“Christian” Defenders of Torture
Previously on this blog, I had joyously highlighted the work of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), an interfaith effort to stop the torture and other human rights violations waged in the name of “fighting terrorism.” This effort was launched by the great Princeton theologian (and Barthian pacifist!), George Hunsinger. When a specifically evangelical effort to oppose torture arose, Evangelicals for Human Rights, founded by an old friend, David P. Gushee (just recently hired to teach Christian ethics at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology), who drafted An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture which I was happy to sign (and which, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, used some of my work on the Christian historical roots for the development of human rights) , I was again pleased. It seemed for awhile after 9/11 as if the U.S. churches were being turned, in large measure, to blind supporters of the government’s every whim and rabid, bloodthirsty nationalists who loved war. These Christian developments against torture and for the protection of the human rights even of suspected terrorists are signs, I firmly believe, of a recovery of moral sanity.
But such a recovery will not be simple. A reader named Kim who is connected to Messiah College has called attention to some recent “Christian” defenses of torture in the “war on terror.” This article in the web edition of Christianity Today should not have surprised me since it is written by Keith Pavlischek, an old adversary of mine who attempts at every turn to defend a far right political theology. I am not surprised to find that he is now employed by the right-of-center/misnamed Ethics and Public Policy Center. And I am not surprised to find that First Things, the Catholic intellectual journal that defends rightwing political theology (a counterpart to the more progressive Catholic journals, Commonweal and the oddly-named America), has published a similar attack on An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture.
The First Things article also attacks Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, a noted New Testament scholar, for his “feckless political reasoning.” Wright’s crime? The dreaded bane of Neo-cons, seeing “moral equivalence” between terrorist attacks and on American responses. “Moral equivalence” is neo-con code-speak for “it’s terrible if they do it, but okay if we do it because we are the Good Guys.” Any attempt to hold Western nations (or, God help us, CHRISTIANS) to a HIGHER standard than international terrorists is labeled “moral equivalence” or “blame America[Britain, etc.] first” reasoning. “Moral equivalence” is usually contrasted with “moral clarity,” which is Neo-con code-speak for “what terrorists do is so bad that ANYTHING done in response is clearly moral.”
Indeed, it seems that although most of the U.S. public has finally joined the vast majority of the world in condemning the invasion and occupation of Iraq, some Christian ministers are still defending it. I don’t recall who said it, but the old proverb is still proving true, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and so not tried.” The cause of Christ is slimed every time we see these “Christian” defenses of torture, violations of international law, violations of human rights, and preemptive wars. (I believe Christ forbids all war, but Christian defenses of “preemptive war” is especially sinful–and insane.)
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