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Monday, October 02, 2006

Why the Silence? Where's the Outrage?

Having just finishing reading Randall Balmer's "Thy Kingdom Come," I found this article quite interesting. Here's a snippet...

Similarly, the religious right has been silent on the matter of torture, conducted either by American personnel in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay or by proxy in places like Egypt and Syria under a cynical policy known as "extraordinary rendition."

Several months ago, I canvassed eight prominent religious right organizations, including the Moral Majority Coalition, Falwell's group, for their views on torture. My query was straightforward: Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization's position on the use of torture.

These are groups that have detailed position papers on everything, including stem-cell research and same-sex unions, yet only two answered my query. Both of them defended the Bush administration's policies on torture. No organization associated with the religious right has yet, to my knowledge, summoned the will to issue a statement of unequivocal opposition to the use of torture. These are people who claim to be "pro-life" and who profess to hear a "fetal scream." Yet they turn a deaf ear to the very real screams of fully formed human beings who are tortured in our name.

The religious right's indifference toward the ethical issues surrounding war and torture is hardly befitting those who designate themselves the moral arbiters of our society. If my fellow evangelicals aspire to be the conscience of America, they had better liberate themselves from their captivity to the Republican Party and to the morally bankrupt policies of the Bush administration.

HT: Bruce Wilson of Talk2Action


Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

Mr. Weaver:

Greg Tomlin here again. I've started reading your post. It offers some interesting perspectives, though obviously not ones with which I agree. How about we approach your question with another question, hardly a hypothetical since it has happened.

A known-quantity terrorist mastermind is captured in Pakistan. He is known to have been the man who planned logistics and operations for 9-11. He says in an interrogation that worse things are to come. Interrogators threaten to kill his family; he replies, "Then they will see Allah sooner." Finally, he is waterboarded, "tortured" in your lingo. He eventually reveals another 9-11 still plot to fly planes into the tallest building in Los Angeles, killing perhaps as many as in New York. He mentions that Southeast Asian operatives will be used.

Now under your rubric here, he should not have been tortured, right? And so we keep feeding him coffee and donuts and he sits and waits while we are forbidden from making him uncomfortable and telling what he knows. Meanwhile, members of Jemaah Islamiyah, with fake U.S. passports, board planes in Los Angeles bound for Dallas. Ten minutes into the flight the plane is hijacked. Passengers attempt to take the plane back, but it is too late. The plane crashes into the building, causing a devastating loss of life.

Which is the immoral action? Torturing for a few days to get information, or seeing the loved ones of thousands snatched away for eternity?

You see, I prefer not to use the terms "Conservative" or "Right Wing" and "Liberal" anymore in conversations like this. Let's instead use the terms "Realists" and "Idealists." Holding to your ideals may not get you killed, but it may get 3,000 of your fellow citizens killed. It's time for the "Idealists" to recognize that the parallel universe they have constructed in their minds does not exist.

1:57 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

That, by the way, should have read, "9-11 STYLE plot." Pardon the error.


2:00 PM

Blogger Dan Trabue said...

"Let's instead use the terms "Realists" and "Idealists.""

How 'bout, instead, we use the terms Jesus-followers and Non-Jesus-followers?

Would you call Jesus an idealist because he insisted we overcome evil with "good?" (What a pansy!)

You'll forgive us if we don't care to be identified as "idealists" - or "not realists"? (or at least, speaking for myself).

I find it only practical to follow Jesus' teachings. If God doesn't know best how to deal with our enemies, who does?

4:25 PM

Blogger Dan Trabue said...

By the way, if Mr Tomlin is not necessarily a Christian and is just speaking from a secular point of view, I'd have a different tact to take. Perhaps I shouldn't have made that assumption.

4:58 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

Nope. I'd say Jesus had a pretty good handle on the human condition. Turning the other cheek, as Jesus commanded to do, is an acceptable action for you, the individual. It is not an acceptable action when your neighbor is being murdered -- or about to be.

And Dan, I have followed Christ faithfully for more than 20 years. It is interesting though, that you use the same approach in your last post that you guys have always alleged that we "fundamentalists" do -- you can't debate the issue, or win the argument, so you start questioning people's faith in Christ.

5:18 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Tomlin is operating by purely secular logic. But even by this logic, intelligence and military experts say again and again that torture is counterproductive because people will say anything to make it stop. You never know whether the information is the truth or not.

