September 1, 2008
Pleasantly surprised evangelicals are praising Sen. John McCain's pick for vice presidential nominee as a woman who embodies their values -- particularly on abortion.
Introducing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at an Ohio rally Friday (Aug.29), McCain said she is "someone with strong principles, a fighting spirit and deep compassion."
Palin, a 44-year-old evangelical Christian, has been held up as a model for her decision to give birth to her fifth child in April after learning he has Down syndrome.
"I think that's a plus in her favor with conservatives," said the Rev. Don Argue, a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals and chancellor of Northwest University in Seattle.
Palin has ties to the Assemblies of God, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the country. Her selection was welcomed by evangelicals who had previously questioned McCain's commitment to their values.
"Sen. McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is an outstanding choice that should be extremely reassuring to the conservative base of his party," Focus on the Family Action founder James Dobson said. He called her refusal to abort her fifth child "bravery and integrity in action."
Evangelical leaders who had worried that McCain might consider a vice presidential nominee with an abortion rights stance seemed to issue a collective sigh of relief.
Connie Mackey, senior vice president of FRCAction, the advocacy arm of Family Research Council, declared: "I am elated with Senator McCain's choice and applaud his continued commitment to creating a pro-woman, pro-life, pro-family administration."
Some leaders are already prepared to defend claims that Palin does not have any national experience. The Alaska governor has not yet served two years, and was previously mayor and a city council member of Wasilla, Alaska, which has a population of 6,715.
Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, says it appears that Palin "shares a lot of my values."
"I think this woman has got a lot of moxie and the president doesn't need a secretary of state as vice president," Cizik says. "He needs somebody who the American people can relate to."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Palin resonates with evangelicals: "She's one of us."
The Rev. Mike Rose, pastor of Juneau Christian Center in the Alaskan capital, said Palin attends his church when she is in town and her schedule permits. She has attended the Assemblies of God congregation, with about 400 fellow believers, on some Sundays since she became Alaska's first woman governor in late 2006.
The Summer 2008 newsletter of the Alaska district of the Assemblies of God notes Palin attended an Assemblies of God church in her hometown of Wasilla when she was in junior high school.
The Anchorage Daily News reported in 2006 that Palin, who helped her basketball team win a 1982 high school state championship, was the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and quoted the Bible in her yearbook.
"I believe everything happens for a purpose," she told The Weekly Standard in a 2007 article.
"In my own personal life, if I dedicated back to my Creator what I'm trying to create for the good ... everything will turn out fine."
Rice University sociology professor Michael Lindsay called the choice of Palin a "strategically brilliant" move by McCain.
"Governor Palin's involvement over the years with groups such as Feminists for Life and Fellowship of Christian Athletes sends all the right messages to these evangelical supporters," he said.
(Tim Murphy contributed to this report.)
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