is a seminal book in this movement. Building on the exorcism obsession of 80s Charismatics, he emphasized the need to "deliver the dark city."
"According to the Bible our lives are lived in the midst of an invisible spiritual war," he wrote. "Have you thought about the battle for your immediate neighborhood?"
If not, Dawson and friends have thought about it for you: "We associate New York with mammon, Chicago with violence, Miami with political intrigue. Getting the exact name of demons at any level is not necessary, but it is important to be aware of the specific nature or type of oppression."
Have you ever seen a Charismatic deliverance session? No? Here you go.
Now imagine this kind of delusion encompassing a preacher's perception of an entire country, and you start to get some sense of how frightening the implications are of a televangelist like Pat Robertson (who is technically a Southern Baptist but seems to have veered Charismatic) saying Haiti is cursed because of a deal with the devil.
In 2005, Jeff Sharlet visited Global Harvest's World Prayer Center, the Spiritual Warfare headquarters, and reported on their computerized mapping database and "Worldwide Focus" prayer requests.
Sometimes these are domestic-USA: Pray for the Arlington Group, pastors working with Whitehouse to renew Marriage Amendm. Pray for appts. of new justices. Pray for Pastor meetings with Amb. of Israel, and President Bush. Lord, let them speak only your words, represent YOU! Bless! But more often they are international- N. KOREA: Pray God will crush demonic stronghold and communist regime of Kim Jung Il.
The Iraqis come up often, particularly with regard to their conversion: Despite the efforts of the news media, believing soldiers and others testify to the effective preaching of the Gospel, and the openness of so many to hear of Jesus. Pray for continued success! ….
The most common Iraq-related prayer requests, however, are strategic in the most worldly sense, such as this one: Baghdad-God, press back the enemy…
The notion of Spiritual Warfare in the End Times is common to all the Charismatic sects I've been exposed to. My mother (a sometime preacher) and her friends have been combating demons and awaiting the Rapture since 1979.
What's alarming to me about Global Harvest, though, is that it seems (from the outside; my mom and I don't talk about these things anymore, so my window into this world is limited now) to be highly organized and well-funded. It's gathering many disparate Pentecostal and Charismatic groups under its umbrella as it divides the world into Satanic and godly zones and prepares for a holy battle.
She also toes the fundamentalist line on the Middle East. Just last week she said Obama should push the reset button on our relations with our ally Israel. "'The Obama Administration has decided to escalate, make unilateral demands of Israel, and threaten the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship,'" she wrote. "'The Obama Administration needs to open its eyes and recognize that it is only Iran and her terrorist allies that benefit from this manufactured Israeli controversy.'"
When she met with evangelist Billy Graham last year, she "quizzed him on the presidents he's known and wanted his take on what the Bible says about Israel, Iran and Iraq."
"I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon," she told Barbara Walters, "because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."
As Rod Dreher observes, one expert estimates that between 50 and 60 million American evangelicals share Palin's belief "about the Jewish ingathering to Israel in advance of the Apocalypse — but can you imagine an American president making her foreign policy based on a belief that The Late, Great Planet Earth is a reliable source of information about the future?"
Like Glazier, Palin believes her home state is special. Alaskans, she said in her first speech as Governor, "live in a land that God, with incredible benevolence, decided to overwhelmingly bless."
"I could feel the energy in that arena," she wrote, "and I knew it could flow across the entire state… and there'd be new energy for a new future!"
"Alaska is all over the world map right now," she told the Wasilla Assembly of God in 2008, as she called on God to give the state a pipeline and urged the congregation to pray that the United States is doing His will in Iraq. "What comes from this church," she said, "I think has great destiny." She asked the Lord to grant them a "spirit of prophecy" for the days ahead.
Viewed in light of all the End-Times mumbo-jumbo, Palin's retirement makes a certain amount of (addled) sense. Why settle for a mere governorship when you are meant to be Pre-Tribulation Queen of the Righteous as the United States government falls?
Palin's holy zone, naturally, would be headquartered in her home state. As Jews gather in Israel, the Antichrist appears, Satan activates the heathens, and the spiritual battle begins, her flock is intended to migrate and join her there.
True, she's not ruling out a run for the presidency. Perhaps the Lord has not yet made her path to rulership clear, so she has to hedge her bets. Luckily, Planet Earth: Alaska will help no matter how He directs her path!
What better way to let the Christian soldiers know where to congregate than a family-friendly educational show focused on the The Last Frontier? A show that stresses Alaska's beauty, diversity and natural resources. A show that advances a creationist agenda. And a show that, like Going Rogue, speaks from time to time of aliveness, energy and fire — terms that inspire Palin's (and God's) future army while just sounding pretty to everybody else.
Maud Newton has been writing about writing and reading at her blog since 2002.