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Sarah Palin’s Daughter—What Should We Think?

Ray Pritchard pastored in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Married to Marlene for 38 years, he enjoys being a husband, a father and a grandfather, riding his bike, and playing with Dudley and Gary, beloved basset hounds.

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A friend asked me why evangelicals think it’s okay that Sarah Palin’s seventeen-year-old daughter got pregnant by her boyfriend. I think the exact wording was, “Why are we so excited about it?” Hmmmm. That’s not exactly the way I would put it.

I don’t know anyone who is “excited” about a teenage girl getting pregnant out of wedlock. This seems to be a point on which there is near-universal agreement. Getting pregnant outside of marriage is always problematic, but when you are a teenager, the difficulties are magnified. This isn’t a liberal or conservative observation—just a statement of reality. 

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However, I think the question is meant to go to a different point. Why are evangelicals willing to overlook the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s daughter? Well, it is a useful question, given that everyone I have talked to (an admittedly unscientific sample) seems to love Sarah Palin. Count me in that number. I thought she did a terrific job in her speech on Wednesday night at the Republican Convention. But what about her daughter getting pregnant outside of wedlock?

Here’s a simple answer. Sarah and Todd Palin are not the first parents to have a child make this sort of mistake. And it’s not just the getting pregnant part. It’s as much the part about being sexually active in the first place. Given that most of us knew nothing about the Palins ten days ago, we aren’t in a position to say anything about how they raised their children. But Bristol Palin is hardly the first child raised in an evangelical family to get pregnant out of wedlock. We might be surprised if we knew how often this happens. That isn’t meant to excuse anything. Sin is sin, wrong is wrong, but is helps to remember that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “there but for the grace of God." 

But doesn’t it reflect poorly on the parents when children make bad choices? The answer is yes and no. Certainly it has cast a shadow over the whole nomination of Sarah Palin, and it has given the media another opening to attack her. But her daughter’s pregnancy does not disqualify her for public office. By the same token, I would argue that a similar situation would not automatically disqualify a pastor from serving in a local church. Note the word “automatically.” Sometimes churches have demanded a level of perfection in pastoral child-rearing that James Dobson couldn’t possibly meet. 

It’s not what the children do that matters as much as how the parents respond. 1 Timothy 3:4 tell us that a spiritual leader must “manage his own household well.” How do you measure that? The real test of any manager is how he responds when trouble comes. Anyone can manage an organization when you have plenty of money in the bank, when your market share is growing, and when everyone is happy. Great managers rise to the top when the waters are rough, when money is tight, when the market is down, and when times are tough.

Do they cover up the truth or do they face reality?
Can they demonstrate wisdom in how they respond?
Do they keep their people united?
Do they have a plan and will others follow their plan?
Can they remain positive and calm when others are panicking?

These are the traits of good leadership—and you only see this when unexpected trouble comes. Leaders rise to the top in hard times. And that’s why I think pastors (and other spiritual leaders) ought not to be trashed or suddenly dismissed because of family issues. It’s how they respond that makes the difference.

Regarding Sarah Palin and her pregnant daughter, so far so good. Her daughter did not abort the baby, which many people would have advised her to do. And she and her boyfriend plan to be married and keep the baby. Good for them. I can’t imagine that Todd and Sarah Palin are happy about their daughter’s pregnancy, but as far as anyone can tell, they have responded with grace and courage under an enormous media spotlight. They have done well, their family seems to be rallying to the cause, and they are setting a good example of how to handle a crisis when the whole world is watching.

Evangelicals of all people believe in sin and grace. We admit our sin and we cling to the grace of God. We face the consequences, we seek forgiveness, we love each other, and we go forward together.

What do you think? We welcome your comments.

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