Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Christian voices against torture in SC

My attention has just been called to an article about a (very) few clergy who are speaking out against torture. Here are the relevant excerpts:

Who Would Jesus Torture? by Carolyn Click in The State, Columbia, South Carolina, October 15, 2006

Like most catchy slogans, the bumper sticker sentiment - a takeoff on the popular WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?") phenomenon - oversimplifies a complex issue. It's about how Christians reconcile their spiritual beliefs with the actions of their government in times of terrorism and war. And it's about confronting the reality of evil in the world. As Congress and the Bush Administration parse the definition of torture and argue about the habeas corpus right of appeal denied enemy combatants, some Christians find themselves sorting through thorny political and theological concerns that haven't been raised in recent memory.

In some congregations, the issue of faith and torture hasn't come up at all. Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the S.C. Baptist Convention, said he hasn't heard a word of the debate from Baptist pews.

But for other pastors, the issue has resonated even amid the latest congressional clamor over a House member sending salacious e-mails to young pages."I don't know how you can justify torture from a Christian perspective," said the Rev. Agnes Norfleet, pastor of Shandon Presbyterian Church on Woodrow Street.Practically speaking, she also worries, as do some military experts, that information extracted through torture too often is worthless because prisoners will say anything to make the pain cease.

Columbia's Jan Love, chief executive of the women's division of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Ministries, said her organization has adopted a position paper opposing extreme interrogation techniques that violate the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.

"There's a lot of distress among leaders that we would even entertain the idea of torture," Love said. "I think Christians bring to the conversation a comprehension of the issue," she said."When we meditate on how Jesus died, it was a death by extreme torture."

At the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, conversations have turned on the language of the New Testament, particularly the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivered in the Gospel of Matthew. In that sermon to his disciples and a crowd on a hill near Galilee, Jesus exhorted those gathered to love their enemies. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."

Christians can interpret the richly symbolic sermon, which contains the familiar Beatitudes, in varying ways, said the Rev. Virginia "Ginger" Barfield. "I believe it is not how we interpret these specific texts, but it is a bigger issue in Christian tradition: Whom do we trust?" said Barfield, director of the seminary's Baptist Studies Program and a professor of Greek and New Testament.

"The hard part for Christians is: Do I trust my government and its military power to make my life secure and safe, if that includes torturing my enemies to get the information I need . . . or do I, as a Christian, really trust God to take care of me and those I love?" Barfield asked."If I trust God, can I stand up and say 'no' to what I believe is wrong, even when my government says it is right?"