Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture and The Follower of Jesus

Obviously, the big talk for the last couple of weeks is the release of the torture memos by the Obama administration, as well as the waffling that the President and his administration have done about the prosecution of individuals who either participated in the practice of "enhanced interrogation techniques" or the people who wrote legal opinions justifying it.

I'm not going to talk about the dissembling and fracturing of language participated in by the Bush administration because of these legal opinions ("these documents say that what we're doing isn't torture so I can go in front of America and say we don't torture.") or the waffling by the Obama administration ("No, we won't prosecute the people who did this. Um... when I said 'we,' I meant the White House. Anyone else can do what they want.")

What I will say this. If we claim to follow a Jesus who told us not only to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), but also to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45), if we claim to have the same attitude of Jesus and put others needs ahead of our own (Philippians 2:5-11), if we claim to follow a Savior who was tortured to death by the most powerful empire at the time, then as those followers we cannot condone or support this activity.

I honestly don't care what having committed torture says about America. I'm much more concerned that there are people who would view America's use of torture as a tantamount approval by Christians that torture is acceptable.

It's not.

Can torture gain information about potential terror attacks to prevent the loss of innocent life? Maybe. But the truth is that if we resort to tactics that those we consider evil use, then we are saying the (good) ends justifies the (evil) means. Here's the clue though. Almost everyone that we would consider evil, considers themselves good. A dictator typically thinks that he or she is doing what is best for their people and the means to accomplish that are unimportant.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we cannot be people who support torture. We simply cannot.

Addendum: A link about the history of waterboarding and its relationship to US Law.


Adam said...


Duff Harris said...

The best, most fundamental and concise defense of sanity on this issue I've read this week. Well played, Wilson.

DB Carden said...

Great point. Your mixed use of "we" alternatively for "christians" and "Americans" is confusing me though.

Phil said...

That's a good point, David, and I think that's because while I view those two identities as distinct, I'm still both.

Anonymous said...


mundiejc said...

Great post Phil. But it raises a few questions, some that Stanley Hauerwas raises in The Peaceable Kingdom.

The idea that you are putting forth (using evil methods to bring about some type of good)... is this not the same idea that many from the Jim Wallis, Christian left persuasion, would argue that it is morally right to use the force of government to create a more just society, as is our job as followers of Christ.

But is not this the same situation, where we are using evil means (force and coercion) to achieve some sort of relative justice? Is it truly just, truly right, to use less than Godly means to pursue economic justice?

The problem, as I see it, is that Christians on the left and right are still operating under the same faulty assumption. That the church's job is always to be effective, even to the neglect of being faithful.

The church's job is to be the church, a community that lives out the peace of God, the justice of God, the radical love of our Lord, so that the world may know that there is another way, a better way, a way that was laid out for humanity from the beginning. We call upon our rulers to become more just... but calling upon our rulers to continue in sin for a more relative justice, I believe is incorrect.

Chris said...

What America does may be a notch above college hazing but it is not what those we consider evil do, such as beheading, running through a meat grinder alive, etc. President Bush kept us safe after 9/11. We are less safe every day that Obama is President. His presidency will go down the toilet when we have another attack, which I expect will happen. Get real.

First Century Church said...

My security is in God. Kinda, you know, like the Bible says. Some trust in chariots, some in horses (and torture and president bush) but we trust in the name of the lord our God.

Chris said...

Nine times out of ten the people who condemn the U.S. would probably praise Fidel and Chavez.

Phil said...

Chris, as a follower of Christ, I feel that my first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and to Jesus and all other allegiances come second. And if the nation where I have my citizenship is doing some that is un-Christlike, then I will condemn that.

As to your opinion,

1) Are you a Christian/follower of Jesus?
2) Do you support the torture of terror suspects?
3) If your answer to 1 and 2 are both yes, how do you reconcile the statements of Jesus and Paul that I quoted above?

Chris said...

Yes, I am a Christian but I don't consider the methods torture.

The government needs to keep our country safe. There are evil people in the world.

I think it's a matter of degree. We are supposed to "turn the other cheek". If a stranger hit your child on the cheek, would you let him hit the other one? Why not?

Keith Brenton said...

So, Chris, it's not torture if *we* do it?

Does it make torture right if it *works* (which, I guess, means that we get someone to say what we want to hear)?

mundiejc said...