But what you do know is that torturing people (a) puts your own soldiers and civilians more at risk of being treated the same way and (b) creates more terrorists--especially out of relatives of those tortured. We also know, as repeated military experts told Congress, that guaranteed good treatment for prisoners makes it more likely that troops in unwinnable situations will surrender. If they believe they will be tortured, then they are far more likely to fight to the death and increase the fatalities of our troops.

One also cannot promote and defend democracy by undermining it.

All that from a secular viewpoint such as Tomlin was using.

But the gospel is "foolishness to the Greeks," i.e., to those who rely on worldly wisdom. The gospel, including nonviolence and love of enemy and forgiveness, all looks idiotic to the unredeemed mind--AND TO CHRISTIANS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN PROPERLY TAUGHT THE WAY OF JESUS.

I am absolutely sure that when Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," when he told people to turn the other cheek, the crowds and even some of the disciples said, "that's not practical."

Nonviolence and peacemaking has its own wisdom, but it is a wisdom that is counterintuitive to a fallen world of violence.

But this is the simple fact: Those who follow a crucified (tortured) Messiah CANNOT advocate torture without denying Christ and crucifying him again. Those who torture violate the golden rule, too, and they attack someone made in the Image and Likeness of God.

I will not in this space engage in a debate over whether Islamist terrorists are or are not misrepresenting Islam. That is for Muslims to debate among themselves. But I do know that "Christians" who advocate torture are, ipso facto, heretics.

5:28 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

Thank you Mr. Westmoreland for proving my point.

I agree with you on this: I, too, and firmly convinced that Jesus said to turn the other cheek as well. And I will do that, let's say, when someone calls me a heretic for supporting a just military action. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may he make His face shine upon you.

I am free to do this when I am personally wronged or evil is spoken of me. I am not, however, when the life of my neighbor hangs in the balance. I am to protect in love and brotherhood, rather to allow slaughter.

Should we not intervene in Darfur? Many in the "Idealist" camp are for that. But will it be an action free of violence? Do you assume that the Janjaweed will simply lay down their weapons and allow the infidel Americans to feed the hungry and protect the refugees they despise?

If you say yes, and that this can be accomplished through negotiation, you may claim to know the way of Jesus but you don't understand the depravity of man.

I notice on your blog profile that you are a "peace educator." Have you seen the consequences of failed war to keep people free and safe? Have you seen the broken spirits of those live day to day under a cruel totalitarian government? Have you seen villages burned because people had the audacity to worship Christ there? Have you yourself talked with those who have been tortured?

I have, and it sticks with me day to day. I think about it when I lie down, and when I get up. I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who yearn to be free, but have no hope of it. I pray for my friends whose family members have been taken into the jungle in Southeast Asia by government soldiers never to be seen again.

No sir, mine is a thoroughly biblical logic. It recognizes God-ordained government that is to correct injustice and protect from evil. It recognizes that the Sermon on the Mount is not a manifesto for government, but a personal Christian ethic. It recognizes that warfare is sometimes necessary, though we should always strive to avoid it. It recognizes that Christians are not forbidden from serving in a police or military uniform.

I am glad that you have your opinions, and you have every right to hold them -- though I believe them to be simplistic and naive. I guess the old saying is true, "the protected will never know." You will never understand. You are a peace educator. I have studied Christian responses to war for more than a decade. I hate war. But I hate murder, rape and genocide more.

It is a shame that by implication, or perhaps not, you have called all of your thousands, maybe millions, of brothers (and sisters) in Christ who have put on the uniform "heretics" for their efforts to keep you free. They have shown more fortitude and courage than you will ever know. I thank the Lord for people like them, who understand the reality of evil, and stand on the wall to guard against it.

May the Lord bless you, Mr. Westmoreland, and may you never suffer a loss at the hands of al Qaeda. I suspect then that you would have a little more trouble reconciling simplistic readings of Scripture with your political agenda.

Again, thanks for proving my hypothesis about a parallel universe.


7:26 PM

Blogger Jillian said...

God Ordained government? Does this exist? Is the United States of America the defender of freedom for all peoples in the entire world? Are we the international police force that the United Nations lacks? Some would like to think so but the reality is that we are not.

I am a true believer in the fact that Christians should look past the politics of our government. We are not called to defend our government, we are called to represent Christ. We can't make defending the president our cause, because we have bigger problems. If torture is ocurring, then we should stand up and say something. I'm not here to defend Bush or to criticize, this is a human rights issue. And as Christians, human rights should be on our radar.

