God's Politics

I participated in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture rally and press conference held on Capitol Hill yesterday. Here are some excerpts from two very short talks I gave. The first asserts that it is “an unconditional aspect of Christian faith that torture is always immoral.”

The biblical injunction to love our enemies, the fact that our bearing the image of God requires that the dignity of every human person be taken seriously, and the recognition of our own fallibility provide basic theological underpinnings for why Christians must not fall prey to the temptation to try to justify the use of torture. There are some behaviors that, quite simply, are never justifiable, and we must recapture the realization that torture is one of those morally unjustifiable practices.

The second asks, “On what basis are we normally assured that torture of detainees is an acceptable practice?”

If a detainee has information that might make it possible to prevent a terrorist act that would cause pain or death to a great many, then we may use any means we deem necessary to extract that data—including torture. You have all heard the argument, right? But does this justification really work? Does the scenario wherein we have captured a bad guy that we know has relevant information really fit with experience?
Sadly, in our entertainment-oriented society, we find that telling stories where this scenario is dramatically portrayed is particularly effective for drawing high ratings. Even more sadly, one member of the Supreme Court of the United States recently responded to the torture question not by appealing to hard fact, but rather by asking what jury would convict Jack Bauer. Thereby, this Supreme Court justice conflated reality and drama in such a way as to create the illusion that a scenario from the hit TV series “24” was an accurate representation of the world in which torture is used. Every torturer, then, is justified because the payoff will be the same as we see on TV. But is this really the case? As best we can tell, the answer is no, for at least three reasons.

Read the full post about those three reasons, including this quote from South African Bishop Peter Storey:

There is a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can be paid in only one currency—the currency of human rights. … The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a civilized state. … We send a message to the jailers, interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and permissible: “Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be required of you.”

Chuck Gutenson is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and blogs at

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