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

Tear It Down

Amnesty International has launched a new campaign to close the Guantanemo Bay Prison and end torture and denial of human rights to terrorist suspects. All suspects should be tried (in trials that meet U.S. and international standards of law) and either imprisoned in civilized prisons if convicted or released if found not guilty.  Those detained by mistake should be released now. All who have been tortured should be compensated.

To participate in this Tear It Down campaign, click here.


October 5, 2007 - Posted by | human rights., torture


  1. Have you seen this defense of torture?


    Comment by Kim | October 5, 2007

  2. I hadn’t seen it, but I wasn’t surprised to find that this drivel was written by Keith Pavlischek. I know that turd [Corrected: “individual”] well and despise everything he stands for[Corrected: I pray not to despise him, someone for whom Christ died]. You’ll notice that he works for the far-right think-tank known as the Ethics and Public Policy Center. That same center defended the Contras and the torture of Central Americans fighting for human rights.

    You know the stereotype of the evangelical pro-lifer who is really only pro-birth? Well, with Pavlischek it’s not a stereotype. He’s pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-denial of human rights to prisoners of war, and, now, apparently, pro-torture. If Dave Gushee, the author of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture that Pavlischek is sliming in Christianity Today, represents much that is best about American evangelicals (and he does), then Pavlischek represents the worst.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 5, 2007

  3. This guy seems to like it:


    Comment by Kim | October 5, 2007

  4. Again, Kim, you have to notice where this is published. First Things was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a notoriously right wing political theologian–first as a Lutheran minister and then, after his conversion in the ’90s, as a Catholic priest. This magazine was dedicated to encouraging America to throw its military weight around Latin America in the ’80s, supported Gulf War I, is ultra-pro-capitalist, etc.

    Instead of linking me to these rightwing diatribes, Kim, I’d like to know what YOU think about torture and why?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 6, 2007

  5. thank you for the pointing out that these are right wing extremist web sites. i don’t like torture or war.

    I did some more looking around and found an article by Gushee called How to Read the Declaration against torture


    I don’t understand how Gushee can reject nonviolence and defend murdering an enemy and then turns around and says that while murdering someone because he is an enemy is ok it is not ok to torture an enemy if that will save lives.

    If murdering people in war is ok to save more lives why isnt torturing ok to save more lives. isn’t killing someone worse than torture? he thinks torture is worse than murder and that’s why murder is ok but torture is not ok. i don’t understand that.

    i’m a little bit confused about this because if you think gushee is so great. then why does he reject nonviolence and support murder? how does support for killing show respect for the sanctity of life. isn’t Gushee just as bad as pavischeck?

    Comment by Kim | October 6, 2007

  6. Well, it is true that Dave Gushee is not a pacifist–not committed to gospel nonviolence. He is a just war theorist, though a very strict one. I do not think he would consider killing in war to be murder.

    Now, I am a pacifist. I do consider all taking of human life to be evil.

    But, no, I would not say that Gushee is as bad as Pavlischek. Not at all. First of all, torture is worse than killing in war, because in the latter, your foe gets to fight back. The torture victim is helpless.

    Also, I happen to know that Gushee is against the death penalty, but Pavlischek is for it. Gushee works for economic justice, but Pavlischek defends laissez faire capitalism.

    Now, do I WISH that my friend, Dave Gushee, would reject ALL killing, including in war and in self defense? Yes. But the fact that he doesn’t do this, doesn’t make him “as bad as Pavlischek.”

    I disagree with Just War Theorists, but because we pacifists are so very few, they can be useful in opposing particular wars. For instance, Dave supported the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and so was not helpful to me there. But he opposed the invasion of Iraq on just war grounds–and that was helpful.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 6, 2007

  7. oh, now i understand a little bit better. thank you. pavischeck is worse because he thinks it is ok to murder afghnistani people and iraqi people but gushee only wants to murder afghanistani people

    but why would gushee reject the clear teaching of jesus about killing? that seems pretty evil to me. he has read the bible, hasn’t he? maybe gushee is even worse because everyone knows pavischeck is really a bad person but gushee is just more sneaky about it. it tricks more people into not being nonviolent.

    i disagree if gushee thinks killing in war is not murder. just war is just a word game–killing in war is murder and evil and both gushee and pavischeck are not that different because they don’t follow jesus

    you have given me a lot to think about. i am not sure about torture being worse than murder, but i think i see your point.

