Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Sarah Palin and the Separation Between Church and State

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: Spirituality, politics, Election 2008, church and state, Republicans, Sarah Palin, religious freedom, Americans United, Tikkun,

white palinSarah Palin’s religious rhetoric has managed to both rankle progressives and thrill conservatives. While Palin's nomination may have seemed foolish based on her lack of experience, George Lakoff at Tikkun articulates why McCain’s choice is a shrewdly political move that—in a cultural climate that places family values ahead of issues or experience—will appease culturally conservative voters.

“Our national political dialogue is fundamentally metaphorical, with family values at the center of our discourse,” Lakoff writes. “The Republican strength has been mostly symbolic. The McCain campaign is well aware of how Reagan and W won running on character: values, communication, (apparent) authenticity, trust, and identity—not issues and policies. That is how campaigns work, and symbolism is central.” In this political climate, where religious style trumps political substance and the “external realities” of a candidate’s voting record and job experience are nearly immaterial, Lakoff concludes that Sarah Palin is the perfect choice for VP.

Palin is not, however, the perfect choice for advocates of the separation between church and state—people like Rob Boston of Americans United. “I miss the days when pastors delivered sermons and politicians delivered political speeches,” Boston told the Associated Press. “The United States is increasingly diverse religiously. The job of a president is to unify all those different people and bring them together around policy goals, not to act as a kind of national pastor and bring people to God.”

On his blog at the Wall of Separation, Boston explains that he is not opposed to a candidate who makes references to God. He is opposed to candidates who would let faith do the governing. Referring to a speech Palin made at her former church in which she stated that the people of Alaska should “get right with God,” and that the war in Iraq reflects God’s will, Boston chafed at the idea that public officials might hope to mandate the faith of their constituency:

“I don’t want the president, governor, or mayor worrying about the state of my soul and whether my neighbors and I are ‘right with God.’ He or she would do better building the economy, creating jobs and filling potholes. We have great religious freedom in this nation. If any American feels that his or her soul needs a tune-up, there is no shortage of religious leaders willing to help out with that.”

Image by wellohorld, licensed by Creative Commons.