7:58 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

What of the human rights of those al Qaeda kills? This is not about my support for the policies of a particular administration. I meant government in the general sense and wasn't making reference to the United States as the only God-ordained government. The institution of human government is God-ordained. If the UN had a backbone, it would intervene in Darfur and elsewhere to stop mass murder. That, of course, will entail killing many of the Janjaweed who will oppose the effort. According to some, that isn't right, nor excusable. But we all know the UN won't do that. And as for your question, as to whether the United States is the defender of the oppressed worldwide. If we don't, who will? We have done it for more than a hundred years, and as former Secretary of State Powell said, we have asked nothing more than for enough ground to bury our dead. Maybe there is something to the idea of American altruism.


8:15 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

It seems as if you are advocating from Joseph Fletcher's liberal theory of Situational Ethics. Maybe I've misread you - but you define personal ethics as those tough portions of the Bible (i.e. turn the other cheek, etc.). What is your group ethic? As long as Love is your intention, the end justifies the means? Can all actions by the United States Government be justified?

You are also operating on the assuming that torture is not counterproductive. Obviously, I find torture to be morally reprehsible. Many of the Senators and Representatives who have opposed Bush's policy of torture are hawks (IMO). 99% of these men and women are not pacifists. Many voted to invade Iraq - but yet they too are troubled by a policy that permits torture?

You asked "have you seen the consequences of failed war to keep people free and safe."

Sir, we are seeing the consequences of war right now on our television sets. Folks dying every day and I'm not sure why anymore???

I too have seen the broken spirits of those who lived day to day under a cruel totalitarian government (Nigeria and Iran). Surely, you don't advocate that we invade every nation-state where a mean & cruel dictator is oppressing his people?

I'm still unsure as to what you actually mean by "God-Ordained Government." It would be foolish to say that God has blessed America above all other nations. Likewise, it would be foolish to say that God has ordained the Governments of other nation-states.

If all men had your same ethic - we would have no Martin Luther King Jr. and no Gandhi...

Fortunately, this is not the case.

9:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who is still not sure what Mr. Tomlin means by "God-ordained government" has not read his comment where he clarified that phrase with absolutely zero ambiguity.

6:18 AM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

Any ethicist will tell you that it is impossible to hold to one ethical system in all cases. Human beings are faced with human decisions, that often demand some flexibility AS LONG AS one can stay within the realm of Scripture. Corrie Tenboom (I may not have spelled her name correctly) is a perfect example. She hid Jews, violating the law and "lying" about their whereabouts. Was she wrong? Not hardly. She was obeying the law of love. In that case, she wasn't immoral or unethical. A perfect example of situational ethics. But those cases are very limited in number. Doubtless, on occasion, situational ethics will rear its head -- sometimes it is unavoidable.

Invasion is not always necessary. You can support (financially and militarily) opposition forces, impose sanctions, work to undermine positions at the international level. Military solutions are not always the best course of action. But they are sometimes.

No, not all decisions of the U.S. government are accurate or should be supported. Some should be openly challenged.

As for God-ordained government, Paul explains it in Romans much better than I.


6:27 AM

Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Greg said:
"you can't debate the issue, or win the argument, so you start questioning people's faith in Christ."

Actually, that was not my intent at all. I just didn't want to assume that you were a christian, being a newbie to this site (Great! blog, by the way). If someone wants to discuss the merits and issues of peacemaking from a secular point of view, I'm fine with that, but I would not use biblical nor christian reasoning with them.

Greg also said:
"Turning the other cheek, as Jesus commanded to do, is an acceptable action for you, the individual. It is not an acceptable action when your neighbor is being murdered"

And again, being a newbie here, I don't know what all's been discussed and not. If I'm repeating something that's already been said, I apologize:

Peacemakers/pacifists are never talking about standing by and doing nothing while a neighbor is murdered. Don't confuse pacifism for passivism.

No, in fact, we are advocating taking Christian steps to stop evil from happening. We believe that the Bible outlines some pretty effective peacemaking strategies. If you have not read about them and you are interested in peace, and I assume you are (even if you wish to hang on to violence-as-solution for some cases), then it really would behoove you to familiarize yourself with what Just Peacemakers are advocating, rather than arguing from ignorance (ie, "lack of knowledge," not "stupidity"), as this statement seems to indicate.

For specifics on opposing terrorism, you might want to investigate the Friends (Quakers) website:


Or google "Just Peacemaking."

7:14 AM

Blogger foxofbama said...

