Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sarah Palin's church and ex-gay ministries; are her own views more "libertarian"?


While major political campaigns are trying to leave the personal lives (and especially religious practices) of major presidential and vice-presidential candidates out of the public forum, some particularly ugly stories have emerged concerning the Wasilla Bible Church that Sarah Parlin attends features an ex-gay ministry. There are stories about a the church’s promoting a conference on an “upcoming Focus on the Family conference in Anchorage called Love Won Out.” The Time online reference from Sept. 2, 2008, in a story by Nathan Thornburgh, called “Mayor Palin: A Rough Road,” link here.

Most of us hope that Palin will distance herself personally from all this. (I won’t rehearse the problems with Barack Obama’s ex-pastor.)

The ex-gay demonstration is particularly upsetting because it panders to a particular belief held by many parents: that they need (and are morally entitled to) the “biological loyalty” of all their children, and that having that loyalty is an intrinsic part of how they experience their own permanent and monogamous marriage. Their marriage is what accounts for their kids’ existence and life, so the kids “owe” them this, right? In some ways of raw logic, that sort of thinking makes a disturbing kind of sense, but it is usually hidden by attempts to use “Scripture” as authority. There have been a couple of films (“For the Bible Tells Me So” about Christianity with the Bible, and “A Jihad for Love,” about Islam and the Koran), both from First Run Films, that demonstrate this point well. (Both films are reviewed on my movies blog, the latter film yesterday; check the profile.) That belief system now (since Lawrence v. Texas, at least) falls outside the way our legal system works (based more on individual “personal responsibility”), but many families have trouble getting that.

The news stories have also talked about the situations with Palin’s children. Yes, the details are personal and don’t need to be rehearsed repeatedly in the media. But, and I’ll try to say it as gently as possible, her having of the youngest child does make a subtle point. To wit, that is not the usual “right to life” argument made with respect to the possibility of detecting birth defects in utero with amniocentesis. Anyone can believe what they wish on that. But the very act of having children involves a “risk” in any particular case. When there are several children, the results of the “risk” are born by other family members as well as parents, and even by society. There is a moral question about how the childless should share the “risk” that is inherent in the existence of the world that they enjoy. That kind of thinking expands to a moral critique of "upward affiliation": to have some people excel in life, they must depend on others who don't, and their needs (secondarily) must be addressed with some conviction.

All of this said, Palin’s own statements so far suggest and individualistic, libertarian streak. (She is, in libertarian thought, free to attend any church she wants and practice any faith.) Let’s hope that this is how she will conduct her campaign and how she would conduct herself in the Oval Office, should she wind up in it some day.

Picture: The National Presbyterian Center in Washington DC, where, at least once in 1990 (maybe at other times) Love in Action sponsored a service.

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