Readers will recall that when we first heard of the torture issue, I told SOF that this might be that wedge between the conservative Christian movement and the modern GOP. I didn't expect them to become Democrats, mind you. I just expected them to stand up to Bush and Cheney and tell them that if they tortured, conservative Christians would stay home. They couldn't support and defend torture. They just couldn't.
But they did. And they did with an edge. Our friend Tony and I ran into a SBC pastor from Oklahoma who suggested that me even raising the issue of torture was helping the enemy. Not that torture was bad, me talking about it was bad. Tony later said that he had to stop talking about it in SBC circles, because other Baptists pushed back so hard. When I posted this story yesterday, I had two friends tell me that they knew long term missionaries who recently returned to the US and were shocked by the torture news. In both cases, they were told by American evangelicals that they were wrong--torture wasn't anti-Christian.
In that same post, I felt so bad for the Christian friends who felt the need to point out they didn't support torture. But I also understood the non-Christians who shook their head in complete disbelief. How could a faith that was premised in overcoming the torture and execution of Christ somehow look at torturing Muslims and think that was ok? How could people who watched Mel Gibson's film on the crucifixion and focused on the issue of torture suddenly reverse themselves to find it acceptable?
Via Slactivist, I found this heartfelt plea to Christians to remind them that the practice is antithetical to the very basis of the faith. You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture - Brian Zahnd:
I don’t know of a greater indictment against American evangelicalism than the fact that a majority of its adherents actually admit they support the use of illegal torture on suspected terrorists! The release of that survey in 2009 was the point where I stopped self-identifying as an evangelical. Today I’m not quite sure what brand of Christian you should categorize me as, but it’s not that!
Evangelical support of torture is what we might call an “eruption of the real.” It’s a horrifying moment of unintended truth-telling where we discover that allegiance to national self-interest trumps allegiance to Jesus Christ.
I have one conservative friend who, I think, simply thinks I have lost my mind over this and other issues. Perhaps he is right. Yet, I can't stop thinking about the problem of a religious faith based in morality and sacrifice becoming one that more easily defends the powerful and attacks the weak. All of that makes more sense when you see them defending torture.
Anyway. About me continuing to rant on this. There are times when I feel that I should just give up and look the other way. It is useless and meaningless to shout into the darkness about poverty or racism or torture. I was pleased to find this very thoughtful essay by Bill Leonard on the issue of torture, race, and Christian conscience. (A nation confronted by conscience). He raised the hope that we could, as a people, question our assumptions about our own moral authority and the idea of American exceptionalism, as well as to discard the idea of a Christian nation. But his quote from Elie Wiesel spoke to me about perhaps why I continue to speak and write on this issue:
In Words from a Witness (1967), Elie Wiesel told of a rabbi whose conscience compelled him to declare: “‘Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent.’ He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years. Finally someone asked him, ‘Rabbi, why do you do that? Don’t you see it is no use?’ He said, ‘I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me.’”