Your use of the scripture to somehow say you should force your child to "turn the other cheek" if someone, presumably an adult is hitting him or her in front of you is just plain silly. Of course no one would let someone beat up on their child. But I think the spirit of those words of Jesus would be fulfilled if I told whoever was hitting my child to hit me, and that I'm not gonna fight back. If they feel for whatever reason the need to hit a child, I would rather them take out that anger and rage on me.

With regards to the "9 out of ten times..." comment, I say, "Have you been drinking?" cause I'm really not sure, one, how that is at all relevant to the conversation here, and two I really don't understand how someone who is intelligent could make a broad based statement like that with no evidence to back it up, and no possible way to even know it authoritatively.

I can say "9 out of ten people who vote for republicans hate black people" but for pete's sake, just saying something doesn't make it true.

If you want to have dialogue, I'm sure everyone here would be interested in talking to you. But you don't want dialogue. To be honest, I'm not really sure if you even know how to be in a conversation about anything. And that's sad that someone could go through 60 or 70 years of life (I forget how old you are) and have no idea how to relate to people. In that aspect, the church has failed, and I apologize on behalf of the church that no one ever taught you that the heart of the gospel is relationship.

Chris said...

This will probably be a non-story within a few days, since it is apparent that the Speaker of the House has been lying about it.

Phil said...

I think it's only a non-story if you consider torture (or enhanced interrogation techniques) an acceptable way to treat someone made in God's image.

To answer your other question about the child, as Justin pointed out, I hope that I would have the spiritual strength interpose myself between the attacker and my child, to passively resist without resorting to violence. Because as Jesus pointed out, His Kingdom is not achieved by the means that the kingdoms of this world are achieved. His Kingdom, God's kingdom is achieved through transforming love.

Chris said...

BTW, Mundiejc, you misunderstood if you think I would force my child to "turn the other cheek."

Anonymous said...


If the ruler is "God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer," why couldn't he also be God's servant to create a more just society? It seems that God, at least occasionally, may use the government for his purposes.

Phil said...

I'm going to add this link to the post, but here's some perspective about the history of waterboarding in US law Link

nick gill said...

Here's another blog having the same discussion.

I must admit, if a 59-year-old chain-smoking drunk (by his own admission; I do not use the term as a slur) suffers no ill effects from the practice, and in fact chooses to undergo it a second time, I have a hard time calling it torture. (Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair)

But from the other side, Malcolm Nance is a more credible source than Hitchens, and he believes it is torture.

I believe torture is wrong; while I'm still on the fence about whether waterboarding should be defined as torture, I'm definitely leaning towards yes.

However, we were trained not to bring problems, but solutions.

So perhaps a related discussion could be: When asking nicely fails, and the timer is ticking, what recommendations do Christians have for representatives of an honorable nation who are bound to protect their citizens?

mundiejc said...


Is God's justice the justice of man? The justice that we as followers of Christ must seek is not a justice brought through force. All those that support the principalities and powers of the world support some means of 'justice' through their support of evil. Justice through coercion is no justice at all. Its not reconciliatory or redemptive. Its punitive. The church's job is to be the church. Not to be "effective". We live our lives in the knowledge that reconcilliation has been completed in Christ's life, even though the world doesn't realize it. We don't try to build the Kingdom through fallen means, because the Kingdoms of this world operate solely through force. Jesus was tempted in the same way, to usher in a just kingdom on earth by overpowering the Roman Empire. But that will never bring redemption, only more violence.

We are not to try and build the Kingdom, but live the Kingdom and call others to join us.

And like I said earlier, if you take the position that you do, you are using the same logic that "justifies" torture. It brings information, and it can save people's lives. But its still evil. And we know that there is a better way for salvation from the tapestry of injustice that weaves through our lives and the social structures and cultures of this world. It is the way of the Cross that says things only change when we are willing to serve and die, rather than kill and rule, creating some kind of relative justice that only continues the cycle of violence and hatred rather than redeeming and reconciling the world.

Anonymous said...


I'm not advocating the government as the primary means to build the Kingdom. I'm just pointing out that, although you and I are in agreement about many (most?) things especially in the big picture about the Kingdom, one area where we disagree is that I do not believe that the use of force by the government is inherently evil.


The timer is always ticking. How do we know there isn't a major attack impending for tomorrow? I would hope that our government would use whatever legal and ethical means it has to protect its citizens but not "work the dark side."

