The Common Good

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Sojomail - November 9, 2005

Quote of the Week : From a soldier to a senator
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Who would Jesus torture?
Theologically Connect : Wal-Mart and frugality's folly
By the Numbers : Survey says...
Campus Lines : Anticipating peace, from Exodus to Armistice Day
Religion and Politics : IRS targets church for anti-war sermon
Signs of the Times : Bibles banned behind bars?
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq.... Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation, and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq."

- Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), as printed in The Washington Post.

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Who would Jesus torture?
by David Batstone

Christians of strong religious faith and sound moral conscience often end up in disagreement. Human affairs are a messy business, unfortunately, and even at the best of times we only see through a glass, darkly.

It is hard for that reason to call Christians to a universal standard of behavior. At this moment, however, we cannot afford to dilute the message of Jesus into meaningless ambiguity. There are certain acts that a follower of Jesus simply cannot accept. Here is one: A Christian cannot justify the torture of a human being.

The practice of torture by American soldiers is a hot topic at the Pentagon, in the Congress, and in the White House at the moment. The U.S. Senate already has passed 90-9 a bill that prohibits "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of prisoners in U.S. custody. The lead advocate of the bill, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was tortured by his captors during the Vietnam War. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon adopted a policy last Thursday to rein in interrogation techniques. The new policy uses much of the same language as the McCain amendment - drawn in large part from the Geneva Convention - to adopt standards for handling terror suspects.

Remarkably, the White House opposes the Pentagon initiative, and threatens to veto any legislation to which the McCain bill gets attached. Vice President Dick Cheney has urged Republican senators to allow CIA counterterrorism operations internationally to be exempt from the ban on mistreatment of prisoners, major newspapers reported.

On Nov. 3, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said during an interview on NPR's "Morning Edition" that memos from Cheney's office practically encouraged abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Though in "carefully couched terms" that would allow for deniability, the message from Cheney's office conveyed the sentiment that interrogations of Iraqi prisoners were not providing the needed intelligence. Wilkerson said soldiers in the field would have concluded that to garner better intelligence they could resort to interrogation techniques that "were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war."

Republican senators are among the strongest voices in the growing chorus of criticism. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said, "I think the administration is making a terrible mistake in opposing John McCain's amendment on detainees and torture." And Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and co-sponsor of McCain's measure, agreed: "I firmly believe that it's in the best interest of the Department of Defense, the men and women of the United States military that this manual be their guide."

When the existence of secret CIA detention centers became public this week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called for investigations - not about whether they violate laws governing human rights - but about how the information was leaked. But members of their own party are keeping the focus where it belongs. The Washington Post quoted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) as saying, "Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. The real story is those jails."

Admittedly, Christians of good faith part paths when political conflict leads us to consider what constitutes a just and righteous war - or if any war can be just. Though we may not consent on the means, we do consent on the need to confront the spread of evil in the world. Yet we can all affirm scripture when it says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17, 21). When we confront evil with its own means, those means mark our own character.

In that regard, the practice of torture so fully embraces evil it dehumanizes both the torturer and its victim. No just cause can be won if it relies on torture to succeed. Democracy and freedom cannot result from a war fueled by torture, which is why so many Americans were shocked and angered by the disturbing incidents that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

All the more so, Christians must oppose torture under any circumstances. Consider this: Who would Jesus torture? I cannot imagine Jesus finding a single "exemption" that would justify such an abuse of any individual made in God's image.

Though I bristle whenever I hear someone refer to the United States as a Christian nation - it is such a loaded phrase - many in the Muslim world see us as such. How tragic it would be for Muslims to identify the message and mission of Jesus with torture and terror. We must not allow that to happen.

Action Alert: "Do not repay evil for evil...." (1 Peter 3:9).

Despite strong bipartisan support in the Senate, Republican leaders in the House - including Speaker Hastert - are using a procedural loophole to block an up or down House vote on Sen. McCain's anti-torture measure.

