Monday, April 28, 2014

To My Fellow Christian Sarah Palin: Baptism, Enemies, and Truth – Words That Matter

Governor Sarah Palin recently delivered an address to a gathering of NRA folk in Indianapolis.  I listened to the speech in its entirety and recommend you do the same.

Reasonable people can and do differ on a great many issues, gun use and access among them.  And Governor Palin and I are on different sides of the question.  Fair enough.

What is not so fair, I would suggest, is the appropriation of the language of our shared faith; the clinging to a gospel that is rejected in the same breath; and a disregard of facts (truth) when speaking of one’s enemies.

Regarding our “enemies” (by which Gov. Palin is referring to terrorists), she says, “. . . if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” [huge applause and cheering]  

1. The appropriation of the language of our shared faith Baptism is the rite, the ritual, the sacrament – the holy sign (one of only two for Protestants) – the outward evidence of the inward reality of having been claimed as God’s very own in Christianity.  When Jesus himself is baptized, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends upon him and God proclaims Jesus as God’s own son, in whom God is well pleased.  (Matthew 3.16-17).  Waterboarding shares with baptism only the use of water.  Waterboarding is to baptism as torture is to the doctor’s smack of a new-born baby’s butt.  To call torture baptism in a speech using other language of faith and God ignores Jesus’ own gospel message, a particular affront in this Easter season, when Christians world-wide celebrate the resurrection of the one who was himself tortured to death by state actors.  I want to believe that Gov. Palin is using the language of ‘baptism’ in a secular way (as in being ‘baptized’ by fire, meaning to be introduced to a certain way of being/acting in extremis).  The problem is that the remainder of her speech is peppered with the language of faith in a way that makes such a dismissal virtually impossible, because she weaves faith into her speech in such a way as to suggest that to carry a gun is not merely a constitutional matter, but also a biblical right or even imprimatur.

2. Clinging to a gospel the speaker rejects all in the same breath Use of the language of ‘enshrinement’ – the language of the sacred or holy –  (as in gun-ownership being ‘enshrined’ in our constitution); referring to baptism when speaking of waterboarding; giving the gratuitous shout-out to prayer in school;  and wrapping up with: “Celebrating family, faith and freedom . . . God shed his grace on thee, America, so stand and fight . . .” co-mingles the language of faith and Christianity in particular with the torture of enemies (waterboarding), killing with a gun as a problem-solving technique (my cold, dead hands language and the implied warning to Attorney General Eric Holder, “you don’t want to go there, buddy”); and the very specific link of “enemies” with torture as an indictment of the claimed lack of political will of those who differ with her on this issue (they would coddle the enemies that she, if in charge, would waterboard) – all this leads to a conclusion that for Gov. Palin, Jesus’ gospel is a call to arms.  The problem, of course, is Jesus, who actually happens to be very specific when it comes to enemies:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? . . .”  (Matthew 5.43-47; also Luke 6.27 & 35).  You simply cannot, with any integrity, wrap yourself in the gospel and advocate the torture of your enemies in the same breath.  Jesus recognizes the human habit of responding to enemies in exactly the way Gov. Palin recommends.  He recognizes it and rejects it out of hand.  Advocate torture if you will.  But you cannot, you may not, you must not, clothe yourself in The Risen One to do it.

