Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tortured Faith

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I John 4:7-8

The hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” but according to a recent survey, maybe not so much.

"Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"

My friend Bill Flug sent me a CNN report on a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which asks that question. It shows that about half of all Americans believe that torture is often or sometimes justified. About twenty-five percent said that it is never justified.

As we listen to the national debate, those numbers are not surprising. But within the numbers there is a more troubling finding. Church goers are more likely to support the use of torture than their more secular neighbors. Fifty-four percent of those who attend services at least once a week say torture is often or sometimes justified, compared with only forty-two percent of those who seldom or never attend services.

White Evangelical Protestants support torture with a more than 60% majority.

And this is the group that prides itself on believing in the authority of the Bible?

One wonders how it is possible to have such a radical disconnection between the biblical witness and the attitudes of those who claim to believe that witness. What part of the Bible do these people actually believe? What sort of tortured logic is required to make believe that Jesus would condone this?

Remember the choices for the use of torture on terror suspects:

We’re talking about people who went with often or sometimes. This doesn’t include the people who believe that torture is morally repugnant but would consider using it if they thought it was the only way to protect the country from catastrophe.

According to the poll, Mainline Protestants (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.) were less likely than other religious groups to support torture. Thirty percent of us said torture is never acceptable. I don’t think Jesus would count that one in the win column.

I was going to start this blog with an imaginary conversation in which a pastor asks a parishioner if he or she believes in torture, and the parishioner replies, “I listen to your sermons, don’t I?”
But this isn’t funny.
It reminds us once again that Christians need to reclaim a sense of who we are and to whom we belong. As the writer of I John encourages us, "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." (I John 3:18).


  1. I read a quote the other day from the Dalai Lamma that said, "My religion is simple. My religion is kindness."

    The religion followed by those who call themselves Christians should be known as the religion of self-sacrificing love. In many cases it is but, in the big picture of what many people who call themselves Christian actually do, I would settle for simple kindness and basic human decency.

    >>> What part of the Bible do these people actually believe? What sort of tortured logic is required to make believe that Jesus would condone this?

    I know this question is probably rhetorical, but I can't say I am surprised at the outcome of the survey. I have encountered too many cases of "Christian" belief which is defined by an eternal hell as an unfortunate but justifiable Godly punishment for the "wicked." Thus some believe that the Christian religion is built on the threat of torture and following the right path to escape it.

    If you believe in horrors of an eternal hell as a form of of Godly justice, how much easier is it then to justify waterboarding as a short term action to save lives?

    Christian orthodoxy, fundamentalism and even mainstream churches have creeds try to define what is to be Christian through the "right belief" regarding events in the Christian story. However maybe we need a set of "fundamental" ethical creeds.