Christianity,  Politics

Sarah Palin quadruples down on baptism remarks

I guess I am starting and ending the week with Sarah Palin. She has issued yet another statement defending her recent remarks to the NRA that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” She writes,

Actions to stop terrorists who’d utterly annihilate America and delight in massacring our innocent children? Darn right I’d do whatever it takes to foil their murderous jihadist plots – including waterboarding. Whatever one thinks of my one-liner at the NRA rally about treating evil terrorists the way they deserve to be treated to prevent the death of innocent people, it’s utterly absurd for MSNBC to suggest that I could put our beloved troops in harm’s way, but we’ve come to expect the absurd from that failing network. If you want to talk about what really harms our troops, let’s talk about politicians who gut our military’s budgets, or a president whose skewed budgetary priorities slash military benefits, or an administration that puts our vets on endless waiting lists for care that comes too late to help those who’ve paid the price for our freedom, or those who break bread with those who think it makes no difference how our military heroes died in Benghazi or anywhere else trying to protect America. Those actions are a heck of a lot more harmful than declaring an appropriate message our enemies should receive. If some overly sensitive wusses took offense, remember the First Amendment doesn’t give you a right not to be offended. Perhaps hypocritical folks who only want Freedom of Speech to apply to those who agree with their liberal agenda might want to consider that the evil terrorists who were the brunt of my one-liner would be the first to strip away ALL our rights if given the chance. That’s why we do whatever we can to prevent them from killing innocent people. And for that, we should NEVER apologize. Good Lord, critics… buck up or stay in the truck. And if you love freedom, thank our troops! Thank our vets! And thank those who have the brains to support them and the guts to defend what they have earned!

– Sarah Palin

Regardless of criticism from the Left, I think Palin is missing the point of the criticism that she has been hearing from Christians. And that criticism has less to do with politics than it does with the integrity of the Christian faith that she professes.

There has been a longstanding debate about whether waterboarding equals torture. I agree with those who say that it is. Regardless of where you come down on that issue, however, everyone agrees that waterboarding is intended to inflict fear and terror on its subjects by making them feel like they are drowning. For Christians, it is offensive to compare this to baptism. Moreover, it undermines to Christian witness to use rhetoric that conflates coerced simulated drowning with Christian baptism. It distorts what baptism means, and it confirms to many Muslims some of the worst caricatures of Christianity that one finds in the Muslim world.

A friend of mine who has served as a missionary in the middle-east for two decades recently shared with me his thoughts about Palin’s remarks:

Words like hers harm our witness in the Muslim world, as they confirm their deeply-held belief that politics, military force and religion go hand in hand – as much in the West as in Islam… Statements like Palin’s increase the risk to our safety, as they inflame Muslim anger toward Christians. Personally, I think waterboarding is torture, and I think we are called to a higher standard than the people we are fighting. Even if someone disagrees with me on that, it is still totally unacceptable to connect waterboarding and baptism.

I care about foreign policy and about how America projects its power around the world. These are moral concerns that every Christian should care about. But I’m more concerned about the fortunes of the gospel in the world. Palin defends her remarks as an “appropriate message.” But is it appropriate to give ammunition to Christianity’s critics in the Muslim world? Is it appropriate to give the impression that American Christians aim to inflict coerced “baptisms” upon conquered foes? The good and noble desire to oppose terrorism does not excuse reckless rhetoric.

Yes, Palin was using a figure of speech. Nevertheless, it was a profane figure that distorts the faith and gives occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme (Rom. 2:24). For that reason, no Christian should be trading in and defending this kind of rhetoric.


  • Ian Shaw

    “Darn right I’d do whatever it takes to foil their murderous jihadist plots – including waterboarding.” So, Geneva Convention need not apply here?

    Denny, it sure sounds like she not saying that she’d ok waterboarding and then declare, “the line must be drawn here, this far, no further. Sound like she’s ok with anything and everything.

    “Actions to stop terrorists who’d utterly annihilate America and delight in massacring our innocent children?”

    Did she really just go all Helen Lovejoy with a “won’t somebody please think of the children” argument?

    Sigh, another facepalm moment. Has anyone publically called her out on her analogy of baptism and waterboarding? Has anyone really asked her if she meant to insult those that take baptism seriously? Please, just be quiet, go away and take your blind nationalism with you.

    Disclaimer-the opinions of Sarah Palin do not represent those of evangelical Christians nor people that tend to lean conservative on the political spectrum.

    • Robert I Masters

      “Disclaimer-the opinions of Sarah Palin do not represent those of evangelical Christians nor people that tend to lean conservative on the political spectrum.”

      This is getting nauseous.

      Disclaimer -the opinions of Ian Shaw do not represent those of us evangelical
      Christians nor people that tend to lean conservative on the political spectrum.

    • buddyglass

      That line stood out to me as well. “Whatever it takes”. Would she murder their children in front of them? Would she crush their testicles with a hammer? Gouge out their eyes? Crush their teeth with pliers? Burn off their hands and feet?

