A new poll by the “Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life” reveals that the more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of prisoners. According to the survey, more than half of Americans who attend church at least once per week said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified.
What is more, there was a strong corroboration of “evangelicals” whom “often” attended church with a higher approval of the use of torture to suspected terrorist.
Of course, these descriptors strongly indicate one group: Protestants in the more rural areas of the South. Might as well write the headline:
Southern Baptists Support Waterboarding Muslims
My initial reaction, I have to admit, was skeptical of both the methodology as well as the overt agenda of such a survey.
However, once I started seeing and hearing how other professing believers were interacting with this story (specifically those within the narrow parameters mentioned above), my reaction changed dramatically.
It is not the deliberately vague categorizations (often? sometimes?), or the paltry small sampling (2,000 represents all?), or the fluid nature of statistical interpretation that provokes my ire about this… it is the way that this news is being received.
“Waterboarding doesn’t kill them, it just simulates the experience of drowning!”
Right, and therefore it is acceptable to do this to a suspected terrorist?
“If hooking their [EXPLETIVE] up to a car battery helps prevent another 9/11, then I’m all for it!”
…and if it doesn’t? If this torture yields no additional information, is it worthwhile to inflict?
“If someone kidnapped your [insert loved one here] and held them for ransom, what would you do to get them back?”
Everything within my power, of course, and everything within the bounds of Law as well as my conscience… which, I hope, is informed more by my paradigm than by my passions.
The unstated assumptions bound up within such a mindset are (a) any suspected terrorist is guilty and (b) their crimes, realized or potential, are of a far more grievous nature than the crimes required to prevent/prosecute such.
Perhaps I am being somewhat oblique and not a little bit cheeky, but this is a serious matter… both in the matter of Christian ethics as well as how we bear witness to the teachings of our King before a watching world. If this is all we, those that people the Christian churches in the United States, have to offer the unbelieving citizens of the world… perhaps we have not learned well the lessons of our own history.
I have no interest in joining the debate as to what constitutes torture, in the same way that I have little desire to consider whether “a chair is really a chair” or merely a construct of my mind. You and I both know that a chair is a chair, just as we know how far you can “coerce” someone before you have gone too far. Moreover, the acts that the Unites States government has pursued in the interests of national security (those that have, thus far, been declassified), are certainly well beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct.
Whether or not a secular government can/will internally rationalize such a course of action to certain ends, they do not justify the means. Whether or not “they do it too!” or even “they do worse stuff!” is irrelevant. We (those born of the Spirit that bear His name) are held to tighter strictures:
“If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat,
if he is thirsty give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head…”
Notice it does not say: “give him food and water and torture him with burning coal” or something. It is obviously a cultural idiom meaning to provoke your enemy’s conscience by dealing with him judiciously.
“…but isn’t that just setting us up to be persecuted? …do this and they’ll kill us all! …what’re you some kinda pansy? …why do you hate freedom?”
These sorts of responses bring home, to me, just how far we have allowed our Faith to become entangled in a perverse sense of syncretistic patriotism.
What if the government of [insert foreign nation here] tortured Americans accused of war crimes? What if a local constable tortured local citizens that were suspected of murder, to elicit a confession? What if the American federal government started torturing Christians? Would any of these things suddenly make torture unacceptable?
“You have heard that it was said: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…”
Last year… approximately 250,000 Christians were martyred for their faith; many if not most of those suffered grievous torture and imprisonment before dying. It is expected that at least 250,000 more will die this year, in much of the same manner.
We are not made to live as pretend princes upon this dying ember, but to seek the glory of His return. Pilgrims all, we have no home in any nation or flag… but we follow the footsteps of the Carpenter, He that has gone before us to prepare a place.
In his Epistle to the Romans, Apostle Paul indeed teaches that the rulers of a land are bearers of the sword… and that He uses them after His own purposes. Many kings and nations will rise and fall, ebb and flow, yet the mighty I AM shall rule forever. Amen.
We are followers of Messiah, the Son of GOD, and all called forth to come out of the various perverse machinations of the world… to be a salt that cures and purifies, to reflect HIS Light into the dark places.
One that was greater than us all came and made Himself the least of all men, that He would conquer more than any man could achieve.
If there is a wiser man than I, who can help me understand how and why torture should not only be tolerated but lauded by the its citizens, I submit myself to your correction.
Barring that, I lament for my Brethren. For the wretched things I have heard and read from them of late in these matters… for myself as well, one who once held such views.
May the LORD forgive us.