In the last few days I’ve seen multiple reactions to the recent comments by Sarah Palin in which she stated: “Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” I won’t link to the whole 12 minute diatribe, because I think it is likely a waste of time to give much attention to her. If you are interested in some good reflections on Palin’s comments, I point you to fellow MennoNerds Tyler Tully at The Jesus Event who responds to Palin and The Gospel Coalition‘s Joe Carter, and Eddie Gonzalez at Schleitheim with a more visceral reaction. Both are worth your time. In the comments on Tully’s piece, I commented:
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.
As I said here, I really do see Jesus identifying with the oppressed, even if the oppressed are terrorists who hate everything that they think Christ stands for. I see no evidence that Jesus ever looks at the oppressed and thinks, “well, they did have it coming” or anything like that. As such, I think that Christians should be standing with the oppressed here.
While these conversations about Palin’s comments and condemnation of her views are needed, there has been a development that I’d like to spend more time on: a discussion of the beauty of baptism. Responding to Palin’s offensive comparison of baptism to torture1 is a necessary first step (and Tully and Gonzalez are helpful here), we then need to move to highlighting the beauty in baptism that she misses. I suspect that Palin’s view ties baptism to personal salvation, rather than communal covenant. Since baptism is, in this view, about saving the baptized from hell, we might reasonably jump to the conclusion that if waterboarding can convince a terrorist of the error of their ways, they might be saved in some similar sort of fashion. Of course, this jumps past the saving power of Christ. Baptism is only a sign, and a communal one at that, of the power of Christ to bring the one outside the faith into the community of faith. It isn’t baptism that saves, and thus any “saving” nature in torture bears no resemblance to the inner work of the Spirit that we testify to in baptism.
At Red Letter Christians, Jarrod McKenna testifies to the beauty of baptism with an example from his own community. The Sunday after Easter, their community gathered to baptize two new members of their community. One of them then offered a beautiful reflection on baptism while welcoming the community to the communion table, and what baptism and communion meant in light of Easter and the Australian holiday to honor men and women who served in the military (ANZAC day). This was an interesting confluence, to be sure. Here are some of her thoughts:
So, how do we look at ANZAC Day with Easter eyes? How do I take seriously that Jesus has turned the other cheek to us on the cross and in baptism empowers us to do likewise? Last weekend we celebrated our Lord’s triumph over the horror of violence on the cross, exposing all the ugliness and brokenness that is us, and all the grace, love and forgiveness that is our God. This weekend, lest we forget the horrors of war. Unfortunately, many instead will forget the horrors so many experienced in war and instead celebrate nationalism. What does war bring us? What does war expose in us? Christ gave us an alternative to war – love. God gave us love. And in that, God gave us strength. God did not command us to be doormats but to be peacemakers – to turn the other cheek in total defiance of systems than exploit and oppress, allowing us to overcome this exploitation and oppression not with violence but with love. In baptism, like Elisha, I have laid down my whole life. But this side of Easter, we can see that the God we surrender to conquers not with the sword of war but with the towel of service. So this ANZAC weekend, now as someone seeking to live out my baptism, not only do I pray for those whose lives have been and are being devastated by war, but I pray for those who are at war and who support wars, that they may see that God has shown us the most excellent way, through the love and compassion and grace shown at Calvary. I pray that this will indeed open our eyes to the brokenness and ugliness that we perpetrate when we are violent towards one another.
In this meal Jesus shows us what the apostle Paul calls the most excellent way. On the night that he was betrayed Jesus took the bread saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup saying, “this is the blood of the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
I need your help church, to let this baptism, and this meal, be the way I live in the world. The way I love in the world. As we together witness to the grace that means no more blood needs to be shed.
God, thank you for your body given for us, as we take may we be filled with your love to live that love for others. Amen
This is the beauty of baptism. May we all live into this blessed community that follows the example of Christ as our head.
1 Let’s be clear, waterboarding is torture. There is no doubt that it violates the Geneva Convention. No one can make a reasonable claim that it should be considered a viable option for treatment of prisoners, even terrorists. The fact that Palin supports it at all is horrific. Using baptism as an analogy is beyond ridiculous.