Speaking of the ticking timer, here is evidence/argument that "...the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections."

Brian said...

Nick, you ask what other means there are. What about chemicals? I've done no reading on them what so ever, but it seems that drugs which relax the mind and allow mental defenses to be dropped might be more justifiable when "the clock it ticking"

Chris said...

The same people who rant about using these techniques to obtain information in order to save lives are usually quiet about the practice of sucking the brains out of a pre-born baby. I have to believe that they don't want to get on the wrong side of liberals. I don't remember seeing a blog opposing abortion from Christian "progressives" These methods have proven effective but I doubt the Obama Administration wants the truth to come out. I understand there is always a doctor present when water-boarding is done.

I have also noticed that opposing abortion tends to be a negative even among Christian liberals. ("All conservatives talk about is abortion and homosexuality.")

Keith Brenton said...

So, if a doctor is present, it's okay to love our enemies while forcibly soaking their heads?

I wonder if folks who see no harm in it would feel the same way if experiencing at the hands of enemy interrogators - whether they knew any information or not.

Anonymous said...

There must be a corollary of Godwin's law regarding the likelihood of a Christian who is defending torture bringing up abortion in an attempt to discredit torture critics.

Phil said...

Chris, I'm not sure where you got the idea that anyone responding here or even myself would support abortion. And honestly, you bringing it up seems like a distraction from the fact that I haven't seen you come up with a reason that a Christian should support torture.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you make make political conservatives look so bad and looney. You are known for blasting your own brand of hate and torture all over several blogs. Do us all a favor. Get your own blog. Write what you think there instead of this torture you inflict on other people's blogs. It's sad. Very, very sad. You say you are a Christian. Act like one please and stop this madness.

Chris said...

There have been zero deaths from waterboarding. Nancy Pelosi and others were briefed about it years ago with no objection. It has been credited with saving an attack in California and another in New York.

On the other hand there have been over 40,000,000 abortions from 1973 to 2000. THAT is torture.

Actually, the defination of torture is to listen to Obama without a teleprompter.


Phil said...

Chris, I only have one question for you as I go to bed tonight.

Would Jesus torture someone? Would Jesus simulate someone drowning to get information from them?

mundiejc said...


From my conversations, I think I can tell you that Jon, Phil, Me, and probably (I'm just guessing on these) Keith and Adam and I imagine others on this blog are pro life. But pro life to us is more than just abortion. Pro life means pro life in all circumstances. That means being against war, being against capital punishment, and at least in my case, being committed to nonviolence while living in a neighborhood where threats of violence to me or my family are a higher likelihood than living in the suburbs or wealthier areas of the city.

It is completely intellectually dishonest of you to assign positions to us without asking. It would have been more conversational for you to ask, for purposes of clarification, whether we are against abortion, since you feel it would be contradictory to be against torture and be ok with abortion. But you're arguing with no one here, because all of us, to my knowledge, are against abortion. That may not mean we think we need to legislate it, but there are plenty of things I think are sinful and unchristian that I don't think should be legislated against by the government.

Anonymous said...

Enough Chris. Enough. Your attitude doesn't help your cause at all. If you know that the way you come across hurts the cause, is that not "nuff" to hush. There comes a time in everyone's life that they have to learn to stop talking. Stop already. For the sake of what you say you believe in. Stop talking. Do you want to be right or happy? Do you want to inform or continue to agitate? What really is your point in all this blog hopping you do?

Jim Voorhies said...

Waterboarding and other forms of torture are simply wrong. They are the anthethesis of everything we, as Christians, as well as Jews and Muslime (and probably every other faith on the planet) believe.

If we can only win by degrading our selves and our souls to the point where we condone torturing suspected terrorists, we are no better than they.

Chris said...

Abortion 40,000,000

waterboarding 0

To change Phil's comment around a bit--

"If we claim to follow Jesus, we cannot be people who support abortion, we simply cannot."

Perhaps a comment like the above has been posted somewhere, I just don't recall seeing it. It's so much easier to bash the previous administration with water-boarding. Suppose 40,000,000 deaths had resulted from water-boarding. Can you imagine? The country would have shut down years ago.

