Christianity,  Politics

Sarah Palin’s sacrilegious remarks to the NRA

Sarah Palin delivered a speech to the National Rifle Association on Saturday in which she said that America needs leaders who would put the “fear of God” into our enemies. Because America has leaders who are afraid of offending our enemies, America has become weakened. At the 7:16 mark in the video below, Palin says,

Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.

Okay, yes that’s bad. It is impolitic—but worse—it is irreligious. But maybe she just got caught up in the moment and let her rhetoric get out in front of wisdom. Perhaps if given a second chance, she would do things differently. Maybe she would recognize the sacrilege of comparing Christian baptism to torture and walk back those comments.

It just so happens that NBC News caught up with Palin yesterday and gave her a chance to back away from what she said. They asked if she would have put it that way if she had it to do over. Her response?

Would I make it again? Why wouldn’t I, yeah, absolutely. Terrorists who want to annihilate Americans, innocent Americans, our children – whatever it takes to stop them. If I were in charge, I’d be stoppin’ em.

So apparently, as long as you’re trying to strengthen American power, it’s okay to throw Christian teaching under the bus? Even more disappointing is that given the chance to back away, she doubled-down. What does this mean? I agree with Mollie Hemmingway, who writes:

I’ve long defended Palin against the offensive treatment she’s received at the hands of a blatantly biased media, a media that collectively lost its mind the moment she entered the national stage. But that hardly means she must be defended at all times.

Indeed, there is no defending Palin’s statement. The fact that she doubled-down on the error makes it that much worse. It dishonors God’s word by speaking profanely about baptism. It dishonors God’s image-bearers by treating waterboarding with moral indifference. It’s a chest-thumping populism that is a discredit to her. These remarks are not serious. They are not becoming of a Christian, and I hope Palin will do an about face on this one. It is not exaggeration to say that this is not an occasion for doubling-down, but for repentance.


  • Gary Ware

    I appreciate the concern about her use of baptism as as a metaphor for torture.
    Perhaps you could have condemned her advocacy of torture a little more vigorously.

  • Ian Shaw

    Facepalm, facepalm, facepalm……..

    Mrs. Palin, this is why blind nationalism is wrong and very dangerous. Evangelicals ought not to support her unless she publically repents for this horrible comparison.

    Comparing baptism to torture. What’s next, she’ll compare lame praise & worship songs to Auschwitz?

  • Terry Galloway

    Thanks for informing us Denny. As a woman who was baptized at 12 in the Baptist church without any regeneration of my heart, and then after repentance and regeneration at age 45, got baptized again, I doubt that Mrs. Palin has been baptized. Acts 2:38 has an order–repentance and baptism. Then we continue to repent as the Holy Spirit convicts. I cringe that she would use the word that way and that she would not humble herself and repent when given the opportunity. I will be praying for her to change and for those of us who consider baptism as seriously as Christ did, will have the courage and strength in Christ to stand up for His kingdom here on earth.

    • Ian Shaw

      It would be hard for an evangelical to condone/support any form of torture. Don’t think she’s going to run for office again. She’s just trying to stir up the base, but as Happy Gilmore said, “talk about your all-time backfires”.

  • Ian Shaw

    Like, Jose Canseco stupid on steriods!

    She would have been better off with a Howard Dean “Yeahhhhh!” or an impersonation of the Nature Boy Ric Flair, “WOOOOOO!

  • pauljacobsblog

    I speak 3 times on each Sunday as well as at least once throughout the week. I also stand before college / seminary students. I am ever so thankful that I have never, ever said anything stupid in all of my 35 years of preaching and teaching. Ever so thankful! I would encourage all who oppose Palin’s words to be more like me and never say a word that causes offense, brings hurt to the feelings of people, or makes me look stupid. There are so few of us who speak for a living that are perfect. Shall we have her flogged?

    • Ian Shaw

      Are you being so sarcastic/ironic, you’re serious?

      We get it. We all make mistakes. She had the quick opporttunity to make an apology for a abominable analogy, comparing a horrible inhumane act, to an outward expression of faith after accepting Christ as Savior. She declined. (that’s also an issue with the super pro-war crowd)

      There’s mistakes and then as an older relative would say, “big whoppers”. This is a big whopper.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Look, I’m with you if you want to apply that kind of thinking to somebody like Todd Akin. This is not like that.

  • James Stanton

    Well said, Denny.

    I don’t think she’s put much thought into waterboarding as a moral issue other than it’s something that liberals (prominently) object to strongly. Her audience in the clip will appreciate this brand of militaristic demagoguery that is both macho posturing and an attempt to brand opponents as weak on national security.

    There’s other implications here in the notion that we should actually be proud of waterboarding and that is immoral not to to use it against suspected terrorists.

  • Nell Parker

    Although it was not the wisest choice of words, the word “baptism” can mean more than just a church sacrament. We use the term “baptized by fire” to mean going through a rough ordeal. At Thesaurus. com, there are over 100 synonyms for the word “baptize.”

