Friday, May 1, 2009

Torture and white Christians

I am distressed by the Pew survey showing that of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to approve of torture and white Catholics are second most likely. Yes, Catholics had the Spanish Inquisition and Puritans had the pillory, stocks, and branding, but I’d hoped we’d gotten past all that. Perhaps the survey results are just one more indication that the doctrine of total depravity is correct.

Fortunately, the survey doesn’t tell the whole story. The post by Mr Neff on CT’s LiveBlog notes that in 2006, Christianity Today magazine ran a cover story called “Five Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong,” and in 2007 a wide range of evangelical leaders signed a document called “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror.” Many evangelicals are appalled by torture and have been speaking out against it for years.

Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church said in 1997 that "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity," and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document in February 2008 that began, "The Church stands firm in denouncing torture as it undermines and debases the dignity of both victims and perpetrators. Pope Benedict XVI said 'the prohibition against torture cannot be contravened under any circumstance.'"

What would the world think of Christians if we stood up for human rights for the poor as well as the rich, for the unborn as well as the born, for the old and sick as well as the young and healthy, for women and children as well as men, for the guilty as well as the innocent, for immigrants as well as citizens, for gays as well as straights, for Muslims as well as Christians, for enemies as well as friends—even when doing so is unpopular among our friends or downright dangerous, and even when we disagree with the people whose rights we are protecting?

Most Christians, thanks be to God, already stand up for human rights in most of those situations. Unfortunately, all of us (being human) find some causes more compatible than others, and all of us have blind spots. Perhaps the Pew survey will challenge us to reexamine our attitudes in those areas where our politics and the views of our friends may be at odds with the teachings of Jesus.


Loren Seibold said...

Maybe, as Sarah Sentilles says, we're theologically conditioned to accept torture, and even like it.

LaVonne Neff said...

Sheeeeesh. I hope not. I would hope that our theological conditioning would make us never ever want to shout "Crucify him." I would hope that it would make us ready to be tortured rather than to hurt anyone else. But apparently not...