The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins was on CNN earlier today setting out a new test for the McCain campaign regarding how they respond to the issue of Sarah Palin’s pastors, her anti-gay church, and her Pentecostal faith.
Considering that McCain eventually ditched Rod Parsley and John Hagee when he grew uncomfortable with having to explain and defend their views, Perkins warns that the Right will be keeping a close eye on how McCain responds to questions about Palin, waiting to see if they will try to downplay the issue and back away or whether they will “move towards the base “and “run to their strength”:
Roberts: For a couple of decades, she was a member of the Pentecostal Assembly of God church. Six years ago, she changed to the Wasilla Bible Church. I read an article in which one of her former pastors suggested [the McCain campaign] may be playing down her faith because there may be some misunderstanding about her Pentecostalism. What do you think about all of this?
Perkins: Obviously people, the polling data would suggest people want a leader or leaders that believe in God [and] pray, and I think there’s some sense that there’s a greater accountability there. But I think the campaign, John, is at a critical point. John McCain made an incredible selection. He has turned around the campaign that I think was moving south, and there’s enthusiasm, excitement and hope among social conservative voters.
But … the next few days, next couple of weeks will be very critical because just as you pointed out, her faith has become an issue. It’s being attacked, being used as a weapon against her and people are watching. It will be very important how the McCain campaign handles this. If they become defensive and run from it and try to hide the fact that there is this element of faith, then I think it’s going to turn off social conservatives, evangelicals, orthodox Christians.
But if they say, “Hey, why should someone have to check their faith at the door” and move towards the base, I think it’s going to energize, you know, the socially conservative voters more. It’s very important how they deal with this in the next few days.
Roberts: You say people are attacking her because of her faith. Are they attacking her or asking legitimate questions, such as when she said at the Assembly of God church back in June. … [Palin] talked about U.S. troops in Iraq, and she put it this way: “Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that’s from God.” Even some Pentecostals say that could taken to mean that the U.S. is in a holy war with the Muslim world.
Perkins: I think there are things said in the context of the church that we saw with … you know … what Pastor Wright said. People said “you know, that was the conditioned in the environment in which he was in. I think in some ways they went overboard, but I think it’s important that you see where these convictions lead her on policy issues, and I think that is part of the scrutiny that she will undergo from socially conservative voters.
Roberts: Do you have any idea at this point about how her faith will inform how she governs?
Perkins: No. There’s not a lot of evidence in Alaska other than, you know, she’s conservative. I mean there’s not — you can’t point to a lot of policies that people can say [she adopted] because she’s a conservative evangelical. You don’t see a lot of that. I think what people are looking for from the McCain campaign is: He’s made a great selection. He has their attention. He’s built hope and enthusiasm. Are they going to move away from this faith element? Are they going to move away from, you know, the base trying to keep her from being too aligned with him or going to run to their strength?
That will be a critical decision they make in the next several days.