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Witches, Fine... But Does Sarah Palin Believe in Religious Tolerance?

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This post was written by Lisa Webster and first appeared on Religion Dispatches.

Hard to fault journalists for missing the full back story on Sarah Palin's witch-hunting pastor, Thomas Muthee--it really is complicated. We need a chart to track the connections, from Pastor Muthee to Palin's Wasilla pastor Ed Kalnins back to the Morningstar Ministries and the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs and finally to C. Peter Wagner's so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

Here's the thing, though, and it's not as Halloween-y as the whole witch-hunting thing sounds. It has been fun, in a sad way, to think that Gov. Palin has so little discernment that she allowed a witch-hunter to lay hands on her. But that makes the whole thing too easy to dismiss. Anyone could make that mistake, couldn't they? I mean what if you are sitting in the synagogue, or at the local zendo, and the rabbi or roshi or priest brings in a visiting spiritual celebrity with great fanfare and says, here is Reb Nusskopf, or Sensei someone or other, and he is going to do a special ceremony... And then you are suddenly chosen as Senator McCain's running mate and it turns out that Reb Nusskopf believes he has been alien-abducted and wants you all to join him in a cornfield at midnight.

But this man, pastor Muthee, could not have been unknown to Palin when he showed up as a visiting preacher at her church in Wasilla. He is a sort of celebrity in the spiritual warfare circles, the star of a 1999 video called Transformations, meant to introduce the evangelizing work of C. Peter Wagner of the World Prayer Center. It is in this video that Muthee's now-notorious witch-defeating exploits in Kiambu, Kenya are chronicled.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote about Muthee, back when the video came out, and what really stands out about that article now, when we have someone like Sarah Palin in the spotlight, (or in the headlights, a stunned moose) is that these spiritual warfare types believe that anyone who is not their kind of Christian can and must be 'targeted' for conversion.

Through "spiritual warfare" and an in-depth research effort called "spiritual mapping," they aim to bring people to Christ and, in their words, "break spiritual strongholds" holding communities in their grip, whether they be vices, "false religions," or "territorial spirits."

The three levels of spiritual warfare, according to Wagner, include the casting out of demons from individuals, "occult-level warfare" against "powers of darkness" Age thought and Tibetan Buddhism, and, finally, "strategic-level warfare" against whole geographical areas thought to be controlled by Satan. Spiritual mapping is the practice of gathering information on patterns of belief and unbelief in cities and communities, and trying to gain territory for God. (Note to professor-types: spiritual mapping often finds demon-inspired unbelief to be centered around an area's universities.)

The CSM quotes a horrified Abraham Fox, director of the ADL, who is very nervous about Jews being specifically, even individually, selected as targets of this kind of prayer campaign.

But the article gives the last word to Martin Marty, who points out in his typically genteel way that it really does not do to target one's neighbors for conversion in a pluralistic society such as ours. Especially as the cornerstone of one's theology.

So the important take-away here is not that Sarah Palin worships with loony exorcists, but that this ambitious woman has accepted the spiritual direction and leadership of a religious group that is conducting what you could call a 'soft inquisition'--if you're not with us, you'd better get with us or we'll run you out of town. It's paranoid. It's cruel. It's based on an apocalyptic mythology that seems to lead its adherents to wish the worst for their neighbors.

And in some strange backward reverso-rhetorical deconstructionist logic, when we read 'witch-hunter' over and over in connection with Sarah Palin we begin to think of her as the hunted witch. And, while we don't generally approve of the persecution of odd women, we begin to become attached to this association: Palin-Witch. But we must resist. It is a distraction.

What really matters is that Palin might not actually believe in religious pluralism. And that, given the choice (and the power) she might well choose spiritual warfare over religious tolerance.