Glad you are reading Balmer. Please bring him to the attention to my Collinsville friends there in Waco, and ask them to make some kind of prophetic witness about it all in their hometown.
Interview them and blog about it. Would be great moment of the water meeting the wheel.

10:02 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Mr. Barber,

I wrote the above comment and missed GT's last comment clarifying the meaning of "God-Ordained Government." Thanks for stopping by and adding a little flavor to the conversation.

Mr. Tomlin,

My reading of the Gospels, upbringing, and time spent with men like John Lewis has convinced me that torture can never be justified.

But from a purely political viewpoint, torture is counterproductive. CIA Director Porter Goss made that same statement only months ago. Why do you disagree?

However, I do agree that military solutions are necessary sometimes. I do agree that UN must grow a backbone and intervene in Darfur. I hate that WMD's were not found. I was in the Senate hearing when the Weapons Inspector gave his final report in the Fall of 04.

But outright torture is never an option. I can't claim to value human life and then applaud Bush's decision to fly suspected terrorists to a torture-friendly country...

12:03 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Actually, Mr. Tomlinson, I did not question your faith in Christ. I called your moral reasoning secular and it is. It attempts to restrict the Sermon on the Mount to individuals which Jesus didn't as almost ALL NT scholars agree. I can name 40 commentaries on Matthew and ALL would say that the division of individual/personal ethics in the S.O.M. was imposed on the text by later perspectives that already accepted Christian participation in violence--contrary to the first 3 1/2 centuries of church history.

I also questioned your biblical interpretation and how well you had been taught the counter-cultural Way of Jesus. Still do. That's not questioning your faith, salvation, etc.

Also, although I am a pacifist, I did not talk about the legitimacy of the war, etc., but about torture--something ruled out even by Just War Theory. You dodge that issue because you realize you have no moral leg to stand on.

12:41 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

Boy, we could go all day like this, so this will be my final post. As an added feature to this discussion, I recommend reading Daryl Charles' book, "Between Pacifism and Jihad." The problem with all just war theories and theorists is that most fail to address the real issue behind war -- human depravity. We have always had war with us since the Fall and always will (I don't think there are still any postmillennialists out there to dispute this, though I may be wrong).

My theory is that there is "just war," and that it is an inevitable consequence of human nature. It is what we do with it, and the lengths we go to limit it or prevent it that makes us (the United States) different from some other nations (laughable sighs of disagreement from the Left inserted here).

So Porter Goss said that torture doesn't work, that it is counterproductive. Perhaps on a large scale it is, but there have been some successes (the 9-11 style Left Coast plot exposed by Khalid Shiek Muhammad being one). Torture, of course, can be defined in a number of ways. Would I advocate pulling out someone's fingernails, breaking limbs, yanking teeth? No. Would I advocate serious sleep deprivation, loud music, offensive cultural images, insults, and other non-physically abusive methods? Yes. And the detainees at Gitmo are hardly being tortured, unless you count coffee, library loans and Basketball as torture. They exist in white, brown and orange jumpsuits. Those in white have ample privileges and are "no threat" to the guards (ie. they have been cooperative). Those in brown have showed some hostility. Those in orange are the real ringers (violent, hostile to guards, and the leaders of AQ we have captured).

Of course, waterboarding, which our CIA operatives undergo as part of their training, has been done. So in response to Mr. Westmoreland-White: Yes, I would advocate limited use of torture if it would save lives. And IF I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the individual had information of the date and time of an attack that would claim thousands (or millions), the gloves would come off because it would be morally reprehensible not to extract the information. There are mechanisms in place for confirming information provided. The need of protecting millions would outweigh the momentary and non-permanent discomfort of an AQ operative.

The assumption that it creates more terrorists is also laughable. They didn't need the U.S. torturing a handfull of men to intiate the first bombing of the WTC, the Cole, the U.S. embassies, and finally 9-11. They did all of that because they hate us and our way of life. In short, they had descended so far down the path of depravity that they ceased to act as human beings, and rather acted like rabid animals. And how do you deal with a rabid animal? You can't sit him down for coffee and reason with him. Thanks again for demonstrating life in the parallel universe.

As for your statement about the Sermon on the Mount being reinterpreted -- hogwash. Early church fathers encouraged believers not to participate in the military, true, but they didn't instruct soldiers (nor did John, Jesus, Paul or Peter) to leave their services. You can twist the Sermon on the Mount all you want, but you won't be able to squeeze your political manifesto out of it. And I didn't say it was only for believers. It is for all people who are supposed to pursue a knowledge of God, as Jesus defined life, but Paul clearly indicates that human government has been instituted to restrain evil.