    • Terry Galloway

      Thanks for pointing that out. It’s just that she it’s supposed to be an evangelical. While we know the Word made flesh means Jesus, I discovered there is a book using that title that is about the art of tattooing!

    • Brian T. Goss Jr.

      Reg you are the first person to mention the audience. I know it was an NRA event, and the crowd shots only really showed those who obviously supported her statement, but I don’t want to believe no one in that audience was offended.

  • buddyglass

    Just throwing this out there…

    Maybe the MSM were right about Palin all along. It just took her this long to say something uninformed and offensive that happened to pique the sensibilities of conservative, evangelical Christians.

    • James Stanton

      Well, I think it’s likely that the only reason it’s being discussed like this is that she was careless with her words and referred to baptism when talking about waterboarding. Politicians like Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have all long supported waterboarding and refused to call it torture without it becoming a major issue for most Evangelicals.

  • bobbistowellbrown

    Father forgive her. I’m praying that she will grow spiritually. Instead of putting up a fence to block an offending neighbor who was spying on her and writing a book about her, I thought she should have taken over some home made cookies and tried to befriend him for the sake of Jesus. But then if the annoying neighbor continued to bully her then she should have put in place some self defense. I hope she will pray for the terrorists and at the same time put self defense in place.

  • Garth Madden

    I wouldn’t go as far as to call this sacrilegious, but this may be what Jesus was referring to when He said “on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken”.

  • Randall Seale


    The criticism of Sarah Palin’s NRA speech is sorely misguided. (Disclaimer: prompted by Denny’s posts and by listening to the ~ 12min video, I listened to more Sarah Palin in it than I had I cumulatively before. In the conclusion of his blog post, Denny writes:
    “It dishonors God’s word by speaking profanely about baptism. It dishonors God’s image-bearers by treating waterboarding with moral indifference.”

    I disagree that Palin spoke profanely about baptism. As I understood her (obviously in the minority on this blog), she took a well understood practice in one arena (baptism in Christian churches) and applied it figuratively in another arena (waterboarding terrorists) using the presence of water in both as the common link. Her remarks are only profane if terrorists are considered honorable or if waterboarding is inherently evil.

    It is not uncommon throughout the south to speak similarly (no comment on other regions of the USA). We routinely speak of “preaching to the choir” in situations where one speaks intently to another who already agrees with him. Biblical preaching is no less a spiritual act than is baptism but the phrase isn’t necessarily being used profanely. Likewise, when an athlete has to face his first real test (being overmatched) on the field it is sometimes said he underwent a “baptism by fire.” I could go on with “singing his praises” when a reporter gushes about someone’s performance or “sacrificial lamb” when an athlete is has to go against someone with a reputation of dominance. In all of these, it’s no more than taking a practice in one arena and using it figuratively in another. But that doesn’t make it profane. It doesn’t deny or distort the reality in the first arena.

    I agree that waterboarding constitutes torture. It is a sobering matter to torture another human being. But in some cases torture is morally justified. Al Mohler had an excellent essay on this written post 9/11. I’m not suggesting that Dr. Mohler would adopt my terminology or view but only to show that it is a difficult issue and that Ms. Palin’s views are neither extreme nor new. She didn’t invent waterboarding and the “ticking time bomb” has been discussed for some time. Furthermore, Denny doesn’t go far enough in explaining the goal of waterboarding. It is not just to “inflict fear and terror on its subjects.” It is done in hope that the terrorist will disclose information useful in preserving innocent lives. Whether it has proved or would prove useful or whether another approach would be more effective who knows? Moreover, if it was ever shown that waterboarding was a critical factor in saving lives, what then? Is it not honorable to deliver innocent lives from the hands of terrorists? She wasn’t dishonoring God’s image-bearers with moral indifference. Rather, she is making a clear, moral distinction between (evil) terrorists and (innocent) citizens of whom national leaders assume responsibility for their defense.

    Also, it is misleading to further characterize Palin’s follow-up in the Kasie Hunt NBC interview as doubling down on the error. It is readily apparent from the interview as linked that Palin was responding to the use of waterboarding in response to terrorists, not the use of baptism in her NRA speech. Was there was more to the interview than was made available? To my knowledge she has made no follow-up comments on her use of baptism.

    It is well and good to point out critically public figures for their errors. The accusations in this post are unwarranted.

    • btgoss

      Randall you offer a very well written and thoughtful response.
      Everything you say is true.
      When it comes from Sarah Palin it is very hard to believe she could have been anywhere near as thoughtful.
      We have never heard that level of discourse from her before.
      Remember her comments about “blood libel” after the shootings in Arizona?
      She strikes me as someone who has just enough of an education, combined with very poor impulse control (and common sense) to say some profoundly stupid/shocking things.
      Then when presented with the facts to the contrary instead of being humble and acknowledging that she was wrong, she just keeps rolling along.

