Reflections on Palin from a Christian in Wasilla
Alaksa Gov. Sarah Palin positions herself as a "family values" candidate. But as the Republican candidate for vice president, is she putting her political ambitions ahead of her family, which includes a baby with Down syndrome?
I got a phone call from a reporter acquaintance from the Lower 48 before the official announcement of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's nomination to be Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate was even made.
He knew I was an evangelical Christian, live in Wasilla, and that like Palin, have a son with Down syndrome.
"What do you think of all this?" he asked.
I was uncertain. As governor, Sarah Palin has had high approval ratings, but the closest I'd followed her in the news had been in regard to the birth of her son in April.
I told the reporter that I felt conflicted. In her position, I would have a hard time justifying the amount of time such a role would take from my family — but I told him not to quote me.
Five days later, the Sarah Palin story is huge, and it seems evangelicals are unanimous in commending Palin's "pro-life and pro-family values."
Surprisingly, the controversy surrounding Palin's teenage daughter Bristol has only heightened the praise.
I am bewildered by these "defenders of the faith." Certainly, evangelicals traditionally associate themselves with pro-life candidates, but so far neither campaign has indicated any interest in addressing abortion issues. McCain, in particular, has made no promises on that front, even if Sarah Palin is fervent and consistent in that position.
And what about "pro-family values" — as James Dobson puts it? With family values under attack and the state of America's families in decay, certainly Christians will be anxious to vote for the party that promises a revival in pro-family values.
But is that what's on the docket?
Considering that the Palin family includes four minors and that the income from either Palin parent would support the family, is this the position of evangelical Christians — for both parents to choose demanding jobs that require frequent and extended absences from home? Up until now, Dobson would have criticized that lifestyle. Now, he calls it a "personal matter."
I would argue that a true pro-family stance insists on far more than not aborting one's offspring. Responsible parenting acknowledges the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions starting with the procreative act, which brings with it the potential of long-term consequences.
These consequences do not come cheap. Caring for a child is emotionally draining, expensive, and time-consuming.
Yet, it remains the Christian duty of both parents to ensure that between mother and father, provision and parental presence are available until the child achieves the maturity to make wise choices for him or herself as an adult.
A friend asked me today how I would have reacted, had one of my daughters come to me with the hard news that young Bristol brought to her parents.
After some thought, I answered that I would feel that I had failed my daughter in some way.
My friend suggested that the Palins undoubtedly feel likewise, and with this I tend to agree.
And yet, Sarah Palin actively chose to engage the national media machine rather than passing by this opportunity in favor of supporting her daughter through a physically and emotionally trying time.
I can't find any way to get around the facts: Here is a mother who chose ambition over the needs of a daughter in crisis.
Do I condemn Palin? No, although I myself gave up my own career ambitions in light of the special needs of my children.
Like many good people, the Palins are going through a hard time. They're struggling. With God's grace, they'll learn and grow and hopefully end up the wiser.
But are they an example of Christian values? Is this what I want for American families? Is this what I want for my family?
I think evangelicals need to be clear here:
No, it is not ideal for parents to put career before kids.
No, it is not ideal for struggling teens to be forced into the national media by their parents' decisions.
No, it is not ideal for the daily hours of therapy young Trig will need to be carried out by people whose congratulatory smile is not Mom's (or Dad's) and whose cheers will not likely be, "Who loves Trig? Mama does!"
Over the past 11 years, I have learned that a child with Down syndrome requires somewhat more time, instruction and advocacy than my other children.
These demands have been intense, but the rewards just as great. I agree with Governor Palin's assessment that her son is a gift and God's will for her life.
But if it is God's will that Sarah and Todd Palin raise a child with Down syndrome, it seems just as clear to me that God would will Sarah and Todd to be physically available to hold him, care for him, and — over the next twenty-plus years — raise him.
It would be nice to think that we could fix America's broken values by supporting this attractive woman who seems to embody the pro-life values. But I stop short of identifying Palin with pro-family values.
No law can change the morality and behavior of immature people who lack solid role models and supervision. More than a law or a position, America needs models of responsible parents raising responsible adults to be responsible parents.
Palin may be a fine politician, but hers is not the example of Christian family values my family strives to live by, nor is hers the model of family values I want my family to emulate.
This is not about politics. By all means, vote Republican if that ticket represents your views.
But please, don't confuse smokescreens and media spin with Christian values. Christ was selfless and sacrificed himself for others.
Palin may worship Christ, but in accepting this nomination, she may be sacrificing family in order to serve herself.
Dena Fox is a graduate student at Alaska Pacific University. She lives in Wasilla, Alaska, and has a son with Down syndrome.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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