      Somehow I doubt it. On this count, at least, I think she’s all bluster. Probably willing to go further than most, but I’m just not convinced she’s enough of a monster to approve of the really appalling forms of torture.

      The other thing that leapt out at me: “treating evil terrorists the way they deserve to be treated”

      How would you know a given person is an “evil terrorist” who deserves to be tortured? A trial? Or just…”we captured this guy and we think he’s probably a terrorist”. Seems like you’d want to set the bar a little higher than that.

  • Don Johnson

    There are a few ways to see this, the word baptize is just a transliteration of the Greek baptizo which has a primary common meaning of immerse or wash, outside of any religion. Of course, Christians have used this term, most commonly for baptism in water and for the charismatics, for those that have been baptized in/by the Spirit. But this does not mean they own the word.

    I agree in context Palin was using the Christian meaning of baptism with waterboarding, putting together a very good thing with a very bad thing. Her sound bite coach made a bad comparison and she used it and so owns it.

  • bobbistowellbrown

    My problem with Palin is that while she gives our military credit for our freedom she does not give God any credit for keeping us free. We could all be speaking German or Japanese now if God hadn’t intervened in many miraculous ways during World War II. Because of God’s blessing on the U.S. Palin has the freedom to say what she wants to.

    • Stephen Beck

      I am not sure this rhetoric is helpful either. We should be more careful in describing modern geopolitical events as indicators of God’s blessing and miracles.

      • Lauren Bertrand

        Agreed. That’s a bad, bad idea. After all, where was God when the South (where the majority of Southern Baptists lived and continue to live to this day) lost the Civil War?

  • Curt Day

    I strongly agree with this post. In addition, Sarah Palin’s followup remarks indicate a bipolar view of the world–similar to what we were taught to have during the Cold War. Unfortunately, each side in the bipolar world believes that evil resides with the other and that enables each side rationalize all actions against the other.

  • Wolfgang Haede

    I am a German Christian worker in country with a Muslim majority (Turkey). I find it terrible what Sarah Palin said – and not in the first place because “it gives ammunition to the opponents of the Gospel”, but because her comments do not reflect what Jesus teaches us. If the character and the message of Jesus doesn’t drive us – what can we tell our Muslim friends?

  • Gus Nelson

    As an alleged evangelical Christian, shouldn’t she be calling for more prayer, more evangelism, more piety, not more waterboarding? Her flippant comment betrays a foolish lack of understanding of the power of the gospel – so she’s not much different than millions of others in the United States who claim they are Christians. Why do we expect so much from her, when we seem to often expect so little of ourselves?

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Notice that Palin never once mentioned the word “baptism” in her backpedaling defense. That says everything you need to know: she completely missed the point of the criticism. I’m so glad that conservatives who might normally support her ideas are calling her to task on this.

    • Ian Shaw

      Exactly. She doesn’t understand why people are upset. She thinks it’s because we’re all wimps and don’t agree with “going after the bad guys”. She’s not even close to why a lot of people are upset at what she said.

      • Esther O'Reilly

        Right, though I do think it’s of a piece. It’s the 24 generation. People like her have swung too far to the opposite side in a celebration of torture. But that kind of knee-jerk reaction carries its own risks with it.

        • Ian Shaw

          I’d be all for waterboarding (sarcasm) if it’s trained like a police officer with a taser. You want to use it, you have to have it done to you. Think she’ll get in line to be waterboarded?

          • Esther O'Reilly

            Actually, Chris Hitchens tried exactly that as an experiment, because he was naturally more hawkish and wanted to see if water-boarding was such a big deal as all that. But afterwards he was convinced that it was torture.

    • Randall Seale

      The criticism has been like a train-wreck – all over the place. She’s been criticized for “comparing baptism to torture” (Denny), speaking in a “nasal whine” (Dreher), supporting torture (Joe Carter), and blasphemy (Mollie Hemmingway). And that’s just this site and its links. Has she even been asked specifically to clarify her baptism remark?

      • Ian Shaw

        Randall, she was, but she was confused as to why people were upset. She thinks (based on her reaffirming of her statement a second time) the controversy is her support of torture (waterboarding), not the shallow analogy of torture to baptism.

        But I think she needs to be asked a third time specific to her absurd analogy about baptism and how it offended many evangelicals.

        • Randall Seale

          Ian, Can you point me to a source? Some people are indeed upset that she would sanction waterboarding so it shouldn’t be surprising that she would respond along those lines. As for her statement linking baptism with waterboarding please see my posts in Denny’s previous article on this – no need to repeat them here but there was nothing “absurd” about this statement of her NRA speech.

  • bobbistowellbrown

    We need to pray for Palin. If she read II Chronicles 17:7-10 she would realize that water boarding baptism won’t do as much as the Word of God:”7 Then in the third year of his reign he sent his officials, Ben-hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah ; 8 and with them the Levites, Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tobadonijah, the Levites ; and with them Elishama and Jehoram, the priests. 9 They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people. 10 Now the dread of the LORD was on all the kingdoms of the lands which were around Judah, so that they did not make war against Jehoshaphat.”

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