McLaughlin: Christians’ acceptance of torture called sad, ironic

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    Saturday, May 9, 2009
    By Nancy H. McLaughlin
    Staff Writer

    w w w.news record. com

    Just last year Frank Dew was among a group of people who asked the local General Assembly of Presbyterians to pass a resolution condemning the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

    It included the lines,

    “Whereas John Yoo, acting as a deputy at the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, argued that military interrogators could subject suspected terrorists to harsh treatment as long as it didn’t cause 'death, organ failure or permanent damage,” (see Newsweek, May 5, 2008, “Getting Away with Torture”)

    But ended with a prayer,

    “...we confess that in our efforts to secure ourselves as a nation, we have on occasion resorted to tactics which were cruel, inhumane, and degrading. O God, we pray for your forgiveness.”

    They addressed the Salem Presbytery last October, just months before a survey in April among major Christian groups was being conducted on the same subject. Those survey results have horrified some people of faith.

    The respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted the survey. Asked whether torture can ever be justified, only 25 percent of those who attend a church service weekly said no. As in never.

    Dew, the pastor of New Creation Presbyterian Church, was saddened by the results.

    “The teachings of Jesus are clear that we are to love our enemies, so it’s particularly ironic to me when some folks claim to take the Bible literally … but justify torture,” Dew said. “It’s the tension between the nationalistic 'do whatever is necessary’ kind of approach and a putting of the teachings of Jesus first.”

    Those who seldom or never attend services had virtually the same level of opposition — just 26 percent said torture is never justified.

    The survey did not include people of other faiths, such as Muslims and Jews, but Rabbi Fred Guttman of Greensboro said it saddened him, too.

    “I don’t know what to make of it, but if you think of the history of western civilization, what person is the most famous person to ever be brutally tortured?” Guttman said. “The answer happens to be Jesus. I think it’s ironic the spiritual parent of a religion, who was brutally tortured himself — that that message is not getting to the people in the pew.”

    The resolution and prayer was approved by the Salem Presbytery, which does not speak for its member churches. But its affirmation does say that the group found it a reasonable request.

    Dew is speaking up for the minority voice in the surveys.

    “There is crime and there is punishment,” said Dew, who has also protested death-row executions. “The thing that execution does, and I would even say torture, is that it puts us in a position of having to exact absolute perfect justice. That’s why Jesus, when he found the woman caught in adultery, said anyone without sin, go ahead and throw a rock, but short of that we should drop our rocks here.”

    Dew’s group wanted to do something of substance in the resolution and prayer that followed, but there were concerns that it would seem negative toward those serving in the military.

    “There were a number of people, and this goes back several months, that were concerned that we were condemning our military, that our military was doing the best they could, and certainly we don’t want to put the efforts of our military down,” Dew said.

    “What we want to do is put them in the best position possible to do their jobs, and asking them to carry out things like torture is not only putting them in a bad position, but putting them in a worse position if they were captured.”

    Dew remembers reading a letter to the editor in which a World War II veteran wrote, “This is not what we fought for.” More recently, Dew heard former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say that while no laws were broken, it was a horrific and scary time for all Americans, including its leadership. He doesn’t find that an acceptable excuse.

    “The very definition of leadership that I often heard is that you keep your head while others around you are losing theirs,” Dew said. “I’m not saying that’s easy, but I’m saying that’s a definition of leadership that I thought was a pretty good one. I appreciate the atmosphere and the context in which all this happened. Nonetheless this is where leadership has to see the bigger picture. And when we can’t see around the bend in terms of what might happen next, that’s when we have to be guided by our principle.

    “That’s why it’s even more important now that we make clear this was a serious mistake and a serious diversion from our national ideal, so when these kinds of scary things confront in the future, we will remember not to lose our head when others are losing theirs and when we can’t see what might happen next.”

    He hopes that after thought and prayer, a new survey would show a different result.

    “Ironically, the people who know the most about these kinds of things seem to say whatever information you get from people who have been tortured is often unreliable,” Dew said.

    “I can only imagine what I would say under those circumstances.”

    Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 373-7049 or nancy.mclaughlin@news-record.com
     

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