Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Rabbi Waskow v. Torture

If you look to this blog’s links, you’ll see one for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. I have tried to make this a major issue on the email list of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and my church’s Yahoo group. When I mentioned the campaign to Rev. Tim Simpson of the Christian Alliance for Progress, CAP signed on as an organization immediately. So, I was considering writing something about that here when I received this great email from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Centre which says it all so much better. Here it is:

Dear Friends, Last night (Sunday) Phyllis and I saw the new film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” sired by Robert Altman out of Mother Minnesota, with Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep among an amazing cast. But more amazing than the cast is the (implicit) theme: the death of America. The grass-rootsy radio program, in the film (not in real life) is playing its last show, its home radio station having been swallowed by a ravenous corporation. And in it the Angel of Death, as a lovely Woman in White, taps on the shoulder of one of the show’s most beloved veterans. Death is all-pervasive, yet the film is funny. I couldn’t stop laughing to cry, I couldn’t stop crying to laugh. The America that is dying is ribald, sad, sweet, bold, decent, unruly, song-full, tough, eccentric. Yet it is killed. It dies with nary a whimper –- but it dies.”Is this a great country, or what?” — Yes, it is. How could such a wonderful country end up with such a terrible government, both the “public” one in Washington that ignores the public interest and the “private” one of corporate ledgers that exercises such power over the public? In the real America of “Prairie Home Companion,” some cops and some soldiers tortured prisoners, but that America would never have tolerated a President who made torture into official policy and openly said that laws forbidding it did not apply to him. Indeed, for violations less atrocious, that America drove a President from office just 34 years ago.

Of course, in the usual paradox of artistic and spiritual creativity, a film about our death MIGHT be a redemptive act of life. Or might not. It’s up to us. Soooooooo — Is that America dead? Some of us are trying to give it new life. For example: New energy and new people are joining in efforts to end the use of torture by the US government. Two important events: 1) In the New York Times this past Wednesday, a quarter-page ad on the Op/Ed page carried this message: “Let America abolish torture now – without exceptions.” Among the signers were two Nobel Peace laureates: President Jimmy Carter and (a totally new voice in this discussion) Elie Wiesel. The leaders of many religious organizations – evangelical, main-line Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim – also signed. You can support this statement! (More below.) 2) At the US Mission to the UN next week (May 26), there will be a street action to urge the closure of Guantanamo and an end to US use of torture. You can join in this action! (More below.) More on the NY Times statement: “Torture is a Moral Issue. “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved -– policy-makers, perpetrators, and victims. “It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. “Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? …” Another new voice among the signers was Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, who (for identification only) was listed as Executive Vice President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He joined Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which had been working on the issue before. On being asked about the absence of other Jewish signatories, the organizers (National Religious Committee Against Torture) explained that most of its efforts had been to bring in new people, especially among evangelical Christians, and that they had therefore not focused on including The Shalom Center and Rabbis for Human Rights, both of which pioneered campaigns against torture in the Jewish and broader religious communities.

Other signers are listed at the end of this message. We urge you, our readers, to use this letter as a basis for writing your own metropolitan and communal newspapers. Why them? — There is little point in writing Congress at this point, since it recently passed overwhelmingly a law renewing and restating prohibitions on torture – only to sit silent when the President signed it and simultaneously announced he would not feel bound by it. Even Senator McCain, who had pressed for passage of the anti-torture amendment, acquiesced in this breathtaking violation of the Constitution. Congress also passed an act abolishing the writ of habeas corpus for Guantanamo prisoners – the one way for them to get legal redress for false imprisonment and torture, and the most sacred protection of freedom in American and British history, going back to the 14th century. So public opinion needs to raise its head against this moral perfidy. If you click on this address, you can send a letter to the editor that refers to the “Torture is a Moral Issue” statement and joins in it. http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizationsORG/tsc/pickMedia.jsp?letter_KEY=487

THIS STRING MUST ENTER AS A SINGLE LINE. Make sure when you click on or enter this it does not have letter-salad from a split line. style=’font-family:Helvetica’>

Meanwhile, Witness Against Torture is sponsoring a NYC teach-in Sunday June 25 and a street action Monday June 26, to end torture & close Guantanamo. These are the folks (mostly Catholic Worker) who walked across Cuba to Guantanamo and who organized (with CALC-I) an anti-torture, close- Guantanamo action in NYC on May 1. I expect, God willing, to take part on June 26; I hope many others also will. Shalom, ArthurTEACH-IN: Sunday, June 25, 6pm-8pm, Judson Assembly Room (Enter at 239 Thompson Street)Moderated by *Edget Betru*, Organizer, Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, Center for Constitutional Rights. Speakers: *Sarah Havens*, attorney with Allen & Overy, represents fourteen Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo; (invited) George Hunsinger, Director, National Religious Network Against Torture.Performances by Michael Cates, Pierce Woodward and others /ACTION: Monday, June 26, 2006- United Nations Day for Victims of Torture; Procession to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to Call on Ambassador John Bolton to Join the International Consensus to Shut Down Guantanamo *10:30 am, Gather for short opening ceremony, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (47th street and First Avenue)Solemn Procession to Bring **Guantanamo** to the US Mission steps off at 11:00]Noon- 1pm, Demonstration at US Mission to the UN, 45th Street between 3rd Avenue and LexingtonFor more information, visit — n or email Frida.Berrigan@gmail.com *The activities are being organized by Witness Against Torture, in concert with Torture Awareness Month, http://www.tortureawareness.org *Other signers of “Torture Is a Moral Issue”: Rev. William J. Byron, SJ Research Professor, Loyola College in Maryland Archbishop Demetrios Primate, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar General Secretary, National Council of Churches Dr. David P. Gushee Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University in Tennessee Rev. Ted Haggard President, National Association of Evangelicals Dr. Maher Hathout Muslim Public Affairs Council Dr. Stanley Hauerwas Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University Dr. Roberta Hestenes Minister-at-Large, World Vision Dr. George Hunsinger McCordProfessor of Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary Rev. Kermit D. Johnson Chaplain (Major General), U.S. Army (ret.) Rev. Joseph Lowery Co-Founder, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Frederica Mathewes-Green Author and commentator Theodore Cardinal McCarrick Archbishop of Washington Dr. Brian McLaren Founder, Cedar Ridge Community Church, Spencerville, Maryland Dr. Richard Mouw President, Fuller Theological Seminary Prof. Mary Ellen O’Connell Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Dr. Glen Stassen Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary Dr. Leonard Sweet E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Drew University Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed National Director, Islamic Society of North America Dr. Frank A. Thomas Editor of The African-American Pulpit; Pastor, Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Memphis Rev. Jim Wallis Editor-in-Chief/Executive Director, Sojourners Dr. Rick Warren Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology, Yale University Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

June 19, 2006 - Posted by | progressive faith, Religious Social Criticism, torture

1 Comment

  1. I LOOOOOVVED PHC! My favorite movie of the decade! [and I’m not usually given to effusive praise for anything as trivial as movies]

    A clean sweep of the Oscars (except for the animated short category) and the Emmys and the Nobel Peace prize.

    It’s great!

    (Sorry, I know that the movie is not the thrust of this post, but I really did enjoy it…)

    Comment by Dan Trabue | June 24, 2006

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