Sarah Palin Gets Baptism by Fire for Her Choice of Words

by: 

Kathryn Darden
May 5, 2014
Rob Schenck & Sarah Palin, photo from Rob Schenck

Editorial by a former English teacher: Former governor and V.P. candidate Sarah Palin is drawing fire from some Christians for remarks she made at the recent National Rifle Association (NRA) meeting. Her critics are claiming she compared waterboarding to baptism and indeed Palin did make the following statement:

"Enemies, who would utterly annihilate America, they who'd obviously have information on plots, to carry out jihad. Oh, but you can't offend them, can't make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we'd baptize terrorists."

Rob Schenck called Palin's statement a serious error and is a form of heresy. "Governor Palin, as a Christian, made an egregious error that not only violates biblical doctrine, but places the lives of fellow Christians at risk around the world."

Faithful America launched a petition objecting to Palin’s words saying:
“For Christians, torture is not a joke or a political punch line, but a ghastly reminder of the suffering of Jesus upon the cross. By equating it with Holy Baptism—the act by which we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection—Sarah Palin is blasphemously twisting our faith into a weapon of hatred and violence. No media outlet should cover her remarks without reporting on how sincere Christians of all theological and political persuasions are appalled.”

However, while the wording may not have been well thought out, the word "baptism" was used for washing clothes and tanning leather long before it was associated with Jesus. Holy Baptism and baptism can be and often are two different things.

One definition of the word "baptism" is "an act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named" according to Merriam-Webster.

Dictionary.com says the word can mean "a trying or purifying experience or initiation."

The oft-used expression "baptism by fire" is used figuratively in many situation that have nothing to do with the church, Jesus or Christianity.

Obviously, Palin was using the word baptism in the initiation sense and probably chose baptism for its visceral effect -- an effect she achieved.

While baptism might not have been Palin's best choice for her waterboarding comparison, it certainly was a correct application of the word in terms of the English language.


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