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Faith leaders call on Sarah Palin, NRA, to repudiate statement equating waterboarding with baptism

Three Presbyterians among those denouncing ‘sacrilegious’ rhetoric

May 1, 2014

LOUISVILLE

Three Presbyterians were among a group of religious leaders who this week called on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Sarah Palin to denounce torture and apologize to the U.S. Muslim and Christian communities for Palin’s statement at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis that“If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.”

The letters were organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Among the 18 signers of the letter to the NRA were Fritz Gutwein of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Rev. Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life, and the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness.  

The letter to Palin was sent by NRCAT Executive Director the Rev. Ron Stief.  and eighteen religious leaders signed the letter to the NRA. Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, sent the letter to Palin under his own name.

In the letter to the NRA, the religious leaders wrote: “For Christians, baptism is a profoundly holy act. It is in stark contrast to the abhorrent act of waterboarding. Equating baptism to an act of torture like waterboarding is sacrilegious ― and particularly surprising coming from a person who prides herself on her Christian faith.” 

In his letter to Palin, Stief said, “Your words are an unacceptable conflation of church and state that represents the worst of what is possible when political conflicts are expressed in theological terms.  It is both immoral and factually inaccurate to equate any faith tradition, Muslim or otherwise, with terrorism.”

NRCAT, founded in 2006, is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It is composed of more than 300 religious organizations, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.

The full text of the letter to the NRA: :

Religious leaders from many faiths are uniting in a call to the National Rifle Association to denounce torture and to apologize to the U.S. Muslim and Christian communities for statements made by Sarah Palin at the NRA’s Annual Meeting in Indianapolis over the weekend.  Referring to those whom she declares have “information on plots to carry out jihad,” Ms. Palin said, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.”

For Christians, baptism is a profoundly holy act.  It is in stark contrast to the abhorrent act of waterboarding.  Equating baptism to an act of torture like waterboarding is sacrilegious – and particularly surprising coming from a person who prides herself on her Christian faith. 

Furthermore, her statements play into a false narrative that somehow the conflict between the United States and the terrorist cells is a conflict between Christianity and Islam, or Islam and “the West”.  These narratives do a severe disservice by incorrectly painting all Muslims with a brush of violent extremism.  It completely ignores the many Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths who have weathered these conflicts and have been resisting violence and are working to strengthen their home countries.  They have been partners with the United States in challenging the power and ideologies of violence and terrorism. 

Ms. Palin’s words are an unacceptable conflation of church and state that represents the worst of what is possible when political conflicts are expressed in theological terms.  It is both immoral and factually inaccurate to equate any faith tradition, Muslim or otherwise, with terrorism.

Further, the National Rifle Association has no business letting comments of speakers who condone torture go unchallenged.  It is one thing to protect the 2nd Amendment.  It is quite another to support torture.  Waterboarding is torture. 

While faith leaders and people of good will across the United States are working diligently to ensure that torture never again stains the U.S. Constitution as it did in the aftermath of 9/11, the NRA can ill afford to stand on the wrong side of history by condoning torture. 

We ask that the NRA apologize by issuing a statement distancing itself from these comments made at their convention, and join us in dialogue on how we can work together to combat the ignorance and religious zealotry such statements represent.

The full text of the letter to Ms. Palin:

Religious leaders from many faiths have called on you to denounce torture and to apologize to the U.S. Muslim and Christian communities for statements you made at the NRA’s Annual Meeting in Indianapolis over the weekend.  Referring to those whom you declare have “information on plots to carry out jihad,” you said, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.”

For Christians, baptism is a profoundly holy act.  It stands in stark contrast to the abhorrent act of waterboarding.  Equating baptism to an act of torture like waterboarding is sacrilegious – and particularly surprising coming from you as someone who has publicly professed your Christian faith. 

Furthermore, your statements play into a false narrative conveying that somehow, the conflict between the United States and the terrorist cells is a conflict between Christianity and Islam, or Islam and “the West.”  This narrative does a severe disservice by incorrectly painting all Muslims with a brush of violent extremism.  It completely ignores the many Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths who have weathered these conflicts and have been partners with the United States in challenging the power and ideologies of violence and terrorism. 

Ms. Palin, your words are an unacceptable conflation of church and state that represents the worst of what is possible when political conflicts are expressed in theological terms.  It is both immoral and factually inaccurate to equate any faith tradition, Muslim or otherwise, with terrorism.

While faith leaders, and people of good will across the United States, are working diligently to ensure that torture never again stains the U.S. Constitution as it did in the aftermath of 9/11, you are standing on the wrong side of history by condoning torture. 

We ask that you apologize for your comments made at the NRA convention and join us in dialogue on how we can work together to combat the xenophobic zealotry such statements represent.

  1. Did the NRA or Governor Palin respond to your letter?

    by Warren Geralds

    August 25, 2014

  2. I am so glad that these faith leaders responded swiftly and firmly to Sarah Palin's horrendous, witless and profane comments equating of torture to "American style baptism of terrorists." When such comments are tolerated without outrage from the faithful, we only have worse to come in the future by more such perpetrators. When they are used to rile up a base of people who promote weapons for all, it is nothing but dangerous mob mentality that feeds our culture's lust for violence, division and intolerance.

    by Julie Lehman

    May 7, 2014

  3. Thank you for saying what I wanted to say and for saying it so well. I doubt it will gain an apology from either. However, it does help highlight the difference between "conservative" and "nostalgic". The Church, however open, is always conservative; that is, we hold on to and pass on the truths from the past through the present to the future. Those who seek to keep or return to a way of life from a previous era, regardless of that way's value or goodness, are not conservtive but nostalgic. There are higher truths than those espoused by NRA or Sarah Palin.

    by james p. shuman

    May 2, 2014

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