Is Palin Saying Catholics Aren’t Christian?

by Michael Potemra

That is the clear implication of what she said, if the specific wording of the USA Today account is not misleading:

“[Billy Graham’s] message transformed my mom’s life,” Palin, one of the dinner’s speakers, said in an interview with USA TODAY.

“In the 70s, she would tune into the Billy Graham crusades, televised. My mom was raised Catholic, and she . . . was yearning for something more,” she said. “His invitation for people to know that they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — my mom understood that from the way that he could articulate it. She became a Christian, led the rest of the family to Christ, and that I believe transformed our family.”

But that’s a very big “if.” Note the ellipsis here: “My mom was raised Catholic, and she . . . was yearning for something more.” There are any number of possible phrases that could have been eliminated by that ellipsis that could have changed the sense entirely, e.g.: “My mom was raised Catholic, and she was a good person, but wandered away from the faith, and eventually was yearning for something more.” Or: “My mom was raised Catholic, and she never really practiced, so she was yearning for something more.” Either of those — and many other phrases I might think of — would completely remove any implication that Palin believes Catholics qua Catholics aren’t really Christian.

I learned about this Palin statement through a Catholic blogger who seems pretty convinced that Palin was engaging in a “Jack Chick tract” style of anti-Catholic innuendo. I am dubious; until I know what was eliminated by that ellipsis, I give her the benefit of the doubt.

[A brief note to anyone who wants to dismiss my comment here as spin from a pro-Palin hack. I am the author of the following joke: “For years, I couldn’t tell Sarah Palin and Tina Fey apart. I finally discovered a surefire way to do it: One of them sounds like a viciously unfair left-wing caricature of conservatives. The other was the star of 30 Rock.” So I’m not bending over backwards here to spin for Palin. I’m just insisting on fairness.] 

PS. I am reminded of something that happened a few years ago, that was both funny and sad. I was in the Bibles section of a Borders bookstore in Manhattan, and a Hispanic man came up to me and asked whether I could recommend a Bible to him. “But it has to be a Catholic Bible,” he insisted. “I’m not a Christian, I’m a Catholic.” I have, ever since, considered that guy Exhibit A for the Failure of Catechesis. (Yes, I know that, in popular shorthand, “Christian” means not just anyone who follows Christ, but a specific type of Evangelical Protestant. But that gentleman should have been taught, back when he was a kid, not to accept that shorthand.)