The Times Online would like you to believe that Sarah Palin endorses witch-hunting. At least, that seems to be the implication of this story written by Hanna Strange. The Times reports that Kenyan preacher-evangelist Thomas Muthee visited Palin’s former church, Wasilla Assembly of God, in October 2005 to speak there.
While he was there he prayed for the soon-to-be governor, Mrs. Palin, and also prayed for the success of her upcoming gubernatorial campaign. About a year later, Gov. Palin made a few brief remarks at her old church in which she mentioned the prayer as being very moving and meaningful to her. She described Mr. Muthee’s prayer as “bold” and “powerful,” but she did not attribute her electoral victory to it.
It now turns out that while in Kenya Mr. Muthee engaged what the Times characterizes as a “witch-hunt,” in which a local witch was pressured by Mr. Muthee’s followers to leave town. The Times even suggests that angry locals were ready to stone the witch in their midst. Of course, the Times article also mentions that the “witch” in question was raided by the local police, but does not specify the reasons for the raid, so perhaps there may be some reason for her departure other than the supposed “witch-hunt.”
Moreover, the only sources the Times cites for this story are an article by the Christian Science Monitor, and an evangelical prayer website that contains various testimonials about healing and things of that nature. I have looked over the prayer website, but can not find any reference at all to this story. The CSM article only says that the so-called witch left the town, but does not say anything about harassment by the locals, or threats of stoning, or even police raiding her house. The only action it attributes to Mr. Muthee’s followers is regular prayer meetings to counteract the so-called witch’s perceived spiritual mischief. By any reasonable definition, Mr. Muthee’s actions, while certainly strange, could not be characterized as a “witch-hunt.”
What does any of this have to do with Sarah Palin? Really, not a d*mn thing. It’s not likely that Mrs. Palin knew anything about Mr. Muthee’s activities as a so-called “witch-hunter,” if you could call it that. Nor has she ever endorsed this man’s ministry, or witch-hunting in general. The only thing she did was allow him to pray for her when he visited her former church. As an evangelical, I can tell you that guest speakers are a very common occurrence. A lot of times you don’t even know there’s going to be a guest speaker until you show up on Sunday morning, and you rarely know very much about them. I have heard a lot of guest speakers say things in Church that I don’t agree with, and I’ve heard a number of people speak who I thought were a little crazy. That’s especially the case when you have a guest speaker from Africa, where nearly everybody believes in sorcery or witch-craft of some kind. I would speculate that almost all African evangelicals, not to mention most Africans in general, believe in the same sort of spiritual phenomena that Mr. Muthee believes in. When they’re in the West, most African ministers avoid speaking about things that they know could disconcert the average western church-goer, so it’s unlikely Mr. Muthee said very much about witches when he visited Wasilla.
This brings us to the question of why churches like Wasilla A/G even have such speakers. Most evangelical churches keep regular speaking slots open for visiting ministers or evangelists, and many of these evangelists are foreign-born preachers. This practice serves three functions: First, it gives the local minister some much-needed time-off. Second, it provides revenue for the visiting minister, who usually gets some sort of fee or offering. Third, it helps local Christians connect with what’s going on in the Church in other parts of the country or other parts of the world. Contrary to what you might imagine, the average evangelical church does not see a preaching invitation as an endorsement of everything that the visiting speaker believes or does. Furthermore, since many speaking slots are secured by referrals from other ministers, a local pastor doesn’t always know a whole lot about the person coming to speak that Sunday other than that another minister has vouched for him. I know that might sound odd to someone who grew up outside of an evangelical social context, but it’s the truth.