Nick Broomfield’s documentary Sarah Palin – You Betcha! has just been broadcast on British television. The film includes some discussion of Palin’s religious background.
Near the start of the programme, Palin’s parents explain to Broomfield that the family had left Roman Catholicism and been re-baptised into the Assemblies of God while Sarah was a child. The reason they did this is not given (and Broomfield doesn’t ask), although it seems likely that social pressure played a role: in Alexandria, Egypt, a former classmate named Yvonne Bashelier claimed that Palin and her friends have a “spiritual bond” through the Assemblies of God:
To go against Sarah would be to go against your church, whether you agree with her or not, and going against your church and your community is a pretty powerful thing…
As for non-evangelicals:
A lot of it was unspoken pressure. You just got left out of the group. People wouldn’t speak to you, Sarah would encourage other people not to talk to you.
This sets the tone for a brief overview of evangelical beliefs that follows: Bashelier recalls being warned by Palin about how non-believers would “burn in hell”; Phil Munger recounts that Palin had “disclosed” to him that she was a Young Earth Creationist; and Howard Bess – a local retired Baptist pastor who has clashed with Palin – warned that Palin’s religion is that of “apocalyptic Christians” and that she would have “no bad conscience about triggering a nuclear war”. Palin’s beliefs are also illustrated by the famous footage of her being prayed over by Pastor Thomas Muthee (although not named) and some generic fundamentalist videos (sources are not given).
Broomfield goes on to explain how Palin’s beliefs and church association allegedly played out in her political life:
Sarah supported evangelical groups who disapproved of books on homosexuality being available at the library. While members of the church burnt and destroyed the books, Sarah tried to have them removed.
This is illustrated by some (again unsourced) footage of an unidentified man burning some unidentifiable books as part of a bonfire, and I found this section of the film troubling. Claims from 2008 that Palin had attempted to have certain books banned failed to withstand scrutiny, and the accusation that members of her church burnt the titles she sought to have removed is, I believe, a new one. Certainly, there have been documented cases of Assemblies of God churches holding book burnings from time to time elsewhere in the USA, but it’s not a common practice and Broomfield fails to show clearly that the same thing happened in Wasilla.
The suspicion that there is some sloppy conflation going on is heightened soon after, when general conservative Christian hostility to homosexuality is illustrated by stock footage of an anti-gay protest by the Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro’s “God Hates Fags” banners have nothing to do with religion in Alaska, yet Broomfield allows images of Westboro Baptist signs to fade into an image of Palin holding a gun. Broomfield speaks to gay activists in Wasilla who have undoubtedly suffered from religiously-inspired homophobic abuse, but the imagery here is simply misleading.
Later in the programme, Broomfield trails Palin to a “Women of Joy” Christian women’s conference in Oklahoma, and the camera captures another speaker at the event railing against abortion and homosexuality. For some unaccountable reason, this section also includes Broomfield indulging in a witless stunt involving a megaphone.
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