Abortion is the most violent of crimes. Mundiejc, however, doesn't favor legislation against it but I am pretty sure he favors legislation against waterboarding, even "going after" the Bush administration. Someone tell me the difference.

abortion 40,000,000

waterboarding 0

If you don't know the difference, I will tell you. Liberals favor abortion.

Keith Brenton said...

And I still see no response to my questions, Chris.

Chris said...

America is a good, decent country and we should do all we can to protect the people.

The enemy would not stop at ducking heads under water, they would chop them off.

It is a measure of our goodness that we strive to obtain information while protecting the life of the person.

Phil said...

So, Chris.

24 hours later and you still haven't answered the questions I posed last night.

Would Jesus torture someone? Would Jesus simulate someone drowning to get information from them?

mundiejc said...

To my knowledge Chris, I don't think I made my opinion known on abortion legislation. Though you didn't ask, I will tell you that I think abortion decisions should be made at state levels, because its not in the constitution, therefore, should be left to the states. But I also think that if Christians want to be pro life, they need to be consistent, and stop supporting the death penalty, and relearn what just war theory is. While I'm not a just war theorist, many people who claim to be haven't the first idea what just war theory entails. I'll give you a hint, its not Iraq. Or Afghanistan for that matter.

But along those same lines, until Christians start proposing to be the solution rather than use the law to continue to oppress young women who made mistakes (often due to the mistakes of their parents, and the broken social structures we created to keep them in poverty) and by "be[ing] the solution" I mean commit to adopting any unwanted baby, then all this talk of legislation is silly.

Chris said...

I don't know what Jesus would have done but since this technique does no physical harm and has the capacity to save thousands of lives I think it is justified.

Jesus wasn't exactly nice to those moneychangers in the Temple. In fact he used a whip to drive them out. Some people might have said, "Hey guys, that isn't what you should be doing, now would you please not do this anymore." I guess some one say Jesus was downright rude to them!

If the life of a loved one rested on obtaining information, would you be willing to get the information in this way as long as it didn't threaten the life of the person?

BTW, Nancy Pelosi knew about this, shall we start prosecuting her?

mundiejc said...

Drugging someone and having sex with them does no physical harm either, Chris. But mental abuse is still abuse. The goal of waterboarding is to make people think they are dying. But that's not all we're talking about. Making people stand naked in water with electricity attached to their genitals does "no physical harm" either. But its immoral and it destroys the humanity in people. Not just those undergoing the torture, but those committing it as well.

And the fact that you don't realize this is scary and sad.

Ben said...

I'm still thinking through this topic and trying to decide which camp to rest in, but after reading this discussion on torture another related question came to mind.

What exactly will happen on judgment day when the Prince of Peace judges between the wicked and the righteous? Will torture take place then?

mundiejc said...


No. The idea of hell being a place of torture of the wicked comes mostly from Dante's Inferno, and Jonathan Edwards. Its not a biblical concept.

In fact, one could make a strong case that on judgement day, the judgement is redemptive and that one day just as adam brought death to the world, Jesus will similarly bring true life to all.

Or you could make the case that rather than being tormented forever, those who are not redeemed will just cease to exist.

Regardless, if you try to read Jesus as saying that God is going to torture people in hell... I think you're missing the point.

And another regardless... how does one love their enemies while they are torturing them?

Keith Brenton said...

Chris, do I understand your responses correctly by interpreting them to say that the end justifies the means; that we are actually also protecting the people being waterboarded (whose culpability may or may not have been established by due process of law)? That the degree to which goes to force information from someone else is all that matters, as long as we don't kill someone doing so (which is not very effective in getting information), we're still "good and decent"? That you equate driving animals out of a house of prayer with physical punishment for the untried?That Americans have the same moral authority as God?

Chris said...

A known terrorist does not have the same legal rights, under the Geneva Convention, as a regular POW or civilian. They are tried under special military tribunals which is a matter of controversy at this time.

In an effort to save other lives, I believe any legal means to obtain information should be used.

first centrury church said...


Last time I checked, our Constitution states that our rights are not derived from government, but from God. Which, I think would mean that regardless of where you are from in the world, you should be guaranteed the rights that our government provides its citizens. The rights don't come from being a US citizen, we just put a government in place that is supposed to defend those rights which we believe are given to us, as humans, by the Creator.

So what can you say that contradicts your faith next?

Chris said...

