Is Waterboarding How We “Baptize Terrorists”? – Sarah Palin, Enemies, and Christian Anthropology

The Story: Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin explains one way U.S. counterterrorism policy would change if she were president: “Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

The Background: In a speech to members of the National Rifle Association, gathered in Indianapolis this weekend, Sarah Palin made the sacrilegious remark about how she would treat terrorists.


Why It Matters:  For anyone to confess Christ as their savior and to compare one of the means of God’s grace to an act of torture is reprehensible. I hope members of Gov. Palin’s local church will explain to her why her remarks denigrate the Christian faith. Such remarks bring shame on the Body of Christ and to our witness in the world. Even more shameful, however, is the fact that so many Christians would cheer her support of torture (and yes, waterboarding is torture).

Gov. Palin was attempting to appeal to the basest political populism (nothing in her remarks could be construed as genuinely conservative) by claiming that current U.S. counterterrorism policy is  overly-tolerant and empathetic toward our enemies. She contends that proper policies would “put the fear of God into our enemies.”

Unfortunately, what Palin is proposing is a mixture of pagan ethics and civil deistic religion. She could have provided a more useful recommendation by supporting a Christian view, for on this issue in particular, Christian anthropology not only provides the correct view but the only one that can provide an adequate framework in which to form our conception of our “enemies.”

As political scientist Glenn Tinder notes, the human being is both fallen and exalted, sacred and yet morally degraded. These two aspects of humanity cannot be separated. A fact, Tinder admits, that is “hard for common sense to grasp.” Indeed, it is almost impossible to grasp when we try to apply this concept to our enemies. We often fall for one of two extremes.

The “liberal” position criticized by Palin (more accurately framed as the liberal cosmopolitan elite position), tends to be overly empathetic in an attempt to understand and “humanize” our foes. As Palin notes (albeit hyperbolically) they take the view that we cannot “offend them” or “make them feel uncomfortable.”

But this is just one of the ways in which we can err. The “right-wing populist” position supported by Palin, seeks retribution and “dehumanizes” our opponents in order to distance them from ourselves, can be just as dangerous, particularly for those who must carry out the fight against terrorism.

Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles In Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, found that dehumanizing the enemy during the Vietnam war caused psychological damage to American troops:

Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This in true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring makes life unendurable. (Achilles, pg. 115)

In our attempts to dehumanize our enemy we end up becoming less than human ourselves. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to save civilization and lose our humanity

We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us. The liberal cosmopolitan elite appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal. However, the right-wing populist position, which is willing to face up to and address the evil of terrorism, fails to understand the ramifications of becoming like the enemy by dehumanizing them.

The truly Christian position is to never forget that evil comes not just from the actions of “terrorists” or “enemies” but from the heart of fallen, sacred yet degraded, human beings. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, our enemies need to accept Jesus and to be baptized by water and the Spirit. That is the Christian way, not as Palin would have it, to have our enemies fear a pagan god and have their spirit broken by water.

  • Curt Day

    We’ve had our share of disagreements but this post is excellent. I would add that when responding to an enemy that has committed atrocities against us, we have to ask ourselves whether we are learning from the enemy or from the experience of being abused–this distinction comes from an activist friend of mine, not from me. The more we learn from the former, the more we will imitate them. Thank you for the post.

  • DM3

    As a firm believer in non-violent resistance a la Wink, Hauerwas, etc., this kind of statement coming from Palin would sadden me coming from ANYONE, so my issue here isn’t being anti-right wing politics or anything… But, as I stated elsewhere, although she made an incredibly dehumanizing remark here, the response is not to attack her in the process. This is where I appreciate Wink so much because he has revealed an innate tendency in our hearts: the myth of redemptive violence. By taking the vitriol she has shown for others and unleashing it on her is no better than anything she has said. It’s so easy to forget that if our “battle”, so to speak, is not truly with flesh and blood, then Palin, nor the terrorists, are truly our enemies, no matter what they may say and do. When Jesus calls to love our “enemies”, we find that at the end of the day, our love compels us to see them otherwise. It’s hard. It doesn’t always come easily. But we are called to lives of faithfulness, not necessarily “effectiveness”.

    Thanks for writing an article that actually made me not regret coming onto this site again. Derek Rishmawy isn’t too bad, either…

    -From an ex-TGC Frequenter

    • James

      I agree with you that it is unwise to personally attack people like Palin who hold these views. But it seems like it would be wise to firmly disassociate ourselves from people whose words and actions get in the way of reaching the lost and focusing on the core message of Christ. I hope that it is possible to take a strong stance against Palin/Tea Party/Republican Party without needlessly attacking them!

      • BrendtWayneWaters

        Over-generalization ain’t all that helpful, either. Just sayin’….

        • James

          Sadly, I don’t think this is a generalization. The gulf between American conservatism and Biblical Christianity is a wide one and I’m not sure that association with the Republican party, etc. is all that defensible from a Biblical perspective.

  • RStarke

    Thanks, Joe.

  • Johnny Walker

    “We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us.”

    This is problematic if you are suggesting that as Christians we have a right to use violence (e.g. fight/make war) in order to “defend our culture”. That seems wildly incongruent with the life of Jesus?

    • Curt Day


      Understand your concerns but if you look at the items as belonging to a whole rather than separate, there is a justification there. That is when it is our culture and our future and our lives, at stake there is a valid reason to exercise self-defense. And one of the jobs gov’t has is to defend its people. There is a time when it is not the time of the Christian to exercise that self-defense but it is the job of the gov’t to defend its people from injustice.

      At the same time, and I think part of what Carter was getting at is that we have to balance self-defense with moral standards and responsibilities to others with regard to how we treat them. We can’t justify every action in the name of self-defesne. Nor can we afford to externalize evil so as to deny our own.

