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Pastor: GOP may be downplaying Palin's religious beliefs

  • Story Highlights
  • Sarah Palin belonged to Pentecostal church for more than two decades until 2002
  • Campaign: Palin is deeply religious, doesn't consider herself Pentecostal
  • Pastor: Issues of belief could be misunderstood, played upon by people
  • Speaking of the troops in Iraq, Palin says they were sent on "task that is from God"
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By Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent
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WASILLA, Alaska (CNN) -- For more than two decades, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was a practicing Pentecostal.

She belonged to the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. But though she attended the church from her teenage years to 2002, the Alaska governor hasn't talked much about her religion since joining the Republican ticket.

Palin's former pastor, Tim McGraw, says that like many Pentecostal churches, some members speak in tongues, although he says he's never seen Palin do so. Church member Caroline Spangler told CNN, "When the spirit comes on you, you utter things that nobody else can understand ... only God can understand what is coming out of our mouths."

Some Pentecostals from Assembly of God also believe in "faith healing" and the "end times" -- a violent upheaval that they believe will deliver Jesus Christ's second coming.

"Our basic belief is that God is God and he knows where history is going and he has a purposeful plan and within the middle of that plan we live in an environment in our world where certain events would take place," says McGraw. "Sarah wasn't taught to look for one particular sign -- a cataclysmic sign. She knew as every Christian does ... that God is sovereign and he is in control."

The McCain campaign says the governor doesn't consider herself Pentecostal. Video Watch Palin's father talk about her religious upbringing »

McGraw says Palin's Pentecostal roots may be being downplayed for a reason: "I think there may be issues of belief that could be misunderstood or played upon by people that don't know."

When asked by CNN about Palin's beliefs, campaign spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton would only say the Republican vice presidential candidate has "deep religious convictions." Video Watch how Palin's religious roots formed »

But how might her religious beliefs impact policy in Washington if the Republican ticket is successful?

Palin's former pastor says he has no doubt her religious beliefs will influence her decision making when it comes to government policy. Regarding her desire to build an Alaskan pipeline and explore for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McGraw told CNN, "Sarah knows that in Genesis, God creates the world and it's very good and that we're supposed to be caretakers in terms of not destroying the environment, so there's no way that Sarah is going to exploit or damage the Alaska tundra in the name of getting gas if she doesn't have to." Palin's neighbors react to her swift rise

Six years ago, Palin left Assembly of God to join the non-denominational Wasilla Bible Church. But the Assembly of God says she still returns for special conferences and events, such as the graduation of ministry students in June. Video of a speech she gave at the church just two months before joining the Republican ticket is making the rounds on the Internet.

Speaking of the troops in Iraq, Palin says on the video, "Pray for our military men and women who are striving do to what is right. Also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for -- that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan." Video Watch Palin speak at her former church »

Her campaign says she doesn't mix her faith with government business. But Palin did ask her audience to pray for a $30 billion natural gas pipeline she is on a mission to build in Alaska. In the video Palin says, "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas pipeline built. So pray for that ... I can do my job there in developing my natural resources. But all of that doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart is not good with God."

McGraw, who was her pastor until 1998 and while she was mayor of Wasilla, says that Palin attended discipleship classes to strengthen her Pentecostal faith and that he counseled her on how to become a better leader.

"Everyone has a way of viewing the world and Sarah does too and hers would be shaped by the common-sense practicality of how she's been shaped by the Bible -- which is basically the world view that says God loves people, people can access him and he's given us wisdom for living," McGraw says.

He says Alaska has seen Palin's faith play out. As governor she passed ethics reform and took on what she's referred to as a "good-ol'-boys network." However, she has said she would not seek to impose her religious views on others. iReport.com: Share your thoughts on Sarah Palin

"I think one of the most obvious ways it plays out is what you've seen -- is being courageous enough to deal with deception and corruption," McGraw says.

Palin now attends the Wasilla Bible Church. She was there on August 17, just days before entering the national spotlight. David Brickner, the founder of Jews for Jesus, was a speaker. He told congregants that terrorist attacks on Israel were God's "judgment" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity. Brickner said, "Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. When a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment -- you can't miss it."

The McCain campaign says Brickner's comments do not reflect her religious views. Palin's spokeswoman says she is pro-Israel.

Pastor Ed Kalnin, the senior pastor of Palin's former Pentecostal church, has also come under fire for his comments. In 2004, he told church members if they voted for John Kerry for president, they wouldn't get into heaven. He told them, "I question your salvation."

The Assembly of God issued a statement online in response, which said Kalnin was "joking" when he suggested "Kerry supporters would go to hell." The statement went on to say: "We do acknowledge in hindsight that it was careless, and we do apologize for that. This statement is not written as a defense, but as a clarification."

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Palin has done little while in office to advance a social conservative agenda. She told The Associated Press in an interview in 2006 that she would not allow her personal beliefs to dictate public policy.

"I've honestly answered the questions on what my personal views are on things like abortion and a lot of controversial issues," Palin told AP. "I won't hesitate to answer those questions about what my personal views are, but I am not one to be out there preaching and forcing my views on anyone else."

But in the last week, her religious background and outlook has certainly spurred debate far beyond Alaska.

All About Sarah PalinIraq WarJohn McCain

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