3. Disregarding the facts when speaking of one’s (political) enemy It is popular to the point of hardly meriting notice, let alone response, for folks in the political sphere today to make false claims against their opponents.  But it isn’t okay that they do nor that we allow it to pass by.  Truth matters.  Facts matter.  False claims of facts and truth matter because they misshape our perception of reality.  Gov. Palin takes on and carries as a theme in her speech, with references to the various bracelets she is wearing, a claim that Attorney General Eric Holder advocates the wearing of some sort of tracking bracelet by gun owners.  There is only one problem with the claim: it is false, as attested by the presumably liberal TPM and presumably conservative Bearing Arms.  Facts and truth matter to our faith as well as our practical day-to-day lives (if there can even be any separation of the two): we follow the man who self-identified as the way, the truth, the life, who instructed his followers to allow their yes to be yes, their no, no. (Matthew 5.37).  It may well be that Gov. Palin and/or her speechwriters  believed what she said about the Attorney General to be true.  But that doesn’t solve much: when we are speaking, it is our duty to assure that our words are true, that they are accurate.  That is actually part of the job of being a Christian.  Truthfulness is so important that it is actually enshrined (unlike our constitutional provisions) in our holy writ, which we refer to as the Ten Commandments, among which is the provision: Thou shalt not lie (or more accurately, bear false witness – that is, to say something not true about another person).  Before we say it, it is our job to know whether it is true and if we cannot or do not know, we should not say it.  The fact that it took me less than 5 minutes to find two sites online that referenced the Attorney General’s actual remarks indicates that the truth was easily discoverable.  One simply had to wish to find it.  Gov. Palin claimed that the Attorney General wants to track by bracelet those who own guns.  What he actually said was that there was interest in exploring smart guns that can only be used by the actual owner (via a chip in the gun which links electronically to a bracelet worn by the owner).

Truth matters.  Taking care to tell truth matters.  Taking special care not to speak ill of enemies falsely (recognizing our own inner tendency not to give our enemies the benefit of the doubt) matters.  Making claims about the gospel which directly contradict it matters.  Clothing ourselves with the gospel of the Prince of Peace while proclaiming things like torture matters.

As a fellow Christian, Governor Palin, I beseech you: make your case, but please, please, please, stop standing on Jesus’ back to do it if you're not willing to grapple with the ways in which the gospel challenges your views.



  1. We need more voices like yours, Beth, to neutralize the lies and their negative effects the people like Sarah Palin are spreading. It's too sad that most who follow her and her ilk, are not ones to look up facts on the Internet or to try to verify them in any manner. I wish there were some way to share your article with Sarah. I am going to try.

    God bless you,

    1. Marilyn, thanks - I just wish - oh, who know - I just wish it were different. Night, Beth

  2. As always you NAILED it. I've seen so many posts about Palin's remarks on Facebook, but they simply stop with outrage. You took the time to listen to everything and then wrote a brilliant and cogent response. I shared this link on my page (again). Oh, how I wish I lived closer to your church.

  3. Truly, truly excellent. I was sickened to read Sarah Palin's comment. Thank you for such a clear and also loving article.

  4. I finally had an excellent place to share this piece. Good friends of mine in another city happen to be on the opposite page from me politically. We rarely venture there. They consider themselves good Christians, but support some of the wildest theories -- such as those presented by Sarah Palin. On a recent visit, the husband, who is elderly and a retired veteran, asked me what I thought of her. I avoided a lengthy discussion, but when I returned I remembered your blog post above. This morning I forwarded it to them. With love, of course. They are manipulated by FOX news.

    Thank you, again, Beth for your intelligent review of this speech.

    Peace and love,

    1. Marilyn, Thank you so much for letting me know this. We seldom know how far our words travel and it's a good reminder always to me to take the care I encourage Governor Palin to take. Peace & hugs, Beth

  5. Have to wonder what our mutual cousin DJ would respond? He's banished me, so I shall never know. Too bad,
    He has a wonderful family. and, can't quite tell how many of them their are. I would like to think is see him as another of God's creatures, set on his venture as I as set on mine.

    At some level, I detect that DJ doesn't see that kinship. He more concerned with an enemies list, and his business does tend that way -- Marines have to be ready to fight at a moments notice and must be ready and willing to do what s necessary for victory (And, dealing with the bags of shit that come when victory is a fickle Mistress.) But, dealing with the bags of shit, is not what we train for -- and they are full of nasty surprises !! Surprises that keep on giving -- in our brilliance we invoke too many of the deities we never got along with, and turned them loose all at once, with out proper food, proper weapons, and not even a battle plan.

    Last one out of the cage, wins -- what ever is left;spoils of war to feed to
    g-ds of war.

    We'll call it a Great victory which will have as many fathers.
    as victors who will be fed well and often.
    Defeat, and all those who serve her, they shall be all orphans and cripples -- let to wander for all creation, all their day, in suits too baggy, just a half step behind.