Friday, September 12, 2008

Pentecostal Democrats Lead Party’s Faith Outreach

By Nathan L. Gonzales

After diving headlong into GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s past, the media is questioning the governor’s Pentecostal background and treating it as if it were a liability to her candidacy.

Yet for months, the media has been obsessed with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the Democratic Party’s outreach to evangelicals and other faith voters in the presidential race. And two Democrats with Pentecostal roots have been put in charge of those efforts. So far, that has gone unmentioned.

“Pentecostalism obscured in Palin Biography,” the Sept. 5 Associated Press story headline read, clearly with an undertone that, if unearthed, Pentecostalism could torpedo her candidacy.

“Sarah Palin often identifies herself simply as Christian,” the piece began, “Yet [Arizona Sen.] John McCain’s running mate has deep roots in Pentecostalism, a spirit-filled Christian tradition that is one of the fastest growing in the world. It’s often derided by outsiders and Bible-believers alike.”

CNN sent a team of reporters to Alaska to find out more about Palin and became fascinated by her former church. “Pastor: GOP Downplaying Palin’s Pentecostal Past,” read the headline of a piece that ran on Monday night’s Anderson Cooper 360 program. “For decades, Sarah Palin went to church with people who spoke in tongues and believed in faith healing and the ‘end times.’”

Of course, all Christians do not believe in Pentecostal theology. But aside from the fact that Palin left Wasilla Assembly of God six years ago, Pentecostalism is not a fringe set of beliefs.

Palin’s former church belongs to the Assemblies of God, a denomination of 12,000 churches nationwide, including a constituency of more than 2.8 million people. It is the second largest evangelical denomination in the country, behind the Southern Baptists, and the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.

Aside from the lack of context, the vast majority of the media coverage of Palin’s Pentecostal background has also failed to mention the roots of two key Democratic staffers involved in the presidential race.

Both Obama’s national director for religious affairs Joshua DuBois and Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Leah Daughtry boast Pentecostal résumés.

DuBois is a lay minister with a Cambridge, Mass., congregation affiliated with the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, a small, largely African-American denomination with about 35 congregations in the United States and the Caribbean, not affiliated with the Assemblies of God (USA). DuBois originally worked for Obama’s Senate office before moving to the campaign.

Daughtry is chief of staff at the Democratic National Committee and heads up the party’s Faith in Action program. She pastors a small Pentecostal church in Washington, D.C., that is affiliated with the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, the small denomination her grandfather started.

Democrats have been promoting the Pentecostal résumé item as a connection point with voters of faith who may normally vote Republican.

The second volume of the Obama campaign’s “American Values Report” featured a testimonial from “Jason H.,” a self-described “born again Pentecostal believer in the Assembly of God tradition.” Clearly the campaign would not have included his testimonial if they didn’t believe it was a credible view and an asset to Obama’s candidacy.

Religion News Service’s Adelle Banks wrote a piece Aug. 27 titled “Pentecostals leading Democrats’ Faith Outreach,” just two days before McCain’s pick of Palin was announced. But her story didn’t draw any particular curiosity, and it didn’t spark teams of investigative reporters visiting the Democrats’ churches.

In fact, countless other stories about Daughtry and DuBois have included their Pentecostalism, but if the media thought twice about it, it was in a positive sense.

Because Palin is running for office, one could make the case that her background should be more heavily vetted than a staffer. But if Pentecostalism is a fringe belief that should be shunned, then the media should question Obama and the DNC about leaving their faith outreach to a couple Pentecostal aides.

This item first appeared on on September 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.