      • Arthur Sido

        Our calling as Christians which necessarily demands loving our enemies, even those who threaten “our culture” and even our lives, trumps our rights as Americans. Ms. Palin is a textbook example of the state of many religious people in this country, Americans who identify with Christianity rather than Christians who have been sent to America as ambassadors of the King.

        • Dempy

          We are to love our enemies, but the Bible does affirm the morality and justice of defensive war (Genesis 9:6),and even defense of your home if it is invaded (Exodus 22:2).

        • Larry Hall

          Yup when that guy breaks in your house you just love him up and see what happens to you and your family.
          Wow how people dont understand the word of God amazes me.
          Bible says to study to show yourself ap[proved rightly dividing the word of truth.

          • Ron

            The automatic and unthinking way that people inject America into these things is troubling. It is absolutely about oil!

            • Dunsworth

              Yeah, oil. That’s what got Mohammad started off in 622 and why it’s never let up since then. Oil.

            • paulewog

              That may be why some Muslims hate America. But is that why America (and some other western countries) has been so interested in the middle east? Say, for example, the whole thing with the Shah and the Prime Minister in Iran in the 1950s?

              There’s a LOT more history to American’s involvement in the middle east than Islam vs. Christianity.

            • Ron

              Well said. It is not good enough to render invisible America’s and American corporations’ long and terrible history of injustice and exploitation in the middle east.

        • Andrea

          This is an excellent way to put it, far better than I could. As Christians, our kingdom is not of this world, or of America, as much as we love our country and the good things about our culture. You point in your comment to the very real danger of civil religion, a helpful reminder to us all.

      • paulewog

        Like Johnny, I was more or less with Joe up until that last part. Defending our culture while decrying it from the pulpit seems odd. ;) And, furthermore, killing people to defend culture is … well, a bit strange.

        I understand defending lives, defending neighbors, defending even country, but I think that “culture” word in there threw me off a bit.

        Taken with the rest of the post, though, I seriously doubt Joe is advocating going to war to defend our culture of birthday cake at birthday celebrations, gift-giving at Christmas, and eating turkey in November. ;)

      • Larry Hall

        The Bible says thou shalt not murder not kill look at the original language big diff in defending ourselves and murder.matter of fact the muslims murder Christians all the time.

        • paulewog

          Let’s say America declares war on Mexico. We invade. We kill lots of people.

          Is that murder?

          Let’s say America supports an invasion of a country (oh, say, Guatemala) that kills people … not in self-defense (though propaganda said that that was what it was, “defense” against a hypothetical future event). Is that murder?

          It seems that many believe that it’s not murder simply because it’s war or a military thing, rather than personal.

    • Larry Hall

      So are you saying because i am a Christian i have less rights than others and i have no right to defend myself?I believe the temple was destroyed by enemys of Christians and Jews in 70 ad.Do we just sit around and watch things happen?This is how this country got in all this trouble So called christians who do not and wont speak up against anything.If anyone is to blame for the shape our country is in its the Christians and i am one but i do speak out against sin.And people killing Christians is sin.

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  • Ian

    This is why blind nationalism is wrong and dangerous Mrs. Palin. I pray for your repentance for comparing the outward/public expression of ones faith to an inhumane act.

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  • The Irish Atheist

    In Ireland when I was a child, Catholics ‘baptised’ Protestants by blowing them up, and Protestants ‘saved’ Catholics with bullets.

    I saw this happen in the nation of my birth, and I desperately do not want to see it in the nation of my adoption.

    It’s brutally ironic that this reprehensible woman has more in common with Christian terrorists than with the freedom she so ardently preaches about.

    • MSB FL

      Dangerous to consider and label as reprehensible one with whom you may share eternity. Disagree — even hate perhaps — her words or positions. But if she trusts Christ, she is, like you, a reprehensible sinner saved by grace.

  • James

    Christians would do well to flee from the likes of Palin, the Tea Party, and, unfortunately, the Republican Party. What has done more damage to the gospel in America in the last 30 years than the vitriol from the “Christian” right? I have met too many people who refuse to take Christianity seriously because they think you have to be affiliated with a certain political ideology.

    • skatblueeyes

      Good grief! Flee from the Republican party to the abortion, homosexual, free love, drug happy Democrats & Libertarians?
      I certainly find Sarah’s “baptism” comment offensive.

      • Maria Mitchell

        I’m a pro-life woman who never tried drugs who never engaged in “free love” and I’m a Libertarian. Your comment is offensive, but is par for the course for Fox News watchers. I used to be a Republican until 2010 – never again. If you find Palin’s comment offensive, you would be in the very sparse minority of Republicans that do because they love war and killing. Republicans also give lip service to smaller government, but love to grow government as massive as they can get it. As far as being “pro-life” – they had the Presidency and BOTH houses of Congress and they did NOTHING about abortion – so you’re deluding yourself that Republicans think of abortion as anything else but a political football.

  • Tylor Standley

    Joe, you say, “The ‘liberal’ position criticized by Palin (more accurately framed as the liberal cosmopolitan elite position), tends to be overly empathetic in an attempt to understand and ‘humanize’ our foes.”

    And, “The liberal cosmopolitan elite appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal.”

    You seem to agree with Pain’s critique of this position. Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t humanize and understand our foes? Wasn’t it Jesus who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” after soldiers tortured him? Sounds like he understood them and considered them as humans worthy of forgiveness. I guess Jesus was a “Liberal Cosmopolitan Elitist.”

