On torture, can we handle the truth? We’d better start trying (COMMENTARY)

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Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Lay Committee

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Lay Committee

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(RNS) Certainly the mind of Christ is not divided on the issue, so why does the church not speak unequivocally with one voice on matters like torture?

  • Frank

    So do you believe Christian morality should interject itself into a secular government? Does that expend to sexual morality and marriage? Abortion?

  • anonymous

    Brothers and sisters, I appreciate the discussion, this is my response as of now. What follows are my opinions as best I can write them in this format.
    As a start I will say that it is on the continuum with whether one decides to serve (fight?) in the military or be a conscientious objector. Military service asks a person to choose to obey in such a way as suffering will result–whether or not it is deserved. War is not gracious. Torture, for powers sake is unequivocally wrong (as McCain and Zamporini and other POWs experienced). Torture for information gathering is frighteningly stressful in every direction–EI is arguably not torture and for the believer who must be involved (and there are many people involved, present from MDs to PsyD to those who approve it as legal) a faith-challenging dilemma. It changes everyone. Yet we must stand for those without voice without creating more voiceless. I wonder sometimes if the worst torture would be to preach the gospel nonstop to Muslim terrorists–but that of course would not be allowed. So I pray for Christians who do, whether by words, life, proximity. It really is costly for them to follow Jesus.

    There is also the question of personal faith, corporate witness, and governmental responsibility (‘render unto Caesar’). For me personally it may be anathema, but then what is silence in the face of evil? I often ask if I were held hostage would I accede to demands? Those who know me say I would most likely fight the perpetrator even at the cost of my own life if it would save others. God’s call on us, God’s hand on our daily walk and choices often asks us to discern not just good from evil, but good from better or best as well as good from deteriorating toward evil. I think of CS Lewis’ quote from “Weight of Glory” and try to challenge myself to not only live towards Christlikeness, but to encourage others not to live towards inhumanity. I often fail. I need others–the body of Christ. The church can stand there and proclaim the gospel even as we hear of such news–if we also live it with our neighbors.

    But the governmental responsibility is much more difficult. And here I lean on Bonhoeffer who, in his book “Ethics” plainly stated that murder was not of God at the same time as he participated in a plot to murder Hitler. I do not have an answer, but I think we all need to ask the question. Abortion, euthanasia, torture, racism, greed–these are questions we need to talk about and its awkward to do so.

    (Last, I will say the Feinstein report is incredibly misleading and a political hack job. To not even interview the people involved is malpractice. Or politics. Our diplomatic corps, our servicemen and women are often knowingly sacrificed by the very leaders who rely on their service–and issue orders that cost them their lives and their self respect. PTSD, TBI, are obvious results, but there is so much more untold–just ask the greatest generation about what they saw and did.)

  • As Jesus followers we should know that hurting/destroying the person NEVER eradicates evil. Satan will simply find a new vessel. We are weak when we no longer believe in the power of the tools that God has given His people to overcome evil: prayer, fasting, speaking the truth in love and sacrificial love. Paul actually show us by example and instruction what to do and think about someone who actually causes personal harm. 2 Timothy 4:14ff. “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message ”
    From this It seems to me that we let God do the repaying but we still speak out truthful warnings and guard ourselves and help others to know the truth as well.
    It seems that we continue to act, not in concert with God, but act as if we need to help God out instead of truly leaving it with God. We also wrongly believe that if we leave it with God then we should also be silent and I don’t see that modeled in the Biblical text.
    Does this relate to torture? I believe it does. Imprisonment, discipline and/or punishment for egregious behavior is appropriate. Let us be people of the Law, but as Christ Followers let us also heap burning coals on their heads with kindness while they endure their due legal sentence so as to provide an opportunity for repentance. Each human is created in God’s image and should be confronted with this kind of all consuming LOVE. – unless of course we don’t really believe God has The Power.

  • Thank you Carmen, you know I agree with you. I think it is an understanding that is made real in Christ and thank you for taking it that direction. He suffered for sinners, and in and because of his suffering we must put away our sin, including torture. I would go further than doing unto others as we wish others to do to us, I would go to Matthew and the picture of the nations (the sheep and the goats) before the righteous King’s throne and suggest that when we tortured we did it unto Him. When we saved someone from the torturer we did it unto Him.

  • philip

    BRAVO! BRAVO Mrs. LeBerge! Your writing does not tear the flesh off victims to use as bait to snare indignant bastards who fight our wars.
    I rarely, if ever, plagarize but your paragraph starting with,”In the meantime we seek ways to protect the helpless from those who would kill them without cause.” Your question, “Is it possible we cannot handle the truth?” Yes, as Pilate handed over Jesus and washed his hands.
    We live in a society today that 114 children are slaughtered in Pakistan ;where anyone can go on the Internet to witness human beheading. There are voyeurs, pacifists who wait to be slaughtered, and those who help stop terrorist acts.
    Your last question was asked by a national news commentator to one of the people who interrogated the enemy. Your exact question that God would ask, “Would you have others do unto you what you do unto them?”
    His answer was, “Yes, if I killed 3,000 of their women and children, then I deserve no less punishment than I would give them if they did it to my people.”
    I would rather be in hell with men who saved lives than in heaven with cowards who hid while innocents died.
    PS I like your style. Ask God if He would let me do to Him what He plans to do with me. In heaven, God does the torturing. There is no reciprocity. It’s forever!
    Final Note: Those warriors, I’ve helped bury them. I visit their graves to pray for them. Ask the politicians if they will take their places.
    Feliz Navidad!