+ Click here to ask Speaker Hastert and your representative to stand up against torture

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Wal-Mart and frugality's folly
by C. Melissa Snarr

Frugality is not a spiritual discipline. Yet Americans regularly follow weekend trips to places of worship with drives to giant discount stores. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions unite in challenging those of us who would save a buck at the cost of another's well-being. Unfortunately, in our current culture, getting a "deal" has largely displaced righteous dealings as our first consideration in the marketplace.

Within the Christian tradition, the term frugal is wholly absent from the biblical text and is not among the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Generosity is instead the prized theme in stories of faith. God enables human generosity by promising a care for believers and creation that allows us to put our store in heaven, not in barns or walk-in closets here on earth. The images are numerous: banquet tables set for the homeless, fishes and loaves multiplied, water turned into wine, and manna falling from heaven. Throughout scripture, generosity is structured by obligations to the most vulnerable. Rulers, merchants, and nations are judged by how they treat the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Faithful generosity follows God's preference for those normally forgotten by society.

+ Read the full article

+ Learn more about Wal-Mart Watch's "Higher Expectations Week," Nov. 13-19

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Survey says...

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a majority of Americans have serious doubts about President Bush's leadership and integrity, and the war in Iraq.

  • 60% disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job as president.
  • 58% believe Bush is not "honest and trustworthy."
  • 55% believe the Bush administration "intentionally misled the American public" about Iraq.
  • 64% disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq.
  • 60% think that given the costs, the Iraq war was not worth fighting.
  • 52% believe that the Iraq war has not "contributed to the long-term security" of the U.S.

+ See the entire poll

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As Advent approaches, Sojourners is delighted to offer "Preaching the Word," our online resource for scriptural reflection, Bible study, and sermon preparation based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays.

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Anticipating peace, from Exodus to Armistice Day
by Jake Erickson

The horrible tragedy of war has been made ever more apparent these past weeks with the American death toll in the Iraq war now surpassing 2,000, and the death toll of Iraqi citizens in the tens of thousands. Many people feel mired down by the persisting conflict in Iraq, burdened with the realization that the war probably won't be finished soon. And the Bush administration's stance that we must continue to "hold out" in Iraq does not bring much comfort or hope for those of us who see peace as an obligation of our Christian faith.

As people of faith, however, we are called in hopeful worship to remember times of peace - even in the midst of violent conflict. We are called to remember times when God has miraculously delivered humanity out of evil. The story of Exodus 13:3-10 calls us to this remembrance. Even before they are delivered out of Egypt, Moses says to the people that they will celebrate the festival of the unleavened bread. Moses gives the people this subtle instruction about that celebration in verse 8: "You shall tell your child on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" The Israelites were instructed to remember their deliverance into peace. Present-day people of faith are to do likewise.

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IRS targets church for anti-war sermon

All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena, California, has had its tax-exempt status challenged over anti-war statements made by its pastor during last year's election. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rev. George F. Regas told his congregation that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either candidate, but then went on to say of George W. Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forciby changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

As an added twist, reports the Times, the IRS has offered to extend grace to All Saints if they confess their sins. The paper quotes the church's tax attorney - a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section - as saying, "They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

+ Read the full Los Angeles Times article

Read more:

Conservatives Also Irked by IRS Probe of Churches
The National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals find common cause

The won't-be-bullied pulpit
Rev. George Regas refuses to surrender "the very soul of our ministry."

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Bibles banned behind bars?

During last year's election campaign, the Republican National Committee sent direct mail to voters in Arkansas and West Virginia threatening that liberals would ban the Bible if elected. It would seem that their terrifying vision has come true in a different way. Human rights lawyer G.T. Hunt says he has been prevented from delivering a King James Bible - in the publisher's original shrink-wrap packaging - to a client being detained at Guantanamo.

Hunt writes, "Now they won't let my guy at Guantanamo have a Bible. This is true. He asked for one, I sent one down, and a Staff Judge Advocate went out of his way to dress me down for doing so, and told me definitely that the prisoner could not have a Bible. 'We're trying to run a prison here,' he said, or words to that effect.... Where's Chuck Colson when you need him?"