    • Dunsworth

      I believe the scare quotes around ‘humanize’ are there for a reason.
      To *truly* humanize does not mean to excuse, or mitigate the evil of. It means to respect as a human, regardless of enmity. That’s precisely what the LCE is NOT trying to do. They don’t believe in the category of “loved enemy”; they think that evil must be mitigated so that we can all tolerate one another as-is.

      Yes, we should humanize them. We should not talk about “baptizing them with waterboarding” and we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. What we should not do is ‘humanize’ them — to be overly empathetic — and pretend that their actions are less evil and less threatening than they are.

      • Adrenalin Tim


        I am probably what you (and Carter) would consider a “liberal cosmopolitan elite”, as are many of my close friends. I have quite literally never met anyone who believes what you portray. Even the most absolutist of pacifists do not believe that evil deeds do not exist or should be pretended away.

        What you present is a caricature and a strawman. I recommend spending some time with those you condemn—perhaps you might find that you have more in common than you think.

        • Dunsworth

          I don’t know anything about you or the people you’ve met.

          I’ve seen and heard people misdefine “humanizing” people as mitigating the evil of their beliefs or actions, by engaging in doing so and claiming that is necessary to “humanizing.”

          My experience trumps your lack of it because I’ve seen it happen. I never claimed it was universal among any group, so your lack of having experienced does nothing to undermine my having done so. I am only referring to those who do what I have seen done; I am not claiming that all members of any group with which you choose to identify, do it, nor that all people who think differently than I do, are guilty of some particular error. If you’re not part of the group defined as “those who falsely humanize people by minimizing evil,” well and good.

  • Johnny

    Sad thing is that the mainstream media picks up on nonsense like Palin’s comments as being consistent for all christians.

  • paganmegan

    Baptism should never be seen as torture. Jesus described baptism as being “born again.” To suggest otherwise is to undermine the Gospel. Unless someone is hydrophobic (in which case, I assume most religious leaders would accommodate by dunking them as short a time as possible) this represents an incredibly sadistic attitude.

    The PTSD quote is interesting to me. One of the things my husband and I have noticed recently from friends/family members who are military “lifers” is a tendency not only to dehumanize their military foes, but their political foes as well. Unfortunately, these people often live in a cultural “bubble,” where such attitudes are not only never challenged, but may even be praised (much as Palin’s statement was cheered by her audience).

    We’ve seen some of the repercussions of this PTSD recently in Kansas City and Fort Hood, the former in particular being an example of dehumanizing a group of people (Jews), though the actual victims were all Christians.

    Being a member of one of the “enemy” groups, I’ve felt the sting of being treated as sub-human. My husband and I are free to avoid these friends. They, on the other hand, aren’t at liberty to avoid their own attitudes, and may never fully appreciate their inability to function outside of their own subculture. Actually, I see a great possibility for ministry here, especially for someone who understands things from both inside and outside the military.

    Scripture relates a story (2 Sam. 24) of God punishing David (and Israel) for taking a census of men of military age. Many Christians hit on the “census” element and overlook the potential military implications. While I see nothing in scripture that opposes military self defense when needed, I do find the notion of a “standing military” somewhat problematic. When a government creates an institution like that, it needs to constantly justify that institution’s continuing existence, thereby coming up with weaker and weaker excuses for starting a war.

  • Brandt Akin

    “In our attempts to dehumanize our enemy we end up becoming less than human ourselves. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to save civilization and lose our humanity.” What a beautiful approach to our enemies! Is it possible that using violence simply to defend our culture could violate that and contribute to us losing “our humanity”? Maybe I’m being overly critical of word choice, just a thought!

    • Joe Carter

      I may have worded that poorly since I intended for “culture, future, and lives” to be once piece and not separate components.

  • Jordan

    It would be helpful if the author would offer his position on dealing with terrorists. I think his criticisms are appropriate (and I generally agree with them), but he seemed to evade the question of what is the Christian solution. What is the proper way to think about dealing with terrorists?

  • Erin

    As someone who would probably be categorized most closely as one of the “liberal cosmopolitan elite” and also a Christian I think that this radical humanizing the author describes is much closer to the attitude of Christ then even a middle road. As other commenters have said, this is what Jesus did at the cross. I really do not believe that you will find one of the “liberal cosmopolitan elite” who will say that what terrorists do is OK, but to use their own tactics against them is just as reprehensible. Just as Christ condemned the actions of Israel, yet became their final sacrifice anyway. I would take a man who would say “forgive them Father” as he is gunned down over one who would pick up a gun in vengeance any day. As Christians I feel we need to be very careful about how we deal with war. It may be necessary for a country to fight to protect it’s populous in a fallen world, but if we are serious about our commitment to the gospel I would argue that we need to be very careful about how we engage with that process because every life that is taken whether through battle or torture is a life that can no longer be saved. Every jihadist, every angry atheist, every enemy soldier, is a potential brother or sister in Christ if only the Spirit chooses to move. Perhaps if we were more willing to lay ourselves bare in imitation of Christ He would, and this American Jihad our country is carrying out could be ended.

  • William Robert Guerra

    so then what should we do with terrorists? maybe the metaphor she used wasn’t the best, but the liberal position is going to get us all killed. and you talk about the “Christian” way? Well then you should have pulled her aside yourself and rebuked her, then gotten 2 or 3 others…instead you try to destroy her in a public article…great example of the Christian way…smh
    and if I recall, God waged war against His enemies many times throughout the Bible…

    • Phil

      Perhaps you’re forgetting that public statements/behaviors can be assessed, discussed, and yes even rebuked as publicly as they were made. She chose to enter the public spotlight, make public statements and publicly toss around her opinions. Therefore it’s perfectly acceptable — yes, Biblical — for Joe to post this publicly.