  • coffemidget

    A middle-eastern guy attacks an iconic building and the innocent victims in it without provocation. He is apprehended, detained, found guilty without due process, tortured and eventually dies from the torture inflicted upon him by the government. Are Christians okay with this?

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  • Rick

    White evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket, so I’m thinking that the reluctance to speak out against the post-9/11 torture of Arab men is partly a reluctance to face up to one’s complicity in happily electing, and then re-electing, human rights abusers. I’ve also noticed that conservatives really hate it when the Left seizes the moral high ground, so they’ll double down on rationalizations for this or that horror; so, culturally, we now have lefty college professors who can persuasively talk about the evils of inequality, torture, rising oligarchy and injustice, and Right-leaning pastors who ignore all of this because only two issues (abortion and being gay) matter.

  • Jon

    Approval of torture is a central doctrine of Christianity, and it always has been. The various Bibles are clear that torture is acceptable for “offenses” as simple as believing in the wrong god. Rev. 20 describes the eternal torment meted out to non-christians, and Jesus himself prescribes torment all through the Gospels, such as in Mt 5, Mt 18, Mk9, Lk 12 and so on.

    Torture in Hell is so central to Christianity that to consider it immoral is an old and still attacked heresy called “Universalism” (just ask Rob Bell). Torment in Hell over thousands, millions of years for non-Christians (including people like Anne Franke, Gandhi, my sister, and many more) makes waterboarding for a day and freezing someone to death overnight look kind by comparison.

    Do evangelical Christians approve of torture? Of course they do.

  • John P

    This exposes the compromise of the right wing and reveals the unhealthy ties between right wing Christians and the Republican party. They won’t bite the hand that feeds them and won’t acknowledge they are too far entrenched in political policy. Subtly, it makes one wonder if they disagree with the torture tactics at all.

  • David Boyd

    I sense a basic flaw in the article: assuming consensus on a definition of torture. Until that is settled, all else is a waste of oxygen.

  • Earold D. Gunter

    Cheney is the type of person who forms an opinion and then builds barriers around it making it almost impenetrable to exterior evidence that may cause a change of mind. However these type of people have an Achilles heel when the evidence is already within the barrier. Like his change of mind about homosexuality once his own daughter reveled she was a lesbian. Cheney would change his mind if someone within his barrier were treated in the manner we treated those prisoners, and yes, he would then call it torture,

    Cheney characterized those who perpetrated the 9/11 attack as bastards, and rightfully so, and I’m sure most humans agree. But why? It is because we saw it as a horrific violation of the treatment of humans, an inhuman act. A violation of a code that most of us live by, that human life is precious and should not be damaged. Then isn’t torture of a human also an inhuman act as well, the damaging of a human, a violation of that same code?

    There are those who would use semantics to side-step the debate, muddy the waters, by questioning what the term torture really means and if what was done to these prisoners really was torture. However these tactics are not only dishonest, but cowardly as well.

    No human who is robbed of his dignity by being imprisoned against his will, kept naked, cold, shackled, sleep deprived, repeatedly slapped, grabbed by the face, slammed against walls, and made to feel as if they were drowning with suffocation by water would not consider what they endured as nothing less than torture, and that is fact. To try to distort this so you don’t have to face the reality that what our government did was no less inhuman than what the 9/11 attackers did is dishonest to oneself, and lacks the courage to admit it was wrong.

    I love being American. I think the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth. It is that love that makes the shame of these acts hurt so much. Not that as a people we have always acted in a moral manner. The treatment of Native Americans, Africans, Chinese and so many others we saw as not like us, were wrong, and we should feel remorse for the way our country acted towards them. We learned from our mistakes and vowed to act in a higher moral manner; to be the leader is moral behavior. That is why this current violation of morality hurts so much.

    No one who condones the use of torture should consider themselves moral. It is the very antithesis of morality.

  • Jack

    Good point, David Boyd. Depriving a mass-murdering terrorist of being able to sleep soundly like a baby, or subjecting him to 30-second intervals of waterboarding, is hardly in the same boat as gouging out eyes, cutting off limbs, frying people alive — you know, the kinds of things that….mass-murdering terrorists do to others.

  • Jack

    Cheney is right on this particular issue. If getting tough with a mass-murdering terrorist will yield information that will reveal when and where the next mass murder will occur, thus giving us a chance to prevent it before it’s too late and save lives, then getting tough is the right thing to do. An absolute prohibition on this is moral madness, the elevation of abstract perfectionism over human life.

    There should be limits on the extent of getting tough — — but to foreswear any and all efforts, no matter how mild, is to abandon the innocent to the rampages of the guilty.

  • Jack

    The “antithesis of morality” would be to abandon the innocent to future slaughter by the guilty, because we’ve tied ourselves in total knots on the issue of how to treat terrorists who know when and where the next attack will be.

  • Jack

    The result of all this narcissistic moral preening for the camera is that more innocent people are going to die in the coming years and decades. Those who would stop the government from obtaining valuable information on when and where the next mass murder will take place will have blood on their hands if the result is a horrific attack that could have been thwarted had information been obtained.

    There are sins of omission as well as commission….failing to act to save human life is a big example. It is a moral failure, plain and simple. And failure to act because we want to pat ourselves on the back about how morally pure we are is a particularly repulsive form of moral vanity.

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