    Comment by Kim | October 6, 2007

  8. Whoa, Kim. I am a pacifist, but even I wouldn’t equate all killing with murder. All killing is wrong, but killing in self-defense is less wrong than attacking someone to kill them.

    I think Just War Theory to an inferior morality to pacifism, but it is more than “just a word game” to people like Dave Gushee. The greatest pacifist theologian of our time was the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, one of my mentors. But Yoder engaged Just War Theory and taught me to know it better than most of those who claimed to follow it. He used its own principles to get JWTers to take the restrictions on violence more seriously.

    I have found Dave Gushee to be very serious about following Jesus. I think he is wrong about war, but that is a difference in biblical interpretation–not an indication that Dave doesn’t take Jesus seriously. Dave has co-written a book called Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context with Glen Stassen–who was teacher to both Dave and myself. In Kingdom Ethics the two agree on most things, but in the chapter on war, they do not so they lay out the options and let the reader choose.
    I invite you to read it.

    I notice, Kim, that you are at Messiah College. So, you probably come from a peace church background. You have been trained since childhood to read the Bible through peaceful eyes. So, the “clear teachings of Jesus” leap out at you. But, since the 4th C., most Christians have not been so trained. Everyone reads the Bible from a perspective, a tradition. And Dave’s tradition, like most Christians, blinds him to the “clear teachings of Jesus” on nonviolence.

    Can this be overcome? Yes. I was a soldier who became converted to gospel nonviolence. But it IS a conversion–a huge change of perspective. It seldom happens just by re-reading the Sermon on the Mount. It’s an AHA experience.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 6, 2007

  9. if killing in war is not murder why is it wrong? if gushee can’t see the clear teachings of jesus after being taught by your teacher, then your teacher wasn’t a very good teacher. he failed badly.

    Comment by Kim | October 6, 2007

  10. “I know that turd well and despise everything he stands for.” The same man who states: “Rules for commenting on this blog: 1) Respect everyone, even when you disagree strongly.”

    Apparently, calling someone a “turd” does not violate the rule to “respect everyone.”

    Pacificist Aggressive?

    Comment by Francis Beckwith | October 13, 2007

  11. Frank, that’s a fair rebuke. I find it difficult to respect Keith, but that is no excuse. Thanks, brother, for that correction. I mean it.

    Friends, it could be argued that I have had almost as many differences with Frank Beckwith over the years as with Keith Pavlischek (not quite, but closer than I want to remember), but I always detected a far different spirit in Frank than in Keith. That may make it easier to hear this rebuke from him–but it would have been fair no matter who said it.

    BTW, Frank, there is no such word as “pacificist.” “Pacifist Aggressive” is a funny pun, however, and a humorous correction with too much truth. Ouch. I repent.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 13, 2007

  12. Michael:

    I coined the term “pacifist aggressive” years ago after I had heard about some comments made by the potty-mouthed Stanley Hauerwas. I will not share them here, except to say that he was so moved by a speaker’s lecture that he said, on an elevator with mixed company, that he felt like falling on his knees and *u**ing the speaker’s *o** right then and there.

    That’s when I was inspired to say, “That sounds `pacifist aggressive.'”


    Comment by Francis Beckwith | October 14, 2007

  13. Ya,know, Frank–that’s even funnier about Hauerwas than about me! And my friend, Fr. Simon Harak, S.J.,–a great pacifist, once rebuked me as the angriest pacifist he knew. With his help, I started working on meditation to deal with anger issues, then.

