Sarah Palin has a faithful attack dog in Mark Levin. Good for her. We all need friends and allies.

Recently, Levin has been in full froth, defending Palin after criticism she received for her remarks to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. Comparing how liberals view terrorists and how she views them, Palin told the conservative “Christian” crowd:

Oh, 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 baptize terrorists.

Well, Rod Dreher at The American Conservative and Patrick Brennan at National Review Online took Palin to task. And Mark Levin, in mad dog mode, chewed on Dreher and Brennan. (Dreher posted Levin’s rant. Levin reposted it on his Facebook page with this quip: “I don’t need lectures from this self-absorbed intellectual lightweight & neither does Sarah Palin. He can chew on his own ankles. I’m posting this so you can all see what an ass he is.”)

I don’t know Dreher personally — though, for full disclosure, he did have some nice comments about my review of his book, “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming” — and he doesn’t need me to defend him, but reading him over the years I’m pretty convinced he isn’t a “self-absorbed intellectual lightweight” . . . and probably isn’t “an ass.”

The question is, did Levin show himself to be one in this case?

Levin has serious legal and political chops. He’s a Constitutional attorney who worked for the Reagan administration and has written serious books about America’s constitutional drift and how we might re-tether ourselves to our founding documents. But his public persona is as a conservative talking head and political pundit. And it’s there that he often sails off into the unserious waters of the ad hominem, especially when other conservatives don’t tow the Levin line or criticize ideas from Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin.

Levin should know, one of the strengths of conservatism is it’s commitment to principles over personalities. Or as Dreher’s own masthead proclaims: “Ideas Over Ideology.” And Palin certainly should know, as a professing Christian, we don’t throw out sacraments as chum to churn the political waters.

As was said by Peter 2,000 years ago, “Let judgment begin in the house of the Lord” (1 Peter 4:17).

Jesus gave His Church only two sacraments: the Lord’s Table (Eucharist, as it’s common known to Catholics and Orthodox believers) and baptism, which is the symbolic act of publicly identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Palin’s analogy of waterboarding to baptism bespeaks of not only the troubling trend in evangelicalism to treat sacraments as less than sacred, but also to its cringe inducing (or should be) theologically wrongheadedness. What Palin failed to appreciate is the conflation of two diametrically opposed ideas: one meant to elicit wholehearted information and the other meant to implicit wholehearted identification. Islamic terrorists may or may not succumb to waterboarding, but in no way will they succumb (apart from the grace of God) to baptism. Muslims (terrorist or not), if they understood the significance of baptism (which Palin apparently does not), would be outraged at the forced identification not with a prophet of God — which they believe Jesus was — but with the unique Son of God — which they believe Jesus was not. Or as Joe Carter so eloquently put it:

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.

We may debate whether waterboarding is torture or not, and serious Christians need to seriously consider the arguments, but there is no debate on whether baptism is to be used as a political ploy or not. It isn’t.

Levin’s defense of Palin’s waterboarding-as-baptism comment as a “laugh line” may be forgive as so much ignorance on his part, I don’t know what his religious views are, but cannot be on Palin’s part. She, as well as anyone who claims the name of Christ, ought to know and obey this simple truth: we don’t laugh at what Christ calls sacred.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @derrickjeter.

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2 Responses to Mark Levin, Sarah Palin, and Baptism by Waterboarding

  1. Zak says:


    Have we ever heard of the phrase, “Baptism by fire?” When I was in Viet Nam it was used quite frequently-nobody would challenge it then, nor would they now. I believe what you are now discussing is all about selective criticism. What did you write in your column when the disgusting remarks were publically made about Sarah Palin and her daughter? I just returned from the 10:00 AM Mass where much more important topics about the Church were discussed. By the way, what I really object to is the phrase, “Hail Mary pass.” Now there’s a derogatory remark about Christ’s Mother if I ever heard one. I’ll wait for your column on that subject…


    • Zak,

      Always great to hear from you! The phrase “Baptism by fire” isn’t troubling to me, partly because it has been in our lexicon for so long it has become a cliche, partly because it isn’t utilized to make a political point, but more importantly because it alludes to the fact of the Holy Spirit (coming in fire) and baptizing the early followers of Christ.

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree about whether I and/or others are engaging in selective criticism on Ms. Palin’s resent remarks about baptism and waterboarding. My interest isn’t being a Palin apologist or critic; my interest is treating the sacred as sacred. Palin simply overstepped the line in this regard and rightly was criticized. I tried to make clear in the piece that she overstepped the line primarily because she made the analogy, as Levin argued, as a “laugh line.” Palin could have said any number of things about waterboarding or about how tough she is compared to Obama. She didn’t have to evoke a sacrament give by Christ and compare it with what many consider torture.

      It was a poor choice of words, and I hope upon further reflection she would agree. But whether she does not not, she deserved to be criticized in public because her comment was public. And as you said, Zak, upon returning from Mass, there are more important topics under consideration … even more important topics than politics and making cheap political point at the expense of what truly is important — the sanctity of the sacraments.

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