    • Phil

      The whole problem of abusing Matthew 18 has been addressed by Don Carson here on TGC:

    • Erin

      And yet Jesus’ version of war was to die. If his kingdom were of this world his servants would have been fighting that he might not be delivered into the hands of the Jews, but his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The new covenant brings new modes of action as it fulfills the old. I am not on any massive international political scene, so I can only say what seems right to me after reflection on the scriptures and hope that where I err I will be corrected. Whatever we do with or to terrorists we should not use their own heinous techniques against them. In doing so we may win the war but we will lose our souls. Terrorists are just as much image bearers of God as any human. A Christian response needs to start there and realize that even a terrorist is a potential brother or sister in Christ (after all, Paul was arguably a terrorist of the early church prior to his conversion).

      • Michael Snow

        Erin, you may appreciate these quotes from Spurgeon that see little light of day among American evangelicals

      • Larry Hall

        Got news for ya when Jesus comes back and in the end times many people are going to die.Have you read the Bible God has killed a lot of people that deserved killing.

    • paulewog

      “Well then you should have pulled her aside yourself and rebuked her, then gotten 2 or 3 others…instead you try to destroy her in a public article…great example of the Christian way…smh”

      I guess we could say the same to you, right? ;)

      “but the liberal position is going to get us all killed”

      According to Jesus, this is a also a “valid” outcome of being a follower of Christ, too.

      I’m not advocating getting killed simply because it’s possible, but the fact that you might get killed isn’t really a valid argument, by itself, against something from a Christian perspective.

      “God waged war against His enemies many times throughout the Bible…”

      And showed mercy. And sent His son to die for His enemies… again, it’s a bit more complex than this.

    • Michael Snow

      “…if I recall, God waged war against His enemies many times throughout the Bible…” Yes, and He specifically instructed us to love our enemies and leave vengeance to Him.

  • Joshua Waulk

    My take-away from Joe’s article is that the Church ought not allow politicians, even ones with whom some of us may generally agree, to co-opt biblical themes (i.e. baptism and crucifixion) for political gain. That is patently un-biblical on a number of levels, and may evidence a lack of spiritual maturity. As this dialogue has unfolded, with some folks turning it into a near “just war v. pacifism” debate, I note the conflation of some between Jesus’ work on the cross (and his necessary submission of himself to it), with geo-political pacifism. I’m no war monger, but this is Palin’s error in the reverse.

    • Erin

      The point doesn’t seem to me to be that they can’t use the metaphor ever, but that Mrs. Palin truly did use it in a blasphemous way in which a Christian should never have used it. Baptism is the symbol of the believer raised from death into life. It is life giving, not torture. To conflate baptism with torture is blasphemous. Mrs. Palin is free to make the comparison, but she is not immune to rebuke on the matter.

      As to the other point, for me at least, there is a difference as you indicate, but I would argue that our actions as a country should matter to Christians more then they seem to and that we need to be much more careful how we interact with and participate in war. Many “religious right”-type arguments seem to make the (arguably) more fatal error of turning the american flag into some kind of divine thing. It is not. As I said in an earlier comment:

      “It may be necessary for a country to fight to protect it’s populous in a fallen world, but if we (edit: by we I mean the Church) are serious about our commitment to the gospel I would argue that we need to be very careful about how we engage with that process because every life that is taken whether through battle or torture is a life that can no longer be saved. Every jihadist, every angry atheist, every enemy soldier, is a potential brother or sister in Christ if only the Spirit chooses to move. Perhaps if we were more willing to lay ourselves bare in imitation of Christ He would, and this American Jihad our country is carrying out could be ended.”

      • Anastasios

        “Many “religious right”-type arguments seem to make the (arguably) more fatal error of turning the american flag into some kind of divine thing.”
        Indeed, but this is nothing new. There were Puritans during the 17th century who removed crosses from churches but allowed the display of crowns (in England) or American symbols (in America). This Puritan ethos, in which icons (etc.) aren’t allowed in the church but American flags are, is a subtle form of statolatry but it has always been a sad fact of American life.

        • Jon W

          It’s alive and well in the Catholic Church, too. The well-meaning, religious people in my parish sing patriotic songs with gusto at religious events.

      • Viking

        In Luke 12:50, Jesus refers to his upcoming torture and crucifixion as a “baptism”. And in Romans 6:3, Paul tells us that we have been baptized into Jesus’ death. So there is surely some strong connection between baptism and torture…

        • Erin

          It it true that we are baptized into Christ’s death, but the second part of baptism is being raised. The passion would not have been baptism if it ended in the tomb. We are buried in baptism, but we are raised (Col. 2:12, Rom 6:3-4). On the cross, Christ died, but then rose again. Human torture is only pain and death, there is no redemption, no resurrection. Therefore, by definition, it cannot be baptism. Baptism is death followed by life.

        • Dunsworth

          Torturing people for revenge or to extract information is like the sufferings of Christ the way hand grenades are like raspberries. There’s one superficial similarity and everything else about them is different.

    • Anastasios

      Part of the problem is America doesn’t have a strong national church. I’m not advocating for a STATE church here, mind you, but rather a church which the vast majority of the population subscribes to voluntarily. I think that’d be preferable to the denominationalist “status quo” that resulted from the extreme laicism of the Thomas Paine secularists and Roger Williams anabaptists who collaborated to found the USA’s political system. From the perspective of secularists, “a divided church is a weak church”.

      If Vladimir Putin had said anything approaching what Sarah Palin had said, Patriarch Kirill would get him to apologize quickly. Americans (whether Catholic or evangelical) have never had an ecclesiology that works very well. We just don’t have a strong figure who can comfort the suffering and make the comfortable suffer the way a good church leader should, and that’s one reason why this country has become so secular and materialistic.

