This past weekend I had the great honor of baptizing a little girl, welcoming her into the Christian faith. Elizabeth wore a baptismal gown made from her mother’s own wedding dress, a gown her older sister wore at her own baptism. I met many of her aunts and uncles and proud grandparents, and a great great uncle who had come out to see this amazing event.
This past weekend former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin stated, “If I were in charge, [jihadists] would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” She spoke at an NRA gathering in Indianapolis and served up red meat to a group raring to eat it. They devoured her words.
Christians around the world are celebrating the great 50 Days of Easter, a time when many are baptized into the faith. Not even a full week into Eastertide, Palin described the joyous rite of new birth as a means of torture for our enemies. Overtones of the Crusades were not hard to miss.
This past Sunday I prayed these words over the water in our font before baptizing Elizabeth: “Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.” Palin took an instrument of bringing life and made it a vehicle for pain.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “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.” Love our enemies — the ones who wish us harm — and pray for them. Not wish that we could torture them.
Palin—a professed Christian—can’t imagine praying for her perceived enemies except maybe to pray that they could be brought to the brink mentally and emotionally and give up information. She certainly can’t imagine showing love.
Fear is at the root of these comments, of course. Fear of another terrorist attack on our country. Fear of possible harm on us. And so these words were spoken to increase the fear, to make us all the more trigger-happy in a society that has too many itchy fingers already.
Interestingly enough, Jesus had some words about who we really need to fear. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [hell].”
I believe that people can experience both heaven and hell in this life, and that God wants us to choose and live in the former. God longs for us to fully participate in a place of love. Fear mongering only pushes us further away from love and the life God intends for us and for our supposed enemies too. One follower of Jesus put it this way in scripture, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Baptism, a sacrament and sign of God’s deep love for us, should never be used as a punchline to promote fear. That kind of fear leads not to life but to death: the death of the soul. A piece of us dies every time we ratchet up the fear, and we move away from the life promised in baptism and closer to Gehenna. I hope we notice it before it’s too late.