    BTW, Frank, I defended you when so many made nasty comments about your move to Rome. I just hope that now, as a Catholic, you leave the Weigel (sp?) and Neuhaus rightwingers and embrace the Dorothy Day/Dan Berrigan branch of American Catholicism. I think you would make a good seamless garment of life type. Hmm. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 14, 2007

  14. Michael:

    Thank you for defending me. I appreciate it. I am, however, not a seamless-garment Catholic. I am sorry to disappoint you. But, alas, I am not a Weigel-Catholic either.

    I have never found the seamless-garment folks very convincing, since they seem to not appreciate the subtle, and important, distinctions that one finds in the just war tradition.

    Seamless-garment Catholics seem driven by sentimentalism rather than a deep understanding of the metaphysical foundations of the life ethic. That is, the very life ethic that tells us that we have an obligation to care for the poor, provides us with an understanding of the ordered community that says that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the unborn’s intrinsic dignity cannot be erased by the power of those who have a natural responsibility to care for it. In that sense, I am a John Paul II Catholic.

    As for war and seamless-garment Catholicism, I think that Keith Pavlischek does a nice job of raising some serious questions about it here: http://www.cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$603

    Take care,

    Comment by Francis Beckwith | October 14, 2007

  15. Michael,

    I have read your blog before, and think we may have crossed paths years ago. I’ve been a pacifist since my high school years in the late 60s….was loose friends with Phil Berrigan, the Atlantic Life Community folks, and have been part of that kind of stuff for longer than I care to recall. Through God’s grace, I find myself still an evangelical pacifist, even though I tire of the shallow and often angry blather on the far left. And, truth be told, I am pals with Keith P, although I disagree with him on quite a bit.

    I was glad to see your repentant spirit about the turd comment, etc. (Rebuked by Beckwith, no less. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. 😉

    Still, as the Bible demands, and as Ghandi time and again reminded, truth is so vital in the journey towards nonviolence. And I wonder what you might say about an accusation that in your conversation above you’ve mischaracterized both Pav and First Things. When Kim thanked you for pointing out that they were right wing extremists, I wonder if she every read First Things, or anything about Pav’s Kuyperian Calvinist pluralist stuff. When most people talk about right wing extremists they think of the KKK or Falwell or that God Hates Fags guy etc. Do you really think that dismissing Pav and Neu in that was is fair and true?

    My sister went to Nicargua in one of the first Witness for Peace trips, and I stood against the IRD position on anti-communism in Central America (although, as the prisons filled under the Sandinistas, I came to realize they were closer to the truth than I wanted to admit.) Still, I do not justify IRDs conservative politics, and I would not agree with all of First Things positions, either. But I do not think it is helpful in such discourse to characterize and dismiss thoughtful and important Christian thinkers in such glib and simplistic and, consequently, violent, terms. I don’t know what disappointed me more, your hostility in the name of Jesus or your dishonesty in the name of progressive politics.

    Comment by Byron Borger | October 14, 2007

  16. Byron, I do not put Pavlischek or even Neuhaus in the same category as the KKK or the other extremists you name. If anyone understood me that way, I must again repent and apologize. I have no intention of bearing false witness against Keith or First Things. I do think they take views that are pretty far Right–and I don’t think that is mitigated much by others being FURTHER right.

    I don’t think I will ever be friends with Keith P. When he was at ESA, he did mean and underhanded things which hurt me and others. ESA is still recovering its rep with many people who were hurt in Keith’s day. Although his personal behavior may have changed, I don’t see much difference in the overall aims of his work.

    And, while I admit that First Things prints some quality stuff from time to time, I don’t think I misspoke in calling it a part of the Catholic rightwing. It is not centrist in any way, so, again, the fact that others are MORE extreme doesn’t make my characterization untrue.

    However, since both you (I’m trying to recall if we have met) and Frank Beckwith have confronted me in a biblical manner, I will strive in the future to be more careful in my wording. And, I will strive to watch the tone of my posts–which was why I removed one on the hypocrisy of GOP “family values.” It was true, but one could read stuff like it in many places–and it wasn’t at all uplifting.

    Thanks for the tough love.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 14, 2007

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