Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.
She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.
Though this sort of violent rhetoric and behavior enjoyed its peak some centuries ago during the Crusades, the vestiges of imperialist Christian entitlement lingers even today. But the reason that such statements, even if uttered by someone in a position of public influence, come off as silly and absurd rather than chilling is because the beast of Christendom has, in large part, been defanged by the post-Christian culture.
In short: the rest of the world has stopped paying much attention.
At this point, talking heads like Sarah Palin serve more as a desperate rallying cry to a dying tribe of Christian extremists, rather than as a galvanizing voice that carries any particular gravity. In the subtext of her acerbic claims is the message that, despite all appearances, we still have power. We matter. The rest of the world can – and should – fear us because we have Jesus on our side.
Ironically, this is about as far from the Christian path as one can be, while still claiming it as a faith. Were Jesus to return, he would challenge such imperialist forces head-on, not with his own “shock and awe” campaign, but with his radical “third way” thinking and living that, simply be existing, subverts the systems of power that consider it a threat.
The good news is that the continued decline of such a distorted view of the Christian gospel does create room for creative, collaborative re-imagination of our faith. And such a divinely inspired conspiracy is not relegated simply to emergents, progressives, or even all of mainline Christianity; increasingly, evangelicals are joining in.
And when hearts and minds come together with the intent of seeking humble, transforming gospel truth rather than a foothold on slipping power, beautiful, amazing, and unexpected things can and will happen.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus . His memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.