Sarah Palin’s Baptism of Terrorists: A Response to The Gospel Coalition on Torture and Violence

Former Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin recently delivered a ghastly speech at the NRA national conference in Indianapolis, IN where she received opulent applause from the gun-toting faithful present in the audience. A little over half way into her 12 minute “sermon,” Palin lambasted terrorists using Christian imagery:

“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.”

Not only did Palin seemingly praise torture by comparing it to a celebrated Christian sacrament, but she also demonstrated the utter lack of respect that the civil religion of the United States has for the Way of Jesus Christ. Should we be surprised? The civil religion of the United States dominates by using power over people, but the power of the Kingdom of God is demonstrated by power for people. One is a kingdom that manifests its might by killing, the other is a Kingdom that demonstrates its power through the Resurrection. One says “the only way to defend your culture is to kill your enemies” and the other says “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”

The two are diametrically opposed.

Perhaps what upsets me most is not only the praise Palin has received from some Christian circles, but also the criticism she’s received. For instance, Joe Carter (author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator)recently argued over at The Gospel Coalition:

For anyone to confess Christ as their savior and to compare one of the means of God’s grace to a reprehensible act of torture is reprehensible. I hope members of Gov. Palin’s local church will explain to her why her remarks denigrate the Christian faith. Such remarks bring shame on the Body of Christ and to our witness in the world. Even more shameful, however, is the fact that so many Christians would cheer her support of torture (and yes, waterboarding is torture).

While I agree with Carter that such a statement by Palin (not to mention torture in general) brings shame upon the Reign of God and is un-Christlike, he doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. In defending the use of violence against our enemies, Carter continues:

We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us. The liberal cosmopolitan elite [read: Liberal] appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal. However, the right-wing populist position [read: Palin], which is willing to face up to and address the evil of terrorism, fails to understand the ramifications of becoming like the enemy by dehumanizing them.

I’m still scratching my head in amazement of this statement. How could Carter, (author of a book on how Jesus argued) criticize Palin for her flippant jibes about torture in relation to Jesus as un-Christlike on the one hand, and then on the other hand defend violence against “those who seek to destroy us” when Jesus said “do not repay evil for evil,” “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” ???

Is Carter reading the same Bible that I do, or is his mantra merely a false dichotomy that has us choose between the positions of the “liberal cosmopolitan elite” and the “right-wing populists”? Maybe Carter and Palin would do well to re-read the words of Jesus Christ:

You have learned that they were told, “Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.” But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun shine on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax-gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the heathen do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

You have learned that they were told, “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. If a man in authority makes you go one mile, go with him two. Give when you are asked to give; and do not turn your back on a man who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who treat you spitefully. When a man hits you on the cheek, offer him the other cheek too; when a man takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you; when a man takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. Again, if you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do as much. And if you lend only where you expect to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to each other to be repaid in full. But you must love your enemies and do good; and lend without expecting any return; and you will have a rich reward: you will be sons of the Most High, because he himself is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:27-36)


Not only is torture un-Christlike Mr. Carter and Gov. Palin, but any violence against anyone (especially one’s enemies) is purely antichrist.

14 thoughts on “Sarah Palin’s Baptism of Terrorists: A Response to The Gospel Coalition on Torture and Violence

    • Certainly not a tribal conservative vs. liberal thing, I should have been more clear in the post. Its more of a loyalty thing, no? I’m not surprised, and truth be told, if it were a liberal I’d be just as surprised.

  1. I’m interested in the similarity between this speech and the reformers “re-baptizing” the Anabaptists by drowning them in the river. Sounds like torture of the infidels by bad baptism analogies isn’t all that new. Somehow I see Christ identifying with the tortured, not with Palin, the NRA, or the like.

    • It certainly evokes the memory of the “third baptism” given to Anabaptist who were tortured/ drowned for their faith.

  2. Thanks for this, I had a somewhat similar experience reading TGC’s response. I actually enjoyed most of it and loved the statement, “In our attempts to dehumanize our enemy we end up becoming less than human ourselves. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to save civilization and lose our humanity.” It upset me that he can make statements like that and immediately contradict himself, and Jesus, by saying we shouldn’t hesitate to use violence to protect our civilization. Would that not also qualify as losing “our humanity”?

  3. I wonder how long she would have waited, paused in silence, after saying “if I were in charge…” if nobody had applauded. That silence would have been the best part of her speech.

  4. Tyler,
    After Palin made those remarks (and has even doubled down on them-Does it remind you of her Blood libel comments?) what do you think about North Dakota’s Trinity CHRISTIAN School inviting palin to speak there? On top of THAT.. it is promoted as a FUNDRAISER.
    Using ‘ Palin’s words ‘ to raising money… with her recent comments that you so clearly described as ‘ offensive ‘…I think talking to Students at a CHRISTIAN School seems equally offensive.
    WHAT were they thinking?? Palins ideas should NOT be heard or passed on to students.

    WILLISTON, N.D. — Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate, will be in Williston in October to be the keynote speaker for a Trinity Christian School fundraiser.

    • Its an all too familiar motif, I’m afraid. I grew up in that fundamentalist culture, so its no surprise to me that people are literally capitalizing upon it.

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