- October 9, 2008
Christians & torture
Regarding various articles on torture (Sept. 29), the majority of Europeans may have been bystanders, neither helping the Nazis nor the Jews, but I suspect most Germans, including Nazis, considered themselves good Christians, loyal and obedient to the government that God ordained (Romans 13:1).
Ethics professor Daniel Heimbach states, “Neither side in the torture debate is defending the immoral use of force.” Consider these facts: Presi-dent Bush states emphatically that America does not torture.
But government officials have admitted to at least two instances of waterboarding. After World War II, five Japanese officers were tried, convicted and sentenced to death for waterboarding. Therefore, America does participate in what they themselves consider to be the immoral use of force worthy of the death penalty.
In my experience, the overwhelming majority of Baptists consider it absurd that Jesus was serious about loving our enemies. This foundational principle of the gospel has been so compartmentalized that statements such as, “Just where in ‘love your enemies’ does it say not to kill them?” are a common response expressed by formally educated and mature readers.
Rather than offering their lives as living sacrifices pleasing to God, blessing those who persecute them and never taking their own revenge (Romans 12:1, 14, 19) American Christians overwhelmingly support the shedding of blood to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
The gospel of reconciliation with God has been traded for a gospel of capitalism and democracy.
What if Jesus was really serious about loving one’s enemies?
Torture should be condemned, rightly so. However the Baptist Standard articles on torture (Sept. 29) are more confusing that enlightening.
David Gushee speaks of “freezing people to death.” Did we freeze someone to death? Cathleen Kaveny says, “Every man who is subjected to extraordinary rendition is some mother’s son.” Exactly what I was thinking when I recently watched a video of Islamic terrorists cutting off the head of a man. His mother didn’t count. Who were the mothers of the five humans killed today, 32 injured by a car bomb in Lebanon?
“Torture fails to ensure national security, experts insist.” Experts are usually self-proclaimed. But what about the experts who insist much valuable intelligence has been gained from interrogations of detainees?
“Interrogation” is a word carefully excluded from all the articles. Apparently, we don’t interrogate, we torture, like a female touching a Muslim, and please, do not desecrate the Koran. And there is Abu Ghraib. What happened in that prison under Sadam Hussein makes what happened there under the military look like a college fraternity hazing.
I have just read four pages by people who are living in a fantasy world, have no inkling of what’s happening in the world and really need to get out of their offices and off campus. They are not going to like what they see.
Daniel Heimbach is way off base with his call for a moratorium on the word “torture.” How sad that a Christian ethicist muddies the waters of this crucial discussion this way.
There is no “graduated continuum that extends from mild discomfort to painful death,” as he asserts. There is an absolute gulf between clever interrogation that uses psychological pressure and infliction of physical pain and threats of death, or infliction of pain or death on a loved one.
If Christians cannot stand uniformly and in unison against torture and name it for what it is, Christianity is in sad shape.
So is our country. By using torture, we forfeit our right to accuse other countries of inhumanity when they torture their own people or ours. By using torture, we deny that the person being tortured is created in God’s image and likeness, and that’s heresy. By using torture, we reveal our own lack of imagination and cleverness; people being tortured will say whatever they think their tormenters want to hear.
Torture is absolutely, unconditionally wrong. If someone says it isn’t, I ask them if torturing a person’s child in front of them in order to extract information is wrong. Why not? This is a slippery slope. Defense of any kind of torture, including refusing to call it what it is, is situation ethics at its worst.
Roger Olson, professor of theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
You asked why Southern evangelicals did not protest the torture of terrorists (Sept. 29). It may be because Americans still had images in their heads of:
• Fire and smoke emerging from upper levels of the World Trade Center buildings.
• People jumping from the World Trade Center.
• Fire and smoke and the collapse of the World Trade Center.
• People covered with dust and soot fleeing from the vicinity of the World Trade Center.
• A gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon, with stories of deaths and destruction.
• Pictures of the crash site where the airliner went down with passengers and terrorists in the Pennsylvania countryside.
• Pictures of the American destroyer in port in Yemen with a big hole in the side.
• Wreckage of the American embassies in Africa.
Should I go on with the embassy in Beirut, the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the wreckage of the Pan Am plane near Lockerby, Scotland?
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Thanks for the article on standing on holy ground during the presentation to Cecil Sherman in his Houston hospital room.
Sherman led our chaplains’ conference at Glorieta, N.M., in 1980. I sat under his teachings for five wonderful days. He and I went jogging through those holy hills one afternoon. We sat down, and he told me what would happen in the Southern Baptist Convention and how it would happen. I said that it couldn’t happen. What a prophet he was.
After the 1990 SBC, my beloved Trinity Baptist Church of Harker Heights sent us to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I cherish the leadership and personally knowing Cecil Sherman. We need people of his quality in churches and politics, but not people trying to do both.
As someone who believes all adults should have the same rights, it bothers me that some conservative Christians—and some conservative Muslims and Jews—think women shouldn’t be allowed to become pastors.
I am not an expert on the sayings of Jesus, but I don’t think he ever said a woman can’t be a rabbi or priest. I know he said, “Whatever you do to the least among men, you also do to me.” Throughout history, many women have been treated worse than the least among men.
The bottom line is some conservative men don’t want women to have the same rights, chances and choices men have. Some white conservatives don’t want black people to have the same rights as white people. Some conservative Christians don’t want Jews, Muslims and atheists to have the same rights as Christians, and so on.
We should practice what Jesus preached and try to do unto others what we would want them to do unto us.
Value of music
I was reading the letter on joyless singing (Sept. 29), and I was aroused in my mind. I am 35 years old, and I love the old hymns. I also love some of the new songs being written today.
Music is now a dividing force in churches, and the majority of longstanding members know what they like. What resonated in their spirit when they were young provides part of the love of the hymns today.
However, the young feel those songs do not have such an impact today. The music coming out today, although sometimes repetitive, seems to get a bad rap. But there is great theology, doctrine and gospel in many of the new songs. Most of the Baptist Hymnal is full of songs with four verses and one chorus, similar to the songs of today, but the difference comes in how we perform the songs, repeating the choruses often three or four times.
What I am saying is: Listen to the words of the song, let your heart rejoice with the opportunity to praise God, thank God and show God our love in song. It doesn’t matter if it is a staple hymn written in the 1800s or the latest song of today. God is still inspiring song writers today as he did hundreds of years ago.