Monday, April 28, 2014

Sarah Palin, Blasphemer

Usually, Sarah Palin is too easy a target to bother picking on. She makes poor Dan Quayle (anybody remember him?) sound like a Rhodes Scholar, and can always be counted on to feed late-night comedians. I think Comedy Central should pay her royalties.

That said, this past weekend Palin outdid herself in front of a National Rifle Association rally in Indianapolis. The NRA, never known for inviting speakers with moderate views, may have gotten more than even it bargained for this time around.

What was Palin's sin? Blasphemy. In the midst of what I'm sure was an otherwise ho-hum tribalist rant about how evil Liberals are and how the government wants to take away everything, she uttered this little chestnut about how to deal with terrorists:
"If I was in charge they would know, waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists."
I'm sure that line got quite a lot of applause. I would like to think - though I don't hold out much hope - that faithful Christians in the audience, of whom surely there were many, may have withheld their applause or at least paused in discomfort for a moment. When was the last time you heard someone refer to the Sacrament of Baptism and terrorists in the same sentence?

The religious blasphemy here is obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the basic tenets of Christianity. Baptism is one of two sacramental practices that is pretty much universal to the Christian faith around the globe (the other being communion, the sharing of bread and wine). And while there are lots of squabbles over details, the fundamental understanding of baptism is the same the world over: it is a practice that signifies the salvation of the individual baptized and their joining with the broader church, the Body of Christ. It is a deliberately inclusive ritual that brings people into the fold of acceptance by the church.

How anyone, even in search of a political punch line, can equate this practice with torturing terrorists for information is beyond me. I can only assume that someone who would say such a thing is so callous to the faith she professes to believe, so wrapped up in her own ego and need for approval, and so steeped in the blindness of the political tribalism she has helped create that she doesn't understand what she said. The fact that "baptism" might have some religious significance for anyone - even for some of her own followers - is obviously not of the slightest concern to her.

I don't really care what Sarah Palin does or what she says. She strikes me as the worst kind of pandering politician who, far from being a "rogue", is all too eager for power and will do whatever is necessary to obtain it. Lacking electoral power, she is happy to whip people up into a frenzy as a sort of modern-day political revivalist, which is power of a sort.

What interests me more is the reaction of the churches. What must the Assemblies of God, the Pentacostal denomination to which Palin has belonged, think of such an obvious theological outrage? One of the four points of the church's stated Mission is "Show compassion" - which suggests that water boarding might be a little out of place. The church also describes "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" as one of its "Core Doctrines", though there are no references to torture therein.

Beyond the Assemblies, what kind of response might we see from other churches? Few that will be reported in the media, of course - Pope Francis might be able to draw some attention (and I hope he will), but most other denominations likely won't make the front (or even the back) page. They should consider issuing statements all the same, to their own members if nothing else. This is one case where I would think almost any sincere Christian would agree that there should be a line between politics and religion, and that no faith - not even the faith of the powerful class - should be used to score cheap political points.

At root there is an old lesson here. Setting aside Constitutional arguments about the Separation of Church and State from the government side, this case presents a cautionary tale to churches about the dangers of mixing in politics. Politicians can and will twist, distort, and pervert your words, doctrines, and beliefs - whatever they may be - to their own ends. When you lend your support to them in public, you give them license to do so.

So to faithful Christians everywhere, whatever your political leanings: behold Sarah Palin. Never forget that the lust for power and adulation can destroy anything and everything, even the things you think are most central. And think twice before backing a politician - any politician - before you give them license to speak in your name and in the name of God.

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