+ Read Hunt's legal motions

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Top stories:

Bush administration's moral compass is lost
Chicago Sun-Times
Evangelical Christian theologian and leader Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a national network of "progressive Christian" peace and justice activists, led an ecumenical gathering of religious leaders in a protest at the Capitol building Thursday, calling the proposed cuts "a moral travesty."

Dem Mantra Should Be Security, Truth, Kids
The Capitol Times (Madison)
Jim Wallis, author of a brilliant book, God's Politics, urges us to apply the best wisdom of both our prophetic and democratic visions.... Wallis also suggests that when we find the answers to the "God question" intolerable and we engage in protest, the aim should be to illuminate a society for its need to change.

More Sojourners in the news:

A man and his myths Newsweek

Backward, Christian soldiers The Wall Street Journal

Religious leaders rally for poor as Senate passes budget cuts to Medicare The Christian Post

Religion problems? The O'Reilly Factor

A pastor challenges progressives: Take back the church BuzzFlash

Words to live by Science and Spirit

Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis in Discussion Tikkun

The Religious Politics of Jim Wallis The American Spectator

Senate panel retains subsidies for food for the needy American Baptist Press

Just how monolithic are American Evangelicals Nieman Watchdog

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Readers write

Christina Stone writes from Houston, Texas:

Why can't Sojourners be less partisan? In many of his columns, Jim Wallis is thoughtful and reasonable. In other columns (like "Give 'em Hell, Harry" [SojoMail 11/2/2005]) he is merely on a partisan rant.

I am conservative, but I like to read the liberal vew of current events, especially faith-based views. However, Sojourners tends to buy into the Democratic Party line and treat conservatives and Republicans as though they have horns and do not act out of honest convictions and good-faith beliefs. I and many of my conservative friends assume that most liberals do think and act in good faith. I hope that in the future you will avoid publishing shrill, over-the-top, openly partisan articles.


Jillian Hotz writes from Wayne, Pennsylvania:

I just wanted to write a quick note to say thank you for the work you do. Getting involved with politics has always seemed overwhelming to me. Seeing the important items in the big picture and getting accuate facts has seemed almost impossible, though, as a Christian, I know it's a necessity. Groups like these help ordinary people like me get aware and get involved. I was a member of True Majority for a while, but their one-sided approach to party politics was a big turn-off, as I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Thank you for giving me a way to get involved.


Philip Hannam writes from Minneapolis, Minneapolis:

I deeply respect and regard the integrity I have observed in Sojourners and your life and ministry. I also want you to know I have trouble receiving much of your message because it often feels so entangled with the "Washington culture/adversity/fighting." I see no more political courage in the closed Senate session than in the Democrats' first stance on Iraq, "We basically would support military action but only if Bush consults with us." It has been constant opposition to Bush/war - while never advocating coherent policy options including opposition to war.


Louise Monacelli writes from Berkley, Michigan:

Thank you so much for publishing this piece ["The real Rosa Parks," SojoMail 11/2/2005]. As Detroit is awash today in the aftermath of the funeral of Rosa Parks, the idealized woman-symbol, I have held onto this very truth that I came across a few years ago to counteract all the sickening posturing about what she symbolizes. I am much more challenged by the real Rosa Parks to live out of my own truth and refuse to give up what I know to be right!


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Because of the volume of letters we receive, concise responses that include a name, hometown, and state/province/country are the most likely to be published. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. E-mail:

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Go With Peace
By Kelly Guinan

"Go With Peace should be in every home, every school, every community center, every place of worship! This extraordinary book shows how the capacity for peace develops from infancy to old age in every kind of setting, from solitude to international gatherings, and gives delightfully concrete examples of ways to exercise the skills of peace in each setting, including some very unlikely ones. Deeply spiritual yet full of fun (and intellectually challenging), this book can lift frustrated peacemakers out of the gloom of difficult times, and release the dynamics of hope in each of us."

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