05/01/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

NRA Needs to Repudiate Torture

The National Rifle Association (NRA) sticker is still on the back of my father's old pickup in Montana. When he passed away a few years ago, and my brother inherited the old Ford 4x4 beater, we left it there.

My father would have been one of the millions of NRA members who were not applauding when Sarah Palin proclaimed at last weekend's NRA Annual Meeting that if she were the president, she would use an act of torture like waterboarding to "baptize terrorists."

Though the NRA stands for many things that I oppose, the NRA has never stood for waterboarding and torture. Further, Sarah Palin insulted the intelligence of many good Christian NRA members like my father who realize there is a huge difference between Muslims and jihadists -- just like they know there is a huge difference between NRA members and Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski and other homegrown terrorists who grew up in the same gun culture I did, but chose a very different path.

Had Sarah Palin come to our United Church of Christ annual meeting (highly doubtful, but stick with me) and hid behind the First Amendment to claim that she has a right to proclaim that as president, she would waterboard NRA members to get to the bottom of whoever was going to use a gun to shoot up a school next, well, I would be demanding that the president of our church issue an apology on our behalf.

What about it, Mr. La Pierre? Can you do the same? Can you apologize for these comments supporting torture at your convention and join us in dialogue on how we can work together to combat the religious zealotry such statements represent?

Here is the letter that I and religious leaders of various faiths sent you this week; I hope you'll take it seriously.

April 30, 2014

Wayne LaPierre
National Rifle Association of America
11250 Waples Mill Road
Fairfax, VA 22030

Mr. LaPierre:

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.


Rev. Ron Stief
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Rev. Ed Bacon
Rector, All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA

Jennifer Butler
Executive Director, Faith in Public Life

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network

Patricia Chappell
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

Rev. Richard Cizik
Executive Director, New Evangelical Partnership

Marge Clark, BVM
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Dr. David P. Gushee
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and
Director Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

Rev. Fritz Gutwein
Associate Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Nathan Hosler
Coordinator, Office of Public Witness, Church of the Brethren

Eli McCarthy
Director of Justice and Peace, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Director, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Chett Pritchett
Executive Director, Methodist Federation for Social Action

Michael Sherrard
Executive Director, Faithful America

Sandy Sorensen
Director, Washington Office, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.
President, Disciples Justice Action Network

Russell M. Testa
Director, Holy Name Province Franciscan (OFM) Office for JPIC

Scott Wright
Director, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach