We had a cuts-n-copy session this week for an upcoming show on Democrats and religion, with Time Magazine editor Amy Sullivan, herself an Evangelical Christian. Mitch had placed some fabulous music in the rough version of the show: the Campbell Brothers performing Sam Cooke’s yearning “A Change Is Gonna Come”. But it gave me pause, because one of the points Amy Sullivan makes in the course of her interview with Krista is that liberal Democrats have historically “delegated” religion to black churches, and have been uninterested in engaging with white Christian piety in this country. Sullivan argues that in 2008 this changed, with much more evidence of a vibrant religious presence — albeit a self-conscious & studiously interfaith one — at the DNC.

Still, it seems to me there is not only a political but a racial divide in how we members of the media, and the liberal “intelligentsia,” perceive devotional practices that fall outside the mainline habit of sitting up straight in church while being lectured.

Sarah Palin, a white person who was at least at one time associated with the energetic devotions of Pentecostal worship is handily dismissed by many liberals as — therefore — a kook. Apparently white people are dismissible if they engage in ecstatic devotion, at least for Jesus. But the same liberal sensibility finds the ecstatic worship of African-American Pentecostalism charming, authentic, and soulful. What gives? I think this is racism of a pernicious variety.

We accept the full-bodied worship of African-Americans because, at least subliminally, they are still The Other — that is, they are other than the dominant, hyper-rational, majority white culture.

I’m not an apologist for Palin or any candidate, nor am I an apologist for Pentecostalism, though I do sometimes find Pentecostalism’s fervor and emotionalism persuasive, beautiful, and deep. I just don’t like what I smell underneath the high-toned dismissal of Palin’s Pentecostal roots, when it’s accompanied by the wholesale enthusiasm for our cultural appropriation of gospel music, blues, and soul.

Share Your Reflection



Whew! What a post! Thank you so much, from the pasty white heart of a woman who likes to celebrate her beliefs with enthusiasm. Both the intellect and the emotions have very important roles in religious expression and it is one of the strongest opportunities for ethnic groups to learn from each other.

It sounds like you’re using racism as a rational for “liberal Democrat’s” alleged aversion to Pentecostal and Evangelical forms of Christianity as practiced by white people. Over the last eight years we’ve witnessed an out and out war against our freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Power-hungry church leaders such as Pat Robertson have systematically attempted to ram a doctrine of fear, greed and hatred down our throats. Speaking of Faith seems to be anxious to point out that there is an entire gamut of beliefs and tolerance in the Evangelical world. That’s good news. But don’t you think a little patience on your part might be in order? And come on now, “Sarah Palin, a white person who was at least at one time associated with the energetic devotions of Pentecostal worship...” Sarah Palin was raised in an Assembly of God church and remained a member until 2002. She continues to worship at various Assembly of God churches. You are no doubt aware of the 2005 video of Reverend Thomas Muthee giving a guest sermon at the Wasilla, Alaska Assembly of God church. After Reverend Muthee finished outlining a prescribed mission where “God's kingdom infiltrates seven areas of our society”, including politics, government and education, he brought Sarah Palin up to the front of the congregation and led them in a prayer that God would make sure she was elected Governor. That’s not what I consider, “ecstatic devotion.” That’s religious totalitarianism. Perhaps I’m not the typical liberal Democrat, but I have the same antipathy towards the African-American Pentecostal assertion that Christianity is the “only way” to “salvation” as I do any white version of it. However, I do have a deep reverence for gospel, blues and soul; as well as jazz, rock n roll, Negro spiritual, R&B and hip-hop--all of which has been, sadly, culturally appropriated by the white mainstream: Democrats and Republicans alike. That music is a testament to the creative power of the human spirit. No matter how the white world abuses, appropriates and exploits African-Americans, their music remains the single most defining contribution to American arts and culture. Indeed, it is the living American spirit.
I’ve had my own experience with Evangelical-Pentecostal-Charismatic-Assembly of God forms of Christianity, which apparently weren’t as fulfilling as yours. I am glad it has been of benefit to you. I have found a different tradition that brings me enormously rich spiritual nourishment. Mine is no better than yours. I hope you can honestly say the same thing.