Controversial head of Palin’s former church is Latvian

The religious leader at the center of a minor controversy regarding recently named U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a Latvian-American.

Edgars Kalnins is senior pastor of Wasilla Assembly of God in Wasilla, the town in Alaska where Palin grew up and served two terms as mayor before become governor of the state. Palin, who became the Republican Party’s candidate for vice president on Sept. 4, is a former member of the church.

“Yes, I am Latvian,” Kalnins told Latvians Online in an e-mail. “I do have Latvian heritage but do not speak Latvian. I know some words.”

The church’s teachings and the influence they may have had on Palin were called into question in a Sept. 2 story in The Huffington Post, an online news outlet. Since then the story has been reported in other media as well.

According to The Huffington Post, Kalnins has “preached that critics of President Bush will be banished to hell; questioned whether people who voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004 would be accepted to heaven; charged that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and war in Iraq were part of a war ‘contending for your faith;’ and said that Jesus ‘operated from that position of war mode.’”

Kalnins became senior pastor of the church in 1999. Palin left the church in 2002 when she became governor, The Huffington Post reported.

Kalnins and his wife served as pastors in Florida, Wisconsin and New Jersey before moving to Alaska, according to the Wasilla Assembly of God’s Web site.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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