My title plays on what Sarah Palin said in Indianapolis at the recent NRA convention about U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his proposition that gun owners wear bracelets to identify themselves. (But without inserting his proper title, as I have hers.) Now, I’ve always referred to the former governor of Alaska as exactly that, “the Governor,” out of respect for the office she held and the title she rightfully keeps for life. I would never refer to her publicly or privately by saying, “Hey Palin, you don’t want to go there, girly.” It would be demeaning, disrespectful, and ungentlemanly. So, instead of saying that about the Governor’s remarks on Baptism during her speech at the recent NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, I will say with all due deference, “Governor, your remarks were highly problematic and I take great exception to them.”
Before I outline my controversy with the Governor, let me place them in context. First, I admire Governor Palin. I was on the stage with her in Dayton, Ohio the day she was announced as GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008. Instead of immediately approaching her, I went to the Senator to congratulate him on picking her, telling him, “Picking Governor Palin is the best decision you’ve made in this campaign, Sir.” I meant it and still believe it.
When my wife, Cheryl and I visited the Palins in their home in Alaska, we observed her as the consummate mother, a gracious host, and a very smart and fun person to be around. She and Todd doted on their young son with Down Syndrome and made us feel like family. On that day I came not only to admire her, but to like her as a person. More than all this, Sarah Palin is my sister in Christ, which makes her closer to me than blood kin. We share in the same inheritance of faith–and that’s why I have a serious controversy with her over her remarks at the NRA convention.
Before I detail that, though, let me say one more thing: I was at the NRA meeting because I am a new member of the NRA. And, because I was a Ring of Fire Co-Chair at the event, I was offered a complimentary Life Membership. I was delighted to accept and can’t wait to receive my credentials. Regrettably, I had left early to return to Washington, so I did not hear her in person, but I did watch the entirety of the speech on video.
Now you know I’m not writing this as a contrarian, a dupe of the liberal left, or a defector from the camp. I write this as a concerned citizen, brother in Christ, and minister of the Gospel, mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1. The Great Apostle instructs us that if we encounter a fellow Christian who is “overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” So, in meekness, and in the knowledge that I have made and will make the same kind of error Governor Palin made, I offer her these humble words of correction: On the doctrine of baptism, “Governor Palin, you don’t want to go there, Sister.”
If you don’t know what I am referring to, the Governor said in her talk about the treatment of enemy detainees, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
The Governor’s dark humor–if that’s what it was–is a serious fault indeed. It is theologically heretical, utterly sacrilegious, and supremely irresponsible. It contradicts the Gospel, it demeans Holy Baptism, and it possibly places the lives of Christians around the world at risk. I’ll explain . . .
First, baptism is a sign of the Gospel of mercy and grace, not punishment and coercion. “Waterboarding,” as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” is designed to extract confessions and information under frightful duress from prisoners of war. The tactic is meant to cause suffering and panic. In contrast, the Gospel comes from the Middle English, “Godspel,” a translation of the New Testament Greek word, “euangelion,” or, “Good News.” St. Paul says about this Good News, “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) Baptism is our identification with this Good News, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Baptism is associated with the Good News; waterboarding is associated with the worst sort of bad news. Baptism is a sign of merciful forgiveness; waterboarding is a sign of punishing condemnation.
Secondly, baptism is in the sole purview of the church, administered by the people of God, principally pastors, or shepherds of souls, within the community of faith made of voluntary membership. Waterboarding is an instrument of the secular state, administered by marshals or agents of that secular state, whose job is to punish, not forgive, and to compel–not invite–offenders to surrender their confession. So, waterboarding is in every way the opposite of baptism, not the equivalent to it. To suggest that an agent of the secular state can use a form of baptism to frighten an enemy to surrender is to commit an historic error perpetrated by Christians. St. Paul instructed the Corinthian believers, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
Lastly, to equate waterboarding to baptism is to place Christian lives at risk. It plays right into the hands of the very jihadist murderers that the Governor rightfully decried in her remarks. Jihadis propagandize their target populations, deceptively purporting that Christians are out to forcefully convert Muslims, compel them to become Christian Americans, and subjugate them to western imperialism. For Governor Palin to have made her reckless remarks against the backdrop of a gun convention that, among other things, asserts the rights of Americans to arm themselves against government, makes the message all that more confusing. I will not be surprised if her speech is used in jihadi videos to not only recruit more terrorists, but to declare “holy war” against Christians, especially in places where they are vulnerable minorities.
Governor Palin, my dear Sister in Christ, I admonish you in the name of the Lord to retract your comments about waterboarding and baptism and clarify what you were doing and trying to say. In the future, when it comes to sacred concepts such as Holy Baptism, I remind you again of what you said about the Attorney General’s wrongly conceived idea, “Don’t go there.”
Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min, President and lead Missionary, Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital.
(For identification purposes only, Rev. Schenck, who holds degrees in Bible, theology, and Christian ministry, is chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of independent evangelical ministers, missionaries, and military chaplains.)