  • Curt Parton

    Randall, your attempt to defend this use of terminology just doesn’t hold water. (Sorry for the bad pun.) Yes, “preaching to the choir,” “singing one’s praises” and “baptism by fire” are all well-known expressions that don’t refer literally to sermons, worship or Christan baptism. We all understand this. But you can’t take any flippant usage of ‘praise’ or ‘baptism’ and characterize it as this kind of colloquialism. Sarah Palin simply didn’t use such an expression. She said, “This is how we baptize terrorists.” If her intention was to express something along the lines of ‘baptism by fire’—which is not at all borne out by the context—she communicated this idea very poorly. This statement is not only extremely ill-advised, even irresponsible, considering the misperception of some that this struggle is a holy war between Muslims and “Christians,” what she said was wholly egregious and indefensible. I share Denny’s concerns. Sarah Palin should be challenged to clarify or retract her statement. And we should speak out against anyone co-opting and perverting Christian concepts.

    • Randall Seale

      Denny maintains a well-run blog – among the best. So when he writes so critically of Palin, e.g., “. . . to throw Christian teaching under the bus . . .” I was curious as to why. So I listened to the linked 12M+ video. IMO, Denny has ‘misread’ Palin’s statement regarding baptism. (I do not mean to isolate her statement but neither do I care to comment on her speech beyond her baptism remark.)

      Nothing about her baptism statement denies, distorts, of dilutes the Word of God’s teaching on baptism. Contra Denny, I don’t think she wasn’t comparing baptism to torture nor was she “co-opting and perverting Christian concepts.” Her statement wasn’t about Christian baptism. It was about how terrorists can expect to be treated if captured (and I take it that it assumes guilt as a terrorist). Nor should it be offensive unless one self-identifies as a “terrorist” or considers it a foregone conclusion that waterboarding (torture) is never morally justified. As I noted in the previous post, she took a common practice from one arena and figuratively applied it in another. It’s unclear why it was thought “flippant” – it sounded sincere to me (but I don’t follow Sarah Palin).

      I think it is assumed throughout Scripture that nations will take efforts to defend themselves. Indeed, leaders bear this responsibility. Since terrorism has a well-established track record of harming American citizens why would it be thought out-of-bounds that a political figure would speak to this issue? And is there anything any national leader can say while addressing the threat of terrorism that will diffuse the sense of holy war among Muslims?

      Until Palin responds to Denny’s, Joe Carter’s, Dreher’s, et al criticism I would think she would be given the benefit of the doubt. Some of the rhetoric being used to criticize her ought to be toned down until then.

      I confess Jesus as Lord and consider myself an Evangelical. I would be more than ‘happy’ to criticize political figures if I thought it was warranted. In this instance I don’t. I suppose we’ll have to file this one away under “agree to disagree.”

      • Curt Parton


        You’re combining a few related, but different, issues. The practice of waterboarding itself is the larger context for Palin’s statement and a good topic of discussion—it’s just not the topic of Denny’s post. And if you said that you shared the concerns of Denny and others, but was bothered by some of the rhetoric, then that could possibly be a productive discussion. I’m certainly not endorsing anything that might be said in opposition of Palin’s statement. But you’re challenging the concern itself, and in doing so attempt to defend Palin’s use of the word “baptize.” IMO, this point of your argument is incredibly weak.

        She didn’t simply say that if she were in charge they would know that terrorists would be waterboarded, or that ‘they would know that this is how we treat terrorists’ or ‘how we deal with terrorists.’ She chose to use the religiously and culturally loaded expression “baptize.” She not only said this, but she . . . slowly . . . . and carefully . . . emphasized it. The use of this specific wording seemed to be quite intentional.

        If, after a championship game and a subsequent drenching of the coach with Gatorade, a journalist said, “. . . and that’s how they baptize coaches,” they would inspire more than a few raised eyebrows and questions regarding what exactly they meant. Because that wording is just odd. We simply don’t commonly use this word (by itself, with no accompanying, clarifying metaphorical colloquialism) in everyday conversation unless we’re intending some religious connotation. If we’re all hanging out at the pool and I say, “Hey, Sally just baptized Johnny,” everyone is going to assume a kind of double entendre with some intended connection to the religious practice of baptism, even if just a humorous one. That’s the natural way we hear this word, and it’s hard to imagine an example of the word used by itself where that religious connotation would not be intended. I just don’t buy your defense as plausible.

        Palin has had plenty of opportunity to clarify that this was not her intention, so it’s fair to assume that she meant this exactly the way it sounded. If so, I find it difficult to see how anyone could deny that this was flippant, that it was egregious, that it was co-opting a distinctly Christian symbol for crass, populistic, political purposes. and that it was therefore perverting the Christian meaning of baptism. But I do agree that we seem to have reached the point of agreeing to disagree. Thank you for the exchange and, despite our difference of opinion, blessings to you.

        • Randall Seale


          If it’s any consolation I agree with you from the middle of your second paragraph through the next-to-last sentence of your third paragraph – and doubly so on your last sentence.

          Yours in Christ,

          Randall Seale

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