On Baptism and Violence: A Sad Reflection
Today is the last day of the Christmas season, marked by the Church’s celebration of the baptism of the Lord. It is also a day, at least in the United States, for some serious reflection following the tragic attack in Arizona that left 20 people wounded and six people dead, among the victims a Democratic Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.
According to the New York Times, Rep. Giffords has been able to respond to some simple instructions from doctors and is now in a medically-induced coma. What a startling contrast: death, violence and new life — the celebration of baptism in the midst of a stark reminder of human sinfulness.
I believe that in light of the tragedy this weekend and the juxtaposed celebration of the Baptism of the Lord we should take some time to think about what it means to be baptized into a unique relationship with Christ and with one another as the Body of Christ while at the same time living in such a violent world.
Not that long ago I published a blog post about the necessity of pacifism and nonviolence for those who claim the title Christian. The political discourse in this country has become vitriolic in recent years. The rhetoric of certain political groups, particularly that of the Republican Party and their kindred yet multifariously expressed Tea Party patriots, has reached a disturbing low.
The comments, oftentimes factually erroneous, of certain television personalities, political pundits and candidates and average angry citizens has taken on a violent hue and disrespectful tone. It is easy to lambaste on political group, while exonerating the other – that is not my intention. Although those who self-ascribe the moniker “conservative” are often the most vitriolic in their rabble-rousing, the more progressive political groups are also culpable, if to a lesser degree.
There is perhaps no better example of this sort of discourse-gone-too-far than the campaigning of former Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Palin’s midterm political speeches increasingly alluded to violent actions. And despite criticism that suggested Palin’s rhetoric could cause real violence, she and her like-minded ‘patriots’ continued forward in drawing on violent images to illustrate their positions. Terms and phrases like “reload” were used alongside photos and maps that featured the crosshairs of a rifle. The crosshairs (see accompanying image) are placed over the districts of Democratic Representatives that voted for the healthcare legislation. One of those crosshairs was over Rep. Giffords’s district in AZ.
What troubles me the most is that those women and men who are the first to invoke violent images and engage in disrespectful discourse are also those who are the most vocal about their Christian faith. Many of those who find Palin to be an admirable political and cultural figure see her religious identification and public reference to her faith as an asset. Nevertheless, these same Palin fans (and fans of other Palin-like political figures) do not see the inherent contradiction present in such violent rhetoric and the Christian good news of peace and humility.
That Christians are baptized into a unique relationship with Christ and one another means that no one can rightfully speak about another human being the way that these political figures have about their political opponents. Some will say that it was the mental instability of the gunman and those like him that is the real problem, not Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and others. But the truth is that no one who dares to call him- or her-self Christian could ever justify such uncivil discourse.
If we are the Body of Christ, if our Baptism means anything, then we need to work to make this world a place more and more like the Kingdom of God and less like a world where political discourse reflects the worst in our society and violence is championed as the answer to our problems.