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

Prevent Torture & "Torture-Lite" of Terror Suspects

From the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I pass on the following message:
URGENT ACTION September 27 – Today and tomorrow will decide the fate of the U.S. policy on torture and detention. The bill being pushed through Congress is a shocking abdication of everything our religious beliefs stand for. Call your Senators and tell them as a religious person you oppose the compromise on detention and torture. Click here for phone numbers.

I have been profoundly depressed since the House passed the “compromise” detainee bill yesterday–legislation which formally recognizes the Geneva Conventions, but would still allow “water boarding” (Interrogating someone by making them think you will drown them), and other degrading “torture-lite” practices, still allow secret prisons where no one can tell if real torture is happening or not (with protections for the CIA against prosecution for torture!), and still allows military tribunals where defendants are not able to see all the evidence against them and where evidence obtained by torture is admissable. Habeas corpus is still denied so innocent people could be detained for life in inhumane conditions. If the senate passes this and Bush signs it, what will this say about us as a people?

I believe in sin; I’ve seen too much of it to be naive about human sinfulness. I believe Reinhold Niebuhr was right that groups can act more sinfully than individuals (though, having a low ecclesiology, he failed to see that groups, such as churches, can also help individuals act MORE morally than on their own). I know too much U.S. history to believe that this nation escapes the sinfulness of all nation-states or other Powers. But this really rubbed my face in it.

Naively, I had hoped that we in this nation had learned some things from our past. I thought that confronting the way our democratic beginnings were tied up with the attempted genocide of one “race,” and the chattel slavery of another (a U.S. original sin that also led to the ideology of “race” and the myth of “whiteness”) would have taught us something. I thought the horrors of the Tuskeegee syphilis experiments would have taught us something. I thought confronting our sin of Japanese concentration camps during WWII would have taught us something.

I thought our nation, for all its flaws, was dedicated to defending human rights for everyone, no exceptions, no attempts to classify some as not fully human–no matter their religion, nationality, class, “race,” ethnicity, language group, or how much they want to kill us. It is horrifying to be proved wrong.

What is most horrifying are the huge numbers of “Christians” who, like the Christians who justified slavery, and segregation, child labor, the oppression of Jews, etc. who are supporting this measure (or staying silent out of their support for the “Christian” Pres. Bush, the bill’s champion). Christians for torture. How blasphemous can you get?

I used to wonder how the Quaker John Woolman could be as concerned for what slavery did to the souls of slaveowners as to the bodies of slaves. Now I understand. And weep.

Update: A number of heads of U.S. religious groups have come out against this bill and all torture. As I scan the list, I find only 3 Baptist leaders: Roy Medley, Gen. Sec. of American Baptist Churches, USA; Stan Hastey, Exec. Dir., of the Alliance of Baptists; and William Shaw, Pres. of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. The American Baptists are the only Baptist denominational members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. So where are the others? The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America has endorsed the campaign. But where are the heads of the SBC, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Progressive National Baptists, the Free Will Baptists, the Baptist General Conference, Conservative Baptist Association, the Seventh Day Baptists? Torture should be a non-issue. There should be no liberal/conservative split here. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission should be as loud against torture as Stan Hastey. We need to hear from the Mainstream Baptist Network, the Roger Williams Fellowship, from prominent pastors, seminary presidents, theologians (a few of them have already spoken), editors of Baptist papers, state conventions/regions, and congregations. If we who serve crucified Lord (a victim of torture and execution) cannot even unite against a clear evil like torture, God will surely reject us for some more faithful people. I don’t mean to leave other denominations out of this: All Christians should be bold against torture. But criticism begins at home: I call all branches and divisions of my own Baptist people to do the right thing–NOW.


September 28, 2006 - Posted by | torture


  1. Keep calling your Senators! 1-866-808-0065

    Also, go to Congress.org and check out the district offices for the Senators – these people are much friendlier, smarter, and will actually pass on your message.

    Overload their mailboxes!!!!

    Comment by Tahoma Activist | September 28, 2006

  2. Thanks, activist. I deleted your second comment since it was just a repeat of your first.

    I urge flooding the Senate phone banks, too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 28, 2006

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