Christian Right's Support for Torture Sends Tortured Message About What Christians Believe


James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has criticized Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's opposition to the U.S. government's use of torture.

That's right. Supporting torture appears to be an important issue for Dobson and many of the Christian Right. Dobson's radio broadcasts have for years faithfully relayed information useful to families and the challenge of Christian living. Where does torture fit into such programs?

In an exclusive with the Wall Street Journal of April 2, Dobson did not explain his approval of torture or how it relates to the Christian life. "How he contorts Christian theology to justify [this] is a puzzle," writes Robert Parham of EthicsDaily.com.

If this pro-torture stand was Dobson's alone there would be little attention paid to it. But last month an ethics professor, Daniel R. Heimbach at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, favored torture much as Dobson does.

The Southern Baptist Convention leaders also favor torture. A Baptist Press release reported that to oppose torture "threatens to undermine Christian moral witness in contemporary culture." They went on to say that situation ethics necessitates that sometimes torture is the right thing to do.

The National Association of Evangelicals recently released a statement that the United States has crossed the "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible" in the "war on terror." The paper's title is "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror."

Heimbach says such talk from the NAE undermines the Christian moral witness. Nothing could be more confusing to people in the pew than to have a professor of ethics speak out in favor of torture.

Heimbach is not for using "inherently evil methods, only using force on those involved in violence against us." He is advocating lowering ourselves to the indecent level of those who torture. Torture them because they torture us. How does a Christian teacher ignore the overriding attitude of the New Testament and the value of "turning the other cheek" or "love your enemies?"

Supporting just wars are acceptable to many people, but torture of a suspected enemy goes beyond the pale.

As a former Southern Baptist, I wonder what such remarks tell the world about Christian beliefs? Torture, as a method, has always been condemned by our government and churches until the "war on terror" began.

Albert Mohler, president of another SBC seminary argues that torture cannot be condoned except in circumstances when it might be necessary.

It is too seldom noted how the torturer is affected. The emotional trauma of those ordered to use torture is too often ignored. These horrors are not easily erased. From the testimonies of men who have been ordered to torture many end up embarrassed and wracked by guilt. Contemplating what they did to other human beings brings depression and often worse experiences.

Governments for centuries have made claims that they do not torture. The "ticking time bomb" scenario of the TV series "24" exploits this excuse for torture. Under torture most people say what the torturer wants to hear.

Another claim (read: excuse) is "it's an emergency." Egypt declared such an emergency in 1981. It is still in force, and torture is common.

Another claim: "They don't deserve better." Many of our citizens use this excuse. The present administration says they are not prisoners of war and made up the term "unlawful combatants." The Geneva Conventions do not apply to the invented term. Recent memos reveal torture was approved higher up than sergeants and captains.

"It is not really torture" is another attempt to deny our government tortures the enemy. It is simply "enhanced interrogation." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbids both torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Pain by any other name is still pain.

Supreme Court Justice Brandeis shares this insight: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole of the people by its example. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law and invites every man to become a law unto itself. It breeds anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means would bring terrible retribution."

Britt Towery is a former teacher, missionary and pastor who lives in San Angelo, Texas.

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Tags: Britt Towery, Politics, Religious Right, Torture