Earlier this week in front of a cheering NRA crowd, Sarah Palin announced that if she were running the place, people would “know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” The unfortunate — nay, sacrilegious — pairing of torture and a holy sacrament now has Christians rising up against one of their former political sweethearts. While the audience might have enjoyed the equating of spiritual rebirth to something that brings people close to death as a means of torturing them, Christians of all persuasions are now speaking out loudly.
A petition by Faithful America denouncing Palin has garnered more than 43,000 signatures, almost three times their original goal. The petition, which reminds believers that “torture is not a joke or a political punchline, but a ghastly reminder of the suffering of Jesus upon the cross,” seeks to spread the word that “No media outlet should cover her remarks without reporting on how sincere Christians of all theological and political persuasions are appalled.”
And it seems that Christians of “all theological and political persuasions” are, in fact, truly appalled. Take this quote from the evangelical Gospel Coalition:
The truly Christian position is to never forget that evil comes not just from the actions of “terrorists” or “enemies” but from the heart of fallen, sacred yet degraded, human beings. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, our enemies need to accept Jesus and to be baptized by water and the Spirit. That is the Christian way, not as Palin would have it, to have our enemies fear a pagan god and have their spirit broken by water.”
Or this quote, courtesy of The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, a devout Catholic:
Not only is this woman, putatively a Christian, praising torture, but she is comparing it to a holy sacrament of the Christian faith. It’s disgusting — but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her.”
Or this quote, from Mollie Hemmingway, a Lutheran and a senior editor at The Federalist:
Is waterboarding how we baptize terrorists? However powerful waterboarding might be (and whether or not it is defensible, a good idea or achieves the goals of those who advocate its use), it doesn’t hold a candle to the power of the Christian baptism, as historically understood. Does it deliver those who are subjected to it from the devil, as Christian baptism does? Does it give them eternal life, as Christian baptism does? Is it voluntary, as Christian baptism is? It is none of these things. Joking about baptism in the context of this aggressive action suggests that we don’t think baptism is as life-giving or important as it is.”
Palin’s own beliefs regarding baptism may not be so clear cut. The church she belongs to, or at least belonged to prior to delving into national politics, indicates on its website its members believe Baptism is “a key symbol and step of obedience for new Christians to undergo, but the physical act of baptism does not determine a person’s eternal spiritual standing.” While this church, which classifies itself as evangelical, does not take the literal view of baptism the above quotes seem to suggest, it is difficult to believe that they would joke about it in the way Palin did in front of that screaming crowd, or find it Biblically cogent to advocate torture.
Andrew Sullivan of The Dish published a detailed article on this issue on Monday, one I highly recommend you read, that gave great context for how approval of torture has changed from its beginning to now. He says:
Now look how far we have come from the original notion – pioneered by Charles Krauthammer and popularized by ’24’ – that torture should only be used in the hypothetical ticking time-bomb case. That argument – only ever hypothetical – nonetheless assumes that torture is evil and should only be used in extremis to prevent imminent catastrophe. Palin, in contrast, like her party, has long since blown past such niceties. She believes that torture should be the first resort – a sign of how America treats its foes, a badge of honor.”
After all, “Baptism,” in it’s clearest sense, is a beginning — regardless of how literally you view the step. Palin literally would advocate welcoming all suspected terrorists to America through the sacrament of torture. If this is Palin’s view of a “Christian America,” I want none of it. And it looks like quite a few Christians agree.