The Nation has just published a very informative investigative piece by Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, further exploring the connections between Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin and the Christian right. The entire article is worth reading, but I wanted to highlight the following passage, which sheds more light on a now-infamous alleged incident from 1997 involving Palin and the Wasilla Public Library:
Much has been made of Palin’s gestures toward book-banning as mayor. To understand what happened, it’s useful to realize that the Mat-Su Valley was in the middle of a roiling controversy over a book by [Howard Bess, a local retired liberal Baptist minister], titled Pastor, I Am Gay. Bess, 80, is deeply respected by the Valley’s small progressive community. Educated at Northwestern’s Garrett Biblical Institute — now called the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary — he comes from a Baptist tradition committed to church-state separation. In 1980 he left his church in Santa Barbara, California, to become pastor of Anchorage First American Baptist. Over the years Bess developed an intense concern about gay rights, and he went out of his way to welcome gay people into his Anchorage church. After he had served seven years at First Baptist, the board of the church asked him to lower his profile on the issue. Unwilling to do so, he resigned, took early retirement and ended up moving to Palmer to pastor a tiny liberal congregation, the Church of the Covenant, which he did without pay.Bess published Pastor, I Am Gay in 1995. It recounts his experiences ministering to gay men and lesbians, calls for the church to take a stand against discrimination and even draws parallels between the experience of gay people and that of Jesus. “They are despised and rejected,” he wrote. “They suffer and are acquainted with infirmity. They are rejected by a perversion of justice. Is it possible that the will of the Lord will prosper through them?”Local conservatives, including at Wasilla Assembly of God, mobilized against the book. Christian bookstores as well as secular retailers refused to sell it. Bess donated two copies to the Wasilla Public Library, but they vanished from the shelves, so he donated more. The atmosphere toward Bess was toxic; a 1997 cartoon in the Frontiersman showed a slobbering, doll-clutching pedophile approaching his church, whose sign said, Wasilla Church of the Covenant. Howard Bess, Pastor. All Sinners Welcome! Bible Interpretations to Suit Your “Lifestyle.”Most reports have said that, when asking about banning books, Palin never mentioned any specific titles, but the presence of Pastor, I Am Gay in the library was, at the time, a matter of fierce contention. “I’m as sure that that book was at issue with Sarah Palin as I am that I’m talking to you right now,” said Bess.
Providential coincidence, or small-town cheap homophobic conspiracy? Stay tuned, true believers.
Related: Fareed Zakaria dons his Captain Obvious pajamas, declaring Palin to be “utterly unqualified to be vice president”; has the bar on Palin been set so low that it’s entirely possible for her to ‘win’ Thursday’s VP debate?