19 May 2010

blessing torture

“A political dissident is arrested for leading a movement that threatens the stability of a region. He is ambushed and apprehended by his enemies, detained without a public trial, and tortured by soldiers at the command of their political leaders.

“No, I’m not describing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee held at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I’m speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.”

That’s the way Skye Jethani begins his article, “The Informed Conscience,” in the May/June issue of Liberty magazine. Jethani is the managing editor of Leadership Journal, a publication of Christianity Today. Hardly a wild-eyed radical, he’s an evangelical Christian, ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

He continues, “The fact that Christians draw their faith, life, and identity from a Messiah who was the victim of political torture seems ironic in light of new research by the Pew Forum that indicates 62 percent of White Evangelicals believe torture of suspected terrorists is ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ justified. The research shows that people who attend church regularly were more likely to rationalize torture than those who do not go to church. [Emphasis is mine.]

“How do we explain these findings? Are Christians being more influenced by Jack Bauer than Jesus Christ?”

This opens up a big discussion. One of my earliest blog posts was on this topic. It can be easy to drift into support of almost any policy if fear is continually injected into the populace.

Jethani looks at it philosophically, saying, “Lurking behind this passive support of government torture is a utilitarian ethic that believes the ends justify the means—torture is justifiable if the information attained will save innocent lives. But David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, points out a problem with this argument: ‘But Evangelicals have been eager to reject utilitarian ethics when addressing other issues—embryonic stem-cell research and population-control programs, for example. Even if embryonic stem-cell research turned out to be the best way to cure Parkinson’s disease, most Evangelicals would oppose it, just as we would oppose abortion even if it were shown to reduce, say, food insecurity.’”

The image is from the Pew Forum website, showing the results of the poll, which was taken in April 2009. The wording of the question was, “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?”

In my opinion, the saddest thing is that torture is even seriously debated in the church.

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