The 2004 video, which began airing on the Internet last week, shows Kenyan Bishop Thomas Muthee calling Palin to the front of a church to lay hands on her and pray to keep her safe from “every form of witchcraft.”
“Make her way, my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus…Use her to turn this nation the other way around,” Muthee said while placing his hands upon Palin. “Talk to God about this woman. We declare, save her from Satan.”
The “witchcraft” line in particular caught the attention of liberal pundits and bloggers. Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s “Countdown,” called the video “terrifying” and said it made the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the much-criticized ex-pastor of Barack Obama, look “pretty mainstream” in comparison.
But religious experts said there was nothing untoward in the video, which they said shows a fairly routine religious ceremony. Misunderstanding over it has grown because of the McCain campaign’s refusal to comment on the video, suggesting that the campaign was on uncomfortable footing with Palin’s religion, the experts said.
Jacob K. Olupana, a religion professor at Harvard, said the campaign appears to have been caught flat- footed when trying to answer questions on Palin’s faith. “I’m not sure they understand it,” he said.
“What you saw was something very basic that happens in a Pentecostal church,” said Anthea Butler, a religion professor at the University of Rochester. “You would see this in any Pentecostal church on any given Sunday.”
But while the practice may not have been unusual for Palin’s faith, the McCain campaign did not push back very hard against media’s coverage of the video, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and got prime placement on top liberal blogs, including The Huffington Post, Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo. Instead, the campaign has highlighted Palin’s “nondenominational evangelical” beliefs, while rarely mentioning her many years in a Pentecostal church.
“Why can’t the campaign articulate what she is about?” Butler asked. “I don’t think they knew,” she said, or else they were “trying to mask” Palin’s true views.
The McCain campaign has not addressed Muthee or his blessing of Palin and declined to comment on the video for this story.
To see more videos on Palin’s church click here. If you’re in the deciphering mode that is!
When asked about the Alaska governor’s religious background, the McCain campaign said in an e-mail that Palin was baptized in a Catholic church as an infant, was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in High School, and has been a member of the Wasilla Bible Church — “a nondenominational, evangelical church” — for the last seven years.
The Alaska governor’s religion gets no mention in her biography on the campaign’s website; campaign officials say that she does not consider herself to be a Pentecostal.
As a teenager, Palin joined the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church in Wasilla. She was baptized in the church and, along with her husband and children, attended the church until 2002. Since then, the Palins have attended the Wasilla Bible Church, an Evangelical church.
Butler said that at the Pentecostal baptism, Palin likely would have been expected to speak in tongues. Some members of the Wasilla Assembly of God reportedly do speak in tongues as part of their practice, though officials from Palin’s campaign and the church both say she did not.
In a statement on its website, Pain’s former church notes that she “has maintained a friendship with Wasilla Assembly of God and has attended various conferences and special meetings here.”
It was during one of those appearances in June that Palin called the Iraq war “a task that is from God.”
During that same appearance, Palin credited Bishop Muthee’s prayers for her becoming governor.
“As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me,” Palin said. “He said, ‘Lord, make a way and let her do this next step.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
Some of Muthee’s beliefs come from his experiences in Kenya, where he and wife, Margaret, founded a church in a violent area on the outskirts of Nairobi in 1988.
According to a 1999 Christian Science Monitor article, Muthee decided that witchcraft, specifically a spirit inhabiting a local woman named “Mama Jane,” was responsible for much of the turmoil in the area. To rid the community of the “demonic influence” of “Mama Jane,” Muthee set up a church in the basement of a grocery store where 200 people prayed in round-the-clock shifts. Under growing pressure from the Bishop, the woman eventually left town.
“Witchcraft is a sad reality in many parts of Africa, resulting in scores of deaths in Kenya over the past two decades,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement that chastised the media for its coverage of the video.
“Bishop Muthee’s blessing, then, was simply a reflection of his cultural understanding of evil. While others are not obliged to accept his interpretation, all can be expected to respect it. More than that, Muthee should be hailed for asking God to shield Palin from harmful forces, however they may be manifested,” Donohue’s statement said. “And for this he is mocked and Palin ridiculed?”
“I don’t know why they are making a big thing out of it,” Olupana said of the media reaction to the video. “Witchcraft as part of a belief system is real to the people who live there,” he said, noting that there was “nothing unusual about what happened.”
The religion professor noted that when Obama came under fire for his ties to Wright, several black religious leaders stepped out from behind the pew to explain their faith and put the reverend’s remarks in context.
But with Palin’s tie to Muthee, he said, “no one has stepped up to explain this.”