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

Faith Leaders on Torture

The deliberate torture of one human being by another is a sin against our Creator, in whose image we have all been created.  This practice should not be condoned or allowed by any government.  It must be condemned by all people of faith, wherever it exists, without exception.—Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

All of humanity is created in the image of God.  Torture is a profound violation of this principle.Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Qu’ran clearly emphasizes the dignity of all human beings and that must be maintained at all costs.Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director, Office of Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America.

I’m concerned that we, as a nation, are unwilling to draw the line on torture.  We should be able to point to that line with pride.  To cross it would be to vacate our integrity and violate the human dignity of those whom we thus choose to victimize.Fr. William J. Byron, S.J., Loyola College, Maryland

My Christian faith does not allow me to compromise on this issue.  Torturing another human being, a child of God, is evil, plain and simple.–Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, United Methodist minister, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Outgoing General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ, U.S.A.

What we must face squarely is this:  whenever we torture or mistreat prisoners, we are capitulating morally to the enemy, in fact, adopting the terrorist ethic that the end justifies the means.– From the article, “Inhuman Behavior: A Chaplain’s View of Torture,” The Christian Century, 4-18-06.–Rev. Kermit D. Johnson, Chaplain (Major General), U.S. Army, Retired.

If we condone torture, we yield the moral high ground to our enemies and encourage anyone who hates us to stoop to using that subhuman level against us. We reap what we sow.Dr. Rick Warren, Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church.

There is a special dignity in every human being that comes from the fact that we are brothers and sisters in God’s one human family.  It is because of this that we all feel that torture is a dehumanizing and terrible attack against human nature and the respect we owe for each other.–Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Emeritus Archbishop of Washington.

I have a heightened sensitivity to the torture issue because the central symbol of my faith is an instrument of torture.  While on that torture machine, Jesus cried out to God on humanity’s behalf, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  2000 years later, we still don’t know what we are doing.–Dr. Leonard Sweet, Methodist minister and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Drew University Divinity School.

I signed “Torture is a Moral Issue” [the Declaration of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture] because I understand the Christian faith to require vigorous efforts on behalf of human dignity, wherever it is threatened–friend or enemy, wartime or peace, my government or somebody else’s government.  I also understand that evangelical Christians, of which I am one, have enormous power in this culture, and I wanted to put myself clearly on record against torture precisely as an evangelical.  I signed the statement because I believe the United States has a fundamental legal and moral obligation to refrain from any form of torture even as we also have a legitimate right to self-defense.  Finally, I signed the statement because I am very much concerned that torture, or acts approaching torture, are still occurring.–Dr. David P. Gushee, Baptist Minister, founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights, and newly appointed Professor of Christian Ethics, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University.

The international community expresses shared moral belief through international law.  International law absolutely forbids torture, as well as cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.  The United States was once fully in support of these international laws and the moral principles on which they are based. We can be again.–Mary Ellen O’Connell, Catholic layperson and Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law, the School of Law, University of Notre Dame.

In the years leading up to World War II, Karl Barth complained that the German Church wasn’t awake to what was going on.  . . . “The church permanently finds itself in a state of emergency,” he said, “but is often asleep at the wheel.”  I worry that we similarly are slipping into patterns of national behavior about which the American Church is unaware, silent, or, worse, complicit.  I hope this statement on torture will help us wake up.–Dr. Brian McClaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church and well known author in the “Emerging Church” movement.

The Bible teaches that all of us sin, and power corrupts especially when dealing with the weak and vulnerable–which surely includes prisoners.  Biblical Christians know we need the restraint of law, and want to be law-abiding.  It’s not enough just to be against torture; we want the U.S. to be a law-abiding citizen of the world, respecting international law.–Dr. Glen H. Stassen, Baptist layperson, founding board member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, longtime peace and justice advocate, author, and Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary.

If you know of other statements against torture by faith persons, please send them.  We must make our voices heard–and heeded.


October 9, 2007 - Posted by | torture


  1. How ’bout a little Stanley?

    “In our current political climate, there is an attempt to make torture so ambiguous that we are not sure we know it when we see it. Therefore it is very important for Christians to say, ‘We know it when we see it.’”
    Stanley Hauerwas

    Comment by Sarah | October 10, 2007

  2. Good one. I gather Stan wasn’t meaning that we should watch episodes of “24,” right?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 10, 2007

  3. I think it is very important to avoid defining torture at all cost. “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture” does not offer a specific definition of torture. This was intentional, according to David Gushee, who says:

    “One problem with attempting to define torture in detail is that any definition can then be employed as a way to narrow the boundaries of what is morally and legally forbidden and to broaden the boundaries of what is morally and legally permissible. This has occurred in national discussions of torture since 2003 and the drafters of this document wanted no part of that.”


    Comment by Donny | October 10, 2007

  4. Michael,

    These are not faith leaders. But I was impressed that a comedy show on a secular cable channel (The Daily Show on Comedy Central) provided a better commentary on this issue than any of the so-called leaders in my denomination. Feel free to delete this comment, but here’s a sketch of their conversation:

    John Oliver: “The United States does not torture.”
    Jon Stewart: “So, we don’t do things like simulate drowning, deprive prisoners of sleep, and expose them to extreme temperatures in the nude?”
    John Oliver: “Not ‘prisoners,’ Jon. ‘Detainees.'”
    Jon Stewart: Why does that matter?
    John Oliver: “We can torture detainees, we can’t torture prisoners.”
    Jon Stewart: “So, the US does torture.”
    John Oliver: “No, Jon. The president has said, the US does not torture.”
    Jon Stewart: “We don’t do things like simulate drowning and expose prisoners to extreme temperatures in the nude?”
    John Oliver: “Uh, no. That’s not what I’m saying. Because we are the United States, those things are not torture.”
    Jon Stewart: “So, the words ‘torture’ and ‘detainee’ no longer have any meaning.”
    John Oliver: “Precisely.”

    God help us.

    Comment by Emily Hunter McGowin | October 10, 2007

  5. […] Originally by Michael Westmoreland-White from Levellers on October 9, 2007, 8:08pm Big Lie, false Christianity, torture, violence jQuery(document).ready(function(){ jQuery(‘.comment-replyto’).click(function(){ var text = jQuery(this).parent().children(‘.comment_body_container’).html(); var current = jQuery(‘textarea#comment’).val(); if(current!=”) current = current + ‘nn’; jQuery(‘textarea#comment’).val(current+”+text+”); return false; }); }); […]

    Pingback by So-Called Faith Leaders on Torture: Be Consistent » Real Liberal Christian Church | October 16, 2007

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