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  • alexguggenheim

    The fundamental problem with this article and many of the comments is that it, and they, do not make a distinction between the interests of the United States and its divine prerogatives and that of the church. They are being treated synonymously, hence, objections are being raised that only apply to one, not both.

    For example someone cited that “we” should love our enemies and do good to them that do evil to us. The “we” is with respect to Christians in the context of suffering for the sake of Christ. It has no imperative value to a nation defending itself. That imperative to believers has with it a future reward. Its context is specific and not subject to expansion.

    If, when Palin cites, “we”, she has in mind the nation of the USA and its government, then she is not obligated by the imperative as one acting on behalf of a nation with respect to its defense. Jesus was not talking to nations but to the body of Christ.

    What does Romans say about government and its treatment of evil doers? Romans 13:4 says:

    The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

    Water boarding is punishment, severe punishment. If you wish to use the word torture, go ahead but even if your use of the word gives you the illusion it makes your case you are mistaken. First, because it is not settled as genuine torture and secondly, such definitions are arbitrary. Ultimately, you are left with subjectivity as your grounds for protest with regard to water boarding as some how immoral, sinful or a shame for a nation to engage in for its own protection. In other words, you have no dogma from Scripture, in the least, not even close.

    Now to this statement cited:

    “As political scientist Glenn Tinder notes, the human being is both fallen and exalted, sacred and yet morally degraded. These two aspects of humanity cannot be separated.”

    What exactly does this esotericism even mean? We are talking about terrorists. And even if it were true, so what? What are the texts from which this formula comes that is so grand it impairs a nation from tactics to extract vital information from terrorists? And how is such a description even formulated and justified by the Bible in the first place? How can a nation even wage a war if we start using this narrative? We can’t. Why? After all, dare you wage war on the sacred? It almost becomes silly when it is tested for its prescriptive value.

    It is pleasantly ironic that TGC would publish this article with respect to what I just covered above. It applies succinctly:

    It deals with this very kind of approach by Tinder which was cited, namely, the use of unclear, emotionally laden/loaded mystical language which is great for appeals but not for clarity. Alistair Roberts states:

    “It is for this reason that narrative, anecdote, metaphor, and potent images are so important for such approaches. All of these are non-argumentative ways of drawing and inviting you, the reader, into thefeelings of the text. They also serve as ways of avoiding direct ideological confrontation and engagement. By couching what would otherwise have to be presented as a theological argument in an
    impressionistic narrative they make it very difficult to frame

    I do understand that Palin is a confessing believer involves her appeals with her Christian values on many matters. Hence, there may be a degree of responsibility for her to more accurately qualify her words.

    But the breakdown of understanding between the context of the “we” as a nation and the “we” as the Church and the inability for many to know which imperatives from God’s Word belong to which is simply inexcusable when arguing the merits of the matter and only injures the venture for answers.

    • Anastasios

      The United States doesn’t have any “divine prerogatives”.

  • LisaParson

    I appreciate this article. Excellent communication about a difficult topic. I read the comments, too, questioning what a Christian response then should be to terrorists. Much prayer needed here. But, the article gives a credible platform to begin viewing others in light of the grace we’ve received. Well done and very helpful to me personally.

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  • Bill Hickman

    “The liberal cosmopolitan elite appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal.”

    Not sure what this bit of hippie-punching adds to the post…

  • mofatboy

    Hey Ron was that a joke???? They have said they want to kill America but Israel first.

    • Ron

      You don’t actually think it is about Israel do you? It is all about oil!

      • mofatboy

        Hey Ron go read some of the kuran, Surah 47:3-4.

        • Ron

          To suggest that America is somehow on the defensive here is simply absurd and willingly divorced from real history. Check out how many military bases and oil companies we have in middle eastern countries.

      • Larry Hall

        No its about Esau and Isaac wow oil has nothing to do with it.I mean nothing they hate Jews and Christians its that simple.And for anyone to say we should just sit and wait and act all pious and loving while they shoot our familys is nuts.

      • Andrea

        Unfortunately, I agree, though the role of Christian Zionism may be much larger than many of us would like to think. Two books that are a few years old that talk about how it has effected our foreign policy and the wars we have fought are Grace Halsell’s “Forcing God’s Hand” and Gorenberg’s “End of Days”, which deals with fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. My point is that our theology, good or bad, does effect what we do politically and how our policy decisions are made, though, again, I agree that oil plays a major role and effects both our theology and our foreign policy.

  • RIRedinPA

    As someone who identifies with Burkean political philosophy and has no ties to organized religion I guess this make me the “liberal” in the room. I’m also a veteran.

    My opposition to torture is threefold and it is not based on some ‘summer o love” let’s all be friends philosophy.

    1. Torture fails. Despite the appeal of ’24’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, torture fails to deliver it’s stated goal, intelligence. Khallid Mohammed was water boarded 183 times and he did not reveal the name of bin Laden’s courier, which eventually led to the raid that killed him. Even the most vocal proponents of American torture, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have admitted that the actionable intelligence came from normal interrogation procedures. Torture, is in and of itself, a waste of time and resources.

    2. Torture provides the enemy with propaganda. In a geopolitical world where we play whack-a-mole with foreign terrorist why would we want to give them the means to recruit more?

    3. It’s unAmerican. That might sound pollyanish but I didn’t spend six years in the service defending the Constitution for a country that glorifies Nazi and Maoist torture techniques. There has to be a point where you say there are lines I won’t cross, not because we fear our enemy and what they would do if we cross that line, but because we respect ourselves and fear what we would become if we did.

