Sarah Palin's record shows a strong faith in Bible and prayer. She supports teaching creationism, outlawing abortion and banning same-sex marriage.
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA - In June, long before she was selected as the Republican nominee for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attended a gathering at the Wasilla Assembly of God, her former church.
Speaking to the college-age graduates of the church's Master's Commission ministry, the governor reminisced about growing up in the fellowship -- "getting saved here, getting baptized" -- and urged the new disciples to help fulfill the church's mission, as well as certain destinies for America and Alaska.
Pray for the construction of the $30 billion natural gas pipeline, Palin told them. Pray for the military men and women overseas, "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for -- that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."
Later, senior pastor Ed Kalnin -- with Palin standing at his side -- spoke about tapping into Alaska's natural resource wealth to fulfill the state's destiny of serving as a shelter for Christians at the end of the world.
"I believe that Alaska is one of the 'refuge states' -- come on, you guys -- in the Last Days," Kalnin said, raising his arm to underscore his point. "And hundreds of thousands of people are going to come to this state to seek refuge. And the church has to be ready to minister to them."
Now that she has been selected as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, such comments raise questions: What are Sarah Palin's religious beliefs?
For someone who has been embraced nationally as being exactly what evangelical Christians want in Washington, Palin is surprisingly circumspect these days on the subject of religion.
Campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that the candidate wasn't available for an interview. E-mailed questions on religious subjects weren't returned.
So what's on the record?
Palin considers herself a born-again conservative Christian. She supports teaching creationism in public schools, outlawing nearly all abortions (even in cases of rape or incest) and prohibiting same-sex marriage.
But she has yet to advance legislation that insists that creationism, or "intelligent design," be taught in public school science classes whenever biological evolution is taught -- as urged by a plank in the official Alaska Republican Party platform.
Nor has she tried so far to eliminate standard sex-education classes in public schools in favor of the abstinence-only programs she prefers.
That Palin hasn't yet pushed a religious conservative agenda isn't surprising, said state Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat and House Minority Leader. So far the governor, still in her first year in office, has been consumed with complex, contentious legislation involving oil taxes and a proposed natural gas pipeline.
Pulpits get political?
At age 12, Palin joined her brother and two sisters in getting baptized into the Wasilla Assembly of God. And by all accounts, Palin has been an observant evangelical Christian ever since.
In 2002, Palin and her family shifted their allegiance from the Wasilla Assembly of God to the nondenominational Wasilla Bible Church, a move that coincided with Palin's first bid for statewide office.
From its very modest origins, with only a few families 30 years ago, the Wasilla Bible Church has since grown into a fellowship that now hosts up to 1,000 parishioners a Sunday, according to senior pastor Larry Kroon.
"We're just a community church," said Kroon. "We weren't trying to follow some trend. We're not trying to lead a parade."
The same goes for the Palins whenever they attend, he said.
"When they come in here, it's 'Todd' and 'Sarah' and that's just it -- I really don't take their faith into the public arena for comment," Kroon said. "I value all our politicians, [our] public servants. ... I don't care if it's Obama, Biden, McCain or Palin. I think it's a noble thing to step into that arena."
The same sentiment isn't always apparent at the Palins' former church, the Wasilla Assembly of God -- where Kalnin has publicly inveighed against Democrats while offering thinly veiled support for President Bush. In a sermon recorded in 2004 Kalnin doubted the chances that John Kerry supporters would ever get into heaven.
Though Wasilla Bible Church has made waves as well. Two weeks ago, a guest speaker, David Brickner -- a conservative Christian who condemns the Jewish faith and tries to convert its adherents through his Jews for Jesus ministry -- suggested that terrorism in Israel is God's judgment against Jews.
The McCain campaign has acknowledged that Palin was in the audience but said the governor did not know Brickner would be speaking and does not share his views.
The church has also come under fire among some gay advocacy groups for promoting an upcoming Focus on the Family conference in Anchorage dealing with the so-called curing of homosexuality.
Bible is literal, prayers are powerful
Janet Kincaid, who has known Palin for about 15 years and worked with her on some Wasilla town boards and commissions when Palin was mayor here, said Palin's spiritual path, from the Assembly of God to Wasilla Bible, has had a consistent theme.
"The churches that Sarah has attended all believe in a literal translation of the Bible," Kincaid said. "Her principal ethical and moral beliefs stem from this."
Prayer, and belief in its power, is another constant theme, Kincaid said, in what she has witnessed in Palin. "Her beliefs are firm in the power of prayer -- let's put it that way."
The New York Times contributed to this report.