Palin: Jerry Falwell with a pretty face?
Howard Bess, a retired American Baptist minister who wrote a book that republican vice-presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin wanted to ban entitled, "Pastor, I Am Gay", and who has also fought Palin on abortion and gay rights, tells Salon founder, David Talbot, that "the country should fear Palin's election."
"She scares me," said Bess. "She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.
Bess' first run-in with Palin's religious forces came when he decided to write his book, "Pastor, I Am Gay." The book was the result of a theological journey that began in the 1970s when Bess was asked for guidance by a closeted homosexual in his Santa Barbara congregation. After deep reflection on the subject, Bess came to the conclusion that "gay people were not sick, nor they were special sinners."
In his book, Bess suggests that gays have a divine mission. "Look back at the life of our Lord Jesus. He was misunderstood, deserted, unjustly accused, and cruelly killed. Yet we all confess that it was the will of God, for by his wounds we are healed ... Could it be that the homosexual, obedient to the will of God, might be the church's modern day healer-messiah?"
When it was published in 1995, Bess' book caused an immediate storm in the Mat-Su Valley, an evangelical stronghold dotted with storefront churches. Conservative ministers targeted the book, and the only bookstore in the valley that dared to stock it -- Shalom Christian Books and Gifts – soon dropped it after the owner was barraged with angry phone calls. The Frontiersman, the local newspaper that ran a column by Bess for seven years, fired him and ran a vicious cartoon that suggested even drooling child molesters would be welcomed by Bess' church.
And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a "hit list" targeted by Palin. "I'm as certain of that as I am that I'm sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do."
Soon after the book controversy, Bess found himself again at odds with Palin and her fellow evangelicals. In 1996, evangelical churches mounted a vigorous campaign to take over the local hospital's community board and ban abortion from the valley. When they succeeded, Bess and Dr. Susan Lemagie, a Palmer OB-GYN, fought back, filing suit on behalf of a local woman who had been forced to travel to Seattle for an abortion. The case was finally decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled that the hospital must provide valley women with the abortion option.
Bess is unnerved by the prospect of Palin -- a woman whose mind is given to dogmatic certitude -- standing one step away from the Oval Office. "It's truly frightening that someone like Sarah has risen to the national level," Bess said. "Like all religious fundamentalists -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- she is a dualist. They view life as an ongoing struggle to the finish between good and evil. Their mind-set is that you do not do business with evil -- you destroy it. Talking with the enemy is not part of their plan. That puts someone like Obama on the side of evil.