Some of My Best Friends are…Lutheran?

When Sarah Palin ran for mayor in 1996, she apparently floated the possibility that her political opponent was an M.O.T. (“member of the tribe”)—and the tribe in question wasn’t Inuit.

Kudos to the New York Times for conducting on-the-tundra reporting that might have behooved the McCain campaign during the full day or two it allowed for vetting the potential Next-in-Line. The resulting examination of Palin’s meteoric rise in the GOP describes how McCain’s “soul mate” roiled the previously non-partisan arena of Wasilla town politics by introducing wedge issues having little to do with sewers, schools or municipal bonds—issues like guns, abortion and religion. And she got personal about it, too, according to her opponent, three-time incumbent Jeff Stein. Stein told the Times:

“I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’”

“I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?’” recalled Mr. Stein, who was raised Lutheran, and later went to work as the administrator for the city of Sitka in southeast Alaska.

Shoot, next thing you know, she might try to convince people that Obama is a Muslim. (But nobody would believe that!)

Should ADL membership extend to Lutherans, now, too?

Shylock photo from Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford, UK

—Mandy Katz

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30 responses to “Some of My Best Friends are…Lutheran?

  1. About your blog post re. Sarah Palin and the possibility that she was insinuating that her 1996 opponent, John Stein, was Jewish. I don’t think so. If it was an election between a country-club WASP and someone with a Jewish-sounding name in Greenwich, Ct. in 1962, I might agree with you. But in many parts of the country, the name Stein is not particularly Jewish (check out the phone listing for the 111 Steins in North Dakota, or the 50 in Alaska – no Jewish vibe whatever). I think the issue she wanted to use to her advantage was that the guy was unchurched; not that he was possibly a Jew. As the former (Jewish) owner of a small-town Christian radio station, I have had some experience with evangelicals (most often self-proclaimed Born-Again Christians) who question whether another person is a Christian. They are not, in most circumstances, suggesting in a backhand way that the person might be Jewish. They’re merely questioning whether that person has, as an adult, accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior. To these folks, it doesnt matter whether you’re the WASPiest blueblood at the cotillion or in the yacht club, or whether you’re Joe Lieberman or Jerry Seinfeld. If Jesus ain’t your man (tepid Unitarians don’t count, often Catholics and Mormons don’t count, and gentile ancestry is irrelevant), then you’re not a Christian. It’s a matter of stated personal faith, rather than heritage.

    My point is that to a professing Christian of her provenance, as compared to
    a generic gentile (someone our grandparents might have called a “Christian” not knowing anything about their religious beliefs), “not Christian” is usually not meant to imply Jewish (or Muslim or anything else). One of these folks is just as likely to refer to their mother as “not Christian,” if that’s the case in their view, as to anyone else.

  2. You make a compelling case, Larry, that I read too much into the Stein comments. I might agree with you, in fact, only b/c I have I can’t point to other examples of anti-Semitism or Semitic-consciousness surrounding either Palin or Wasilla.

    More important, like you, I recognize the significant distinction, to born-again Christians, between large-C and small-c “Christians.”

    STILL, as with the “Obama’s a Muslim” canard and its corollary — that he’s not, but why should it matter, I deplore the introduction into politics of any questions whatsoever about Christianity or faith, large-C or small-. And Palin’s now taken that national.

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