    As for Palin blaspheming Christianity, I’ll let the religious amongst you sort that one out.


      Mark Bowden wrote a fascinating article about torture which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly several years ago. Your points are his points and the points of most first world intelligence officers. Water boarding is torture and torture rarely produces the information that is sought.

  • Bill Thompson

    Much ado about nothing. She was making a political statement, not a religious one. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique, meant to elicit a specific response from those who hold knowledge about enemy attacks on our country. Torture is mindless punitive action, a slow death, against a prisoner. BIG difference. I THOUGHT everyone rational understood that by now. Guess not. The point, (which I think most Christians actually understood,) is that these terrorists hide behind a facade of their religion, which demands murder for everyone who is not Muslim. Knee-jerk reactions like calling this innocuous statement “sacrilegious” do nothing to dispel myths that Christians are out of touch with reality. Tread lightly.

    • Michael Snow

      Hardly ‘ado about nothing.’ When baptism becomes ‘nothing’ so that it can be used as a metaphor for vile deeds, we are walking in darkness.

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    I was stationed at Camp Bucca, Iraq 2008. Many faithful, Jesus proclaiming surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, medics, and doctors; members of one half of the 31st Combat Support Hospital provided medical and surgical care to literally tens of thousands of prisoners of war. Many where caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others came to Iraq to wreak devastation on Americans, NATO allies, and the Iraqi tribes. As a first hand witness; I faithfully attest to the professionalism of American military intelligence personnel in the humane treatment of those interned men, the indescribable horror that torture works on the human mind and body (we treated literally hundreds of Sunni and Shia who were tortured by rival sects, tribes, or villages), and the absolute contradiction acts of of torture and shaming represent to the words and life of Jesus, our Christ. If you want to fully understand how completely acts of torture oppose the Gospel, find the Somali, the Kurd, the Rawandan, the Palestinian, the Egyptian Copt, the Kosovian, the Croatian, or any member of the too many people groups in this time and world who have seen torture first hand. Spend a month’s worth of conversations over coffee with them and come back to this discussion and tell us how valuable acts of shame and torture are to the Gospel. MAJ Tom Clark, USA

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  • Sam

    It is, believe it or not, possible to live in America and be disgusted by the marriage of religion and politics.

  • Larry Hall

    What world do you live in.This war started way back in Abrahams day.

  • Larry Hall

    Christians attacking each other is no better than what you are against in the posts here.I see Christians and i use the term loosely on here attacking someone for a offhand comment.Yet Obama gets free rides from Christians all the time.Its like eating your own.She made a mistake have you ever made a mistake?Maybe not i see a lot of pious comments here.

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  • Larry Hall

    Christians have every right to defend themselves at all costs.And water boarding has not killed one person but has extracted a lot of info from the enemy.If Christians do not have the right to defend themselves then what were we doin in world war one and two and the more recent wars.did the Christian soldiers go to war and try to make piece with the enemy.Did they put thier hands in the air and say lets talk it people amaze me.

  • Maria

    I disagree with this part:

    “We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us. The liberal cosmopolitan elite appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal.”

    First of all, there is no Biblical mandate to defend one’s “culture” or “future” or “life” against anyone.

    Second of all, Barack Obama is a so-called “liberal” who is just as big a warmonger as his predecessor, if not moreso. He’s killed American citizens, including a minor child, without charge or trial. The “right-wing populist” position has not been to “face up” to anything, but to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the cause of terrorism or any possible solutions that actually deal with the problem, rather than creating more and more of the same “terrorist” enemies.

    Since being elected, Obama has done nothing to stem the violence and chaos caused by America’s policy of “regime change” and “pre-emptive/humanitarian wars” – indeed, he has increased these things. This went against the platform of a humble foreign policy he ran on when he was elected in 2008 – which was the SAME platform George W. Bush ran on when he was elected. If Obama is a “cosmopolitan liberal” then George W. Bush is, too.

  • Diagonotter

    “…what Palin is proposing is a mixture of pagan ethics and civil deistic religion. ” Excuse me but as a Pagan, I am annoyed to read two articles that plop this at my feet. My ethics is that of anti-violence, working for common good, justice, love and respect of Earth and all that inhabit her.

  • BrendtWayneWaters

    Whether or not one views waterboarding as being torture, whether one views waterboarding as morally right or wrong, and whether or not one views waterboarding as efficacious is all irrelevant to the discussion. Palin prostituted her alleged faith for a cheap laugh. She took a holy sacrament, specifically representative of Christ’s sacrifice and victory for us, and turned it into a trailer park lawn sprinkler.

    Contrary to the implication of the OP, one need not have stances in line with Mr Carter’s on waterboarding to find Palin’s comments vile. This is an unnecessary conflation.

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  • Sam

    I can just imagine what would happen if Paul came back… “Foolish Republicans! Who has bewitched you?”

  • narciso

    Her church was burned to the ground, five years ago, for an opinion she rendered on same sex marriage, she opposed a mosque built on the site of the WTC massacre, we know well how the Levick Group, supported from funds from the KSA and the emirates, sought to disparage all coalition forces, and pressed for the release of Al Shehri, Bin Qumu, and a whole host of top AQ figures.

    • disqusux

      That’s completely untrue about the church. What was destroyed was the office where the church records are kept. It had nothing to do with Mrs Palin.

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  • mel mariner

    I appreciate that you addressed the problem of what she said and even her spiritual condition rather than attacking her looks, voice and personality. I’ve had my fill with the outrage from professed believers that chose to distant themselves from her by turning around and behaving in the way that she did. Demonizing Sarah Palin is just as despicable.
    Paul said, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27
    People managed to find all kinds of loop-holes for the spiritual walk once politics become involved.

