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Torture and the Church

May 2, 2009

Scot McKnight began a conversation on “Evangelicals and Torture” over at Jesus Creed. I like his response (in the comments):

“Torture is always wrong because it violates the sanctity of human integrity and conscience. It is unjustifiable, and Jesus calls his followers to go the extra mile and to give a cup of cold water in order to induce grace and love and reconciliation and peace. The intent of torture is never reconciliation but extraction of that which a human under normal conditions would never say. It breeds violence.”

This conversation was a response to results from a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which found that folks who attend church most often also tend to justify the use of torture (“more than six in 10” white, evangelical Protestants). And in my sarcastic moments I would guess that at least five of those six probably watch 24 regularly 🙂

I disagree with torture (in any circumstance) for the reasons McKnight states above. It is un-Jesus-like. But also because it makes it really hard to tell our Story (as followers of Jesus) when it seems a good portion of the American church wants to justify this kind of practice toward those labeled “enemies”. On a side note, when we label someone “enemy” does that do something to our soul?

For the “six in ten” from the survey, I honestly ask, “How does one square that position with the teachings of Jesus?” When we consider the teaching of scripture, does justification of actions like torture put us closer to God’s Kingdom or Rome’s empire? And if you are a 24 fan, I would also encourage you to try BSG sometime–you’ll get all the action, plus a thought-provoking storyline that actually shows the consequences of the myth of redemptive violence.

  1. May 2, 2009 4:51 am

    I tend to agree. I am conflicted at time when I consider how absolutely evil our enemies are but being true to the teachings of Christ is not always easy. Christian people today want to pick and choose which teaching they will follow. They tend to ignore those that are too difficult, like turning the other cheek or loving your enemy.

  2. kcebnelg permalink
    May 2, 2009 5:04 am

    I’ll tell you what many of my friends are wondering. If our President is a Christian (which he claims to be and I have no reason to doubt it) why is torture (as he wants to define it) so high on the agenda and stopping abortions as birth control not even an issue?

  3. wezlo permalink
    May 2, 2009 12:46 pm

    Nicely stated Chris…

  4. May 8, 2009 2:29 pm

    anamericanidiot-I think you pick up on an important point when you wrote, “Christian people today want to pick and choose which teaching they will follow.” I know I struggle with this; Jesus’ yoke is “easy”, but it’s still hard to follow through sometimes, from my human perspective. And picking and choosing seems to be part of the process of Bible interpretation, if we’re honest about it. Thanks for pointing this out-you give a good reminder and challenge.

  5. May 8, 2009 2:44 pm

    kcebnelg, We don’t know if it’s “not even an issue”, at least not yet. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt for right now; it’s early and the administration has a lot of work on many fronts. The president’s campaign promised to work at reducing abortion, and I hope that this does become a priority. Those of us who hold to a consistent ethic of life would see many of these issues as connected: torture might not result in direct death, but it’s a practice that “breeds violence” as McKnight wrote. How can we promote actions that lead to life rather than death? To “induce grace and love and reconciliation and peace”?

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