That doesn't mean that governments are good. All governments are evil -- the question is how evil they may be. Is our government evil? You bet (as countless instances of corruption and graft illustrate) because it is composed of fallible human beings. But ours is far more committed to at least attempting to recognize inalienable human rights than most others.

Not that you have time or would care to read, my dissertation, "Hawks and Doves: Southern Baptist Responses to Military Intervention in Southeast Asia, 1965-73" is available. If any one wants a copy, let me know and I'll burn it on a CD (you provide) for you. War -- and torture -- are a little more complicated than most people think, and can't be addressed with canned answers and simplistic rhetoric.


1:43 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Did you notice how his "last statement" still dodged all the real issues about torture except the Porter Goss statement?

5:28 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

I don't believe I dodged anything. And reading your profile, I see that you were once a soldier. In gratitude for that,


6:20 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

I don't think I would agree with everything Greg has said here or the way he has said it, but he does bring up a very important point that bears investigating (and to this point I have seen very few people doing) -- and that is "what constitutes torture?" Doesn't the definition of torture matter to this debate? If you can define torture the way that some courts in Europe have done, then we in the U.S. would already be in violation of the Geneva Convention in our prison system. Techniques like solitary confinement and sleep deprevation are common in our prisons, yet I hear very little said about that with regards to this debate. Do we really want European Courts deciding how we define torture? I don't think so. And until we can get past our own definitions and establish some common ground, then the shouting past one another will just continue. I am glad to see Congress decided to quit doing so.

1:41 PM

Blogger Paul said...

Mr. Tomlin,

I know you said you were bowing out, but perhaps you will wander by and see this. I'm new to this discussion and I'm not a strident pacifist.

You brought up an analogy that I want to press a little bit (I know, I know. All analogies fail at some point, but I think this is a valid critique). You have mentioned the neighbor who will be murdered. For this analogy to be valid it must be modified somewhat. At the time the information is initially revealed (before the torture begins) the neighbor is unspecified as are the alleged killers. You are a police officer who hears this information from the informant. You have every reason to believe the threat is credible. What do you do?

Do you take him down to the police station show him offensive photos, deprive him of sleep and play loud music to him? When this doesn't work, do you waterboard him? Would you not be fired and then prosecuted and sent to jail yourself for violating his human rights?

I think the most disturbing comment is the fifth paragraph of your next-to-last comment where you call them "rabid animals." I may be wrong, but that sounds an awful lot like a psychological means of dehumanizing a person to avoid feelings of guilt over the inhumane treatment of a fellow human being. In the Old Testament instructions regarding capital punishment it recognized - even lauded - the image of God in the person. It doesn't say that the victims are the only ones who bear that image, but "man" (humanity). Yet, a rabid animal has obviously lost not only the image of God but even the image of man. Is this what you meant?

2:30 PM

Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

I said "acted like rabid animals," not that there was nothing left of the image of God in them as human beings. However, if you "know them by their fruits," there seems to be very little of it left. My approach to this whole thing is not that the "end justifies the means," but that you approach the situation through virtue ethics. I know, I know, "how virtuous is torture?" I can hear it already. But in virtue ethics, acting within the provisions of Scripture to protect INNOCENT lives is virtuous. This means that the guilty individual (and make no mistake, most of the Gitmo detainees are guilty of levying war on the U.S. and her allies) does not outweigh the community of the innocent. A terrorist's discomfort is a small price to pay for the safety of millions. Now, there have been abuses, I'm sure. I'll acknowledge that. But most of the time, and I know this from personal experience, the information is good. You see, people have this misconception about what "torture" is all about. Sleep deprivation, hunger, cold, loud music, disturbing images, etc., are not about getting the terrorist to say, "A leads to B, B leads to C, C leads to D." It is about progressively degrading his mental ability to guard the information, so that there are "slips" of the tongue, so that he gives some piece of information that confirms what is already known. It is about getting him to give what he thinks is insignificant information that can be used to connect the dots (for example, troop strength, points of origin, relatives of AQ operatives). Very rarely does someone like Khalid Shiek Muhammad "spill the beans." Fortunately for us, he did after he was waterboarded. Now his worst fear is being released to encounter his old AQ buddies. They would really torture him as a traitor and a lover of infidels.


8:24 PM


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