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  • Big Rich

    I never like it when a joke is turned into an opportunity for pious, sanctimonious, condemnation even when the joke is coming from the Left. This level of sanctimoniousness, to me, is far more offensive and far more damaging to the Kingdom than making a light hearted joke that refers to baptism. Who wants to be a part of group that turns your light hearted joke into an opportunity for a sanctimonious theological dissertation? Not me, because the Lord knows that I stick my foot in my mouth all the time and always appreciate it when I’m given the benefit of the doubt and not condemned by my brothers in Christ who are supposed to be my friends. This kind of attack destroys the freedom to be oneself in a group of Christians. You must be sanctimonious and pious, don’t you know? I hate that with a purple passion and it needs to be gone from Christianity. It turns us into actors and not real people who understand where our fellow man is coming from. I am not pious and I’m not sanctimonious and I make no apology for that and want no part of it. I am a sinner and I understand sinners because I have been a very good one to this day. I don’t understand the pious because I’ve never been one and never want to be one. Where is the Christian charity for Sarah Palin that demands that we give her the benefit of the doubt? Personally, I was in no way offended. It was just a joke. I want no part of a group who can’t take a joke. Palin deserves Christian charity from her brothers and sisters. The Left went wild demonizing her and crossed all boundaries of propriety without much complaint from Christians who let the Left drive the narrative and didn’t much speak up, and yet here we are beating her up over a joke that wasn’t even factually wrong. That’s crazy to me. As to her point, yes, I would torture a terrorist with no compunction before God, and I wouldn’t stop at gentle waterboarding. I would chop off EVERY appendage, pull out their finger nails and pluck out their eye-balls until I knew every thing they knew and I bet anyone would do the same — if it was their sons and daughters who were about to be blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb. If you would let your children die and not resort to torture to stop it then you have the right to be offended by Palin’s remarks. If you would not — like I would not — then being offended at Palin’s remarks is hypocrisy in my opinion. It’s easy to be sanctimonious about torture when it’s not your wife and children in harms way. If you choose to blow up innocent civilians to make your point, you lose all rights to civil treatment in my opinion, so personally, i don’t think Palin was even factually wrong — which makes this attack on her from Christians that much more problematic.

    • Philippa

      “As to her point, yes, I would torture a terrorist with no compunction before God, and I wouldn’t stop at gentle waterboarding. I would chop off EVERY appendage, pull out their finger nails and pluck out their eye-balls until I knew every thing they knew and I bet anyone would do the same — if it was their sons and daughters who were about to be blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb.”

      Ugh. ‘No compunction before God’, eh? That’s some mighty hubris!

      I wouldn’t treat Hitler that way. No decent human being would, let alone someone who claims to be born again by the Holy Spirit. We don’t descend to the level of our enemies, sir, and no right-thinking Christian would ever think that we should, let alone think God could possibly approve of such bestiality.

      In Britain we know a lot about dealing with terrorists. We are not squeaky clean when it comes to our war with the IRA, far from it, but we never water-boarded them.

      As has been pointed out, torture is not a reliable way to gather information, quite apart from it being utterly repulsive, morally, in every possible way.

      • n4cerinc

        “In Britain we know a lot about dealing with terrorists. We are not squeaky clean when it comes to our war with the IRA, far from it, but we never water-boarded them.” – So what you’re saying is that when it comes to Black sites etc, Britain went along with Bush but are yet clean, huh?

        Also, you’re talking about recent decades? Because we can go back a few more to highlight some methods of torture far worst than waterboarding with which the British have graced the World.

        • Philippa

          “Because we can go back a few more to highlight some methods of torture far worst than waterboarding with which the British have graced the World.”

          I’m well aware of that. I made it plain in my comment to Big Rich that I am against ALL torture. Did you actually read all of my reply to him or are you just having a knee-jerk reaction to a portion of it (and wilfully misinterpreting)?

          “So what you’re saying is that when it comes to Black sites etc, Britain went along with Bush but are yet clean, huh?”

          What are you talking about? Why are you assuming that I supported the Iraq war and why are you assuming I think my country was ‘clean’ because of Blair/Bush?

  • Tan

    I just have to say, as an atheist I think you’re spot on. I’m an atheist because I simply don’t believe, but there’s most certainly another level of thinking in which I know if I could believe it wouldn’t change my view in that I’m so turned off by what I see from so many so-called Christians. It’s people like yourself that if people like you we’re the majority of Christians seen, Christianity would have a great name for itself instead of what me amd my peers currently think of it.

    • James

      Thanks! I was an atheist and, thank God, I met some Christians who did not subscribe to the idea that Republicans were somehow more in line with Christianity than other political ideologies (In fact, as ardent students of the Bible these folks were completely disgusted by American conservatism!). Anyway, I am glad to hear that you are willing to differentiate between Christianity and the Republican party.

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  • disqusux

    Joe, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that the Palins not only don’t have a local church any more, they haven’t attended any church since 2008- which may be one of the causes of Mrs Palin’s issues.

    • mel mariner

      How do you know? It may be true but I’m wondering how you know that. Do you have a link? Or reference that can be checked?

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  • Vince

    Thank you for a well written, gospel-centered article.

  • Aaron Gipson


    I agree with most of this very well written post, and one of my biggest signs of hope in the last couple of years has been seeing Christians starting to distance themselves from the louder right wing version of your faith.

    However, as a Pagan (notice the capital ‘P’….it IS a religion) I respectfully ask that you not associate the negative elements of your faith with us. We’ve had several years now to do the very same to you, but haven’t out of courtesy and hope for better interfaith dialogue.

