About THAT comment

In case you haven’t been following, a US politician recently commented that waterboarding is “how we baptize terrorists.” Naturally, the Internet outrage machine went into full swing.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614615/Sarah-Palin-speaks-NRA-rally-says-shed-baptize-terrorists-waterboarding-them.html

So why is this comment offensive? There is no doubt that some of the outrage is simply that this particular politician is typically polarizing: any comment draws some kind of response.  But for Christians, baptism by waterboarding is blasphemous for several reasons.

1) Baptism is not violently coercive.  Waterboarding is an act of violence, whether or not you view it as an act of torture.  Baptism is an act of grace- a sacrament.  The conflation of violence with baptism should be repugnant to every Christian.

2) The comment betrays an unhealthy relationship between evangelicalism and militaristic nationalism. The relationship between church and state has always been a complicated one in the US. With so many religious and non-religious interests involved in the founding of the US, one can find proof for just about anything in regards to the relationship between church and state.  But what is incredibly clear from Scripture and history is that nothing good comes from the spread of values through violence.  Especially when those values are of Christ.  Baptism is the welcome of folks into Christian community- waterboarding is the advancing of a national foreign policy.  Unfortunately, the Church has often benefited from a relationship with an aggressive US foreign policy.  Making the world safe for democracy has often made the world safe for the Christian Church.  This is to say nothing about foreign policy or views about the military. The Church should just be aware that a lot of damage has been done by drawing too close a connection between US foreign policy and the missionary nature of the Church.

3) The comment is just plain sick. On Easter Sunday, I baptized two of our young people who came to me wanting to be baptized.  It was joyous. It was exciting. It was the celebration of new life in Christ. Meanwhile, there is a great sense of glee taken in the quote at waterboarding “bad guys.” Part of the militarism of the Christian faith is that kicking butt is to be celebrated, and there is something righteous about killing bad guys.  While force may in fact be necessary in halting the most evil actions, it ought be done with a sense of regret… not pride. Whenever the New Testament uses battle images, it is to show how different the Christian struggle is than national struggle.  Jesus is clear that living by the sword means dying by the sword.  Isaiah is clear that swords are meant to be used for gardening, and that the redemptive reign of God will lead us to a place where won’t study war anymore.  Even more challenging is that Jesus is clear that our attitude toward our enemies ought to be that of love.

Now, I don’t hold the secrets behind pursuing justice and how to think about war and just peace. What I do know is that a disservice to the Church has been done by taking the joyful welcome of God’s children in baptism and making it a statement of force, power and violence.  So what next?  Do we feed the outrage machine? Or is there a better way?

Maybe we need to recover the ministry of reconciliation.  Being reconciled to God means being reconciled to others.  One cannot love God without loving neighbor. Can we commit to loving our neighbor today? Can we take one action step to pray for our enemies, to pray for reconciliation and to remember our baptism in being shaped by the love of Jesus?

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3 thoughts on “About THAT comment

  1. Andy thank you for this bold post! I know that various Christian voices, left and right, have been banning together to publicly rebuke those nauseating words. But I still think this is a word that needs to be spoken and heard in the reformed blogosphere where all too often reformed thinkers (both left and right) are quick to tote an evangelical as an ally when our basic messages or projects coincide and then quick to distance ourselves from “them” as soon as an evangelical says something we don’t like. In this case I think it is best that we call Mrs Palin to repentance while we are chastising her for her words, as if she were one of our own (no mater ow much we might agree or disagree with the particulars of her theology or politics) rather than creating the distance that allows us to dismiss her as a fringe lunatic to make ourselves feel more comfortable. I think a charitable read of your post encourages us to do just that. Anyway, I always love ho you take on fresh and knotty issues and give us a lot to think about!

    • Thanks Wayne- I can always appreciate how something controversial happens the day it’s my turn to write. Writing here gives me an outlet for my muddled heresy.

  2. I explained the reformed view of baptism to a co-worker just a couple days ago, and was struck again at how mysteriously wonderful it is. Which makes Palin’s comment all the more inappropriate. But you’re right. We need to call each other to repentance instead of just venting our rage. Maybe the comments section would be a friendlier place if we did that? 🙂 Besides, I don’t know if anyone else feels the way I do, but I’m so TIRED of being angry and offended (or only just angry and offended) over what people sometimes say. Doesn’t this feeling of fatigue point to something?

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