First Century,

It doesn't matter what you think or what I think, the fact is, known terrorists are not given the same rights as even run of the mill POW's. They are not covered under the Geneva Convention. That is a fact.
I didn't make the law.

First Century Church said...

You're right. They aren't covered under the Geneva Conventions, as they aren't fighting "fair" because they aren't in uniform, hide among civilians, etc.

But that still doesn't change the fact that our Constitution doesn't say that the US government gives us our rights. It says that the rights are unalienable because they are given to all human beings by their creator. For us to use legal technicalities of international law to justify torturing human beings, regardless of what they have done, shows the moral bankruptcy of the people in charge, as well as the moral bankruptcy of the so called "religious right". Its nauseating Chris, that you are unwilling to think critically about any of these issues. If you want to defend torture on the basis of an international treaty, be my guest. I never thought I'd hear "conservatives" appealing to international law to get the ability to do something that our own constitution disallows.

Sounds a lot like what Rush used to called Liberalism. Really its just militant statism. Which is not only not conservative. But its fundamentally unchristian.

nick gill said...

nick gill said...

nick gill said...


Torture does not produce reliable information. That is a proven fact, one of the rare times when common sense and studies agree.

Torture produces whatever the victim believers the interrogator wants to hear. Any information must be verified against other, non-pain-induced sources before it can be used.

Further research also shows the hypocrisy of a government using a practice for which it prosecuted Japanese officials for war crimes. "In an effort to save other lives, I believe any legal means to obtain information should be used." The US government contended after WWII that it was illegal for waterboarding to be done to Americans, because it was torture. American soldiers were court-martialed for the practice during the Spanish-American war

But this discussion isn't about what governments should do. It is about what Christians should support.

Please, someone tell me where in Scripture is it written that the safety of Americans is worth more than the safety of anyone else? I'm terribly curious.

Phil said...

Here's another very interesting discussion of this

Tiffany said...

FWIW, the very rights included in our Constitution guaranteeing a person the right to a jury by their peers, an attorney, etc., were a direct response to the Star Chamber used in Britain at the time. The men who gave their lives to give us our nation, and who spent their lives crafting that document, would be horrified that we would justify reviving those means for any reason, much less run willingly to their use.

Christianity aside, it's fundamentally unAmerican to use torture or "enhanced interrogation techniques" or accusing someone and not providing them an attorney or habeas corpus or a speedy trial. All of these practices, no matter against whom they are used, are violations of the principles embodied in our principal legal document. What has made America great and successful cannot be abandoned for the promise of some indeterminable security from threats.

Chris said...

During WWll, there were 400,000 Nazi POWs in 511 camps in the United States. Imagine if they all had the right to go to court. How would that work?

It's a common misunderstanding
that the Constitution provides protection and rights to all citizens of the world.

The Constitution is irrelevent to people who do not have a moral code, to people who strap bombs to their children or behead their daughter because she dishonors her family for being raped.

nick gill said...

"The Constitution is irrelevent to people who do not have a moral code, to people who strap bombs to their children or behead their daughter because she dishonors her family for being raped."

Indeed, that is quite true.

The problem appears when the Constitution becomes less and less relevant to those who claim to have a moral code, and yet strap people to generators "for the greater good."

And what is of primary relevance to *this* conversation is that the kingdom of God does apply to all people.

nick gill said...

Anonymous said...

Terrorists are "the quintessence of evil," [McCain] said. "But it's not about them; it's about us. This battle we're in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be.",2933,175444,00.html

Jeff said...

Good folk - I’m afraid that we’re living in a 24 world these days where answers to these kinds of questions are never easy. It’s simple to jump on the anti-torture bandwagon, but I think our nation is obligated to consider what humane measures can legitimately be taken to get information from prisoners who hold the lives of many others at stake. I think most of us agree that we have the right and responsibility to take prisoners in this war and interrogate them. I believe this is part of the government’s biblical mandate in Romans 13 — to deter violations of peace and justice. The confusing part for me comes when we talk about the exact kinds of acts that constitute torture. Some would say simple confinement is torture, others waterboarding, while others say it is physical and/or mental harm. I don’t have the answer, except to say that for the most part, Christians are generally supportive of the actions our government takes, especially during times of war. In our blind support of a “Christian” administration, our apathy and lack of watchfulness may have gotten the best of us. It would not have been the first time. I appreciate the discussion.

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