    Ask any NeoPagan how much they like Sarah Palin, and you will quickly see the source of my (slight) ire. She is a butcher of wolves, a supporter of polluters, and a symbol of just how ingrained American ignorance can get. To put it bluntly, she represents everything we DON’T like. As you may, or may not know, we revere the Earth and all life.

    We are not hateful people, and I’m surprised more if us haven’t chimed in, upset that you lumped this person in with us. But I also know that an Abrahamic spiritual background is why “Pagan” has always been associated with “bad / evil / etc” to you guys. Well, it’s the 21st century now, dude, and it’s illegal to burn us this time around.

    So why don’t we try this “mutual respect” thing and see how it goes?

  • n4cerinc

    I read your Why it matters section. Now, here is a question for you, Joe: How do you feel about HELL? A place the GOD of Love created and where those HUMANS who are dammned to spend eternity, where as Jesus described it, the fire never stops burning.

    But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

    • franklinb23

      Thanks for pointing out that torturing human beings is a Christian virtue!

      Perhaps the Marquis de Sade should be a saint?

  • n4cerinc

    Wait did my question about Hell get deleted?

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  • Morgan Sheridan

    I’m a Pagan and am not comfortable with the characterization of Palin’s comments as “mix of pagan ethics…” One of our chief ethical statements is “Do as thou will and it harm none” which was first articulated as a couplet by Doreen Valiente circa 1964 and in the Charge of the Goddess, the tenet is further expressed: ” Let my worship be within the heart that rejoices,
    for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Therefore,
    let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and
    humility,mirth and reverence within you.” There are wiser pagan theologists who’ve addressed this idea thoroughly (Michael York, Carol Christ, Constance Wise, John. M. Greer, T. Thorne Coyle, et. al.) I, but neither statement is permission to be destructive, disrespectful, abusive or violent. The idea of forcible baptism is something we’d abjure as harming someone via direct violence. It’s abusive. It harms the subject mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

    Might I suggest to you reading Patheos pagan channel to broaden your understanding of our ethics before applying them to Ms. Palin and her ilk?

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  • JohnM

    I’m way late to this party, but for all the flee-the-Republican-party proponents, well, maybe, but then what do you recommend as an option? Don’t tell me the Democratic party. I wish there were a viable third party, but there isn’t. I suppose opting out is one option, and at some point(s) that might be what I do, but is that really what you’re advocating?

  • DanielRCoats

    This is a fantastic article. Palin’s comments are sadly what the Right eats up in this country. I pray that Christians in America will see themselves as sent into America and not of America. Our citizenship is in Heaven and our king is Jesus. No, Sarah, baptism is a holy joyful moment symbolically representing our sins being washed away by the blood of the lamb, dying with Christ, being buried with him in his death, and being raised to new life. Torturing human beings made in the image of God should never ever be considered as a “baptism” for our enemies.

  • Philippa

    Has anyone here seen the film The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth? It shows a British POW being tortured by water-boarding by his Japanese captors during World War 2. Water-boarding is torture, period.

    (It’s a very good film about revenge and forgiveness. I recommend it.)

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  • Mark


    Terrorist are a threat to Christianity.

    Not sure if you have ever critiqued JD Hall or James White who isolate most of their toxic off-topic comments that is seriously non-Christian in their attempt of defending the faith.

    Just a thought.

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  • agerber

    They are here in the USA and they brought their jihad with them. – Sorry

  • agerber

    I’m amused at the number of those who were offended by Palin’s “Tongue ‘n cheek” hyperbole. Jesus had his detractors who followed him and yelled accusations. Paul too. For today’s busybodies let me “Baptize” a new label: “New Age Pharisee”. If anyone wants to be offended, there are alot of legitimate things to be offended about. Palin’s use of the word ‘baptize’ is NOT one of them. Waterboarding is more like a second chance than torture anyway. Death and martyrdom is what the jihadist wants. Waterboarding deprives them of their goal. It may also deter others.

    • Mark


      I find it annoying.

      Bloggers should be focused on Spiritual Abuse rather than manufacturing and expressing views magnified in thin air simply by taking out of context, into what Palin was conveying toward Jihadist terrorizing Christians..

      To those that believe or not believe Water boarding to be torture is a debate by itself.

  • Mark


    Christianity is under attack by Terrorist.

    Sarah Palin is a Conservative Christian. I don’t think she embraces Hyper Reformed Theology which is what this critiquing really amounts to.

    The Doctrinal Strife within the SBC alone has Christians verbally bottom feeding and splitting hairs against other Christians.

    I will find it hard to recognize any credibility behind anything a Self Professed Calvinist writes, because most of the Christians they criticize aren’t Calvinist.

    Some of the more toxic combative Calvinist blogs claim to embrace “tough love” to justify the mean things while forgetting to embrace 1 Corinthians 13:13.

    • Jeremiah Johnson

      I did not know that Palin’s remarks were in the context as you put it “Palin was conveying toward Jihadist terrorizing Christians..” perhaps you could expalin that more? Thanks

      or that Christianity is under attack by Terrorist.

      I thought that she was talking about America being under attack. America does not equal Christian.

      • Mark

        I gave you an initial responce, but I guess it was blocked.
        America was founded under Christian principles with freedom of faith. Jihadist are persecuting and terrorizing Christians throughout the globe.
        Secular media don’t cover Islamic Extremist war on Christianity. America are in their cross hairs. (no matter how back sliden we have become)
        In case you weren’t on the planet, we had a couple of buildings and the pentagon targeted by Suicidal Islamic Extremist that killed thousands using American Commuter Airliners to crash into our buildings.
        The Author ignored and simply took out of context what Palin meant because she’s Sarah Palin.

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