Evangelicals and Torture: a follow up

As a follow-up to the lively discussion on torture last week, I thought I would post this in hopes of hearing your thoughts on the topic.

In short, are Evangelicals more likely to support torture because they are Evangelicals or because they are Republicans?

Torture Poll: It’s About Politics, not Religion, a recent Washington Post blog entry, says that all the news coverage about white evangelical Protestants supporting torture is missing something. Evangelicals have those views on torture not because they are evangelicals, but because they are largely Republican:

In a basic statistical model estimating public support for a torture option, party is a clear predictor, whether one is Catholic, Protestant or unaffiliated is not.

Good news – or the central problem? As Emmanuel Katongole pointed out in The Pattern of This World in Sojourners earlier this year, it is a grave problem when political affiliations shape Christians’ views more than religious affiliations do:

Once this imagination and identity had fomented, Christianity made little difference … Christ­ianity seemed little more than an add-on—an inconsequential relish that did not radically affect peoples’ so-called natural identities.

Katongole describes how this kingdom-of-this-world thinking led to the genocide in Rwanda, one of the most ostensibly “Christianized” countries in Africa. He also describes how he’s seen this thinking in the U.S. – and, if there was any doubt, the torture poll confirms it: He’s talking to you, United States. I suggest that we listen.

(via God or Country? – Elizabeth Palmberg – God’s Politics Blog.)

So what do you think? Have we confused God and Country? Or, is this article full of rubbish?

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10 thoughts on “Evangelicals and Torture: a follow up

  1. My belief is not based on a political party. Truthfully, I’d classify myself more as a right leaning independent than a hardcore republican. I think the article in interesting, but it comes off biased. I’m unaware of the political leanings of the writer of the article, but considering it is from Sojourners I can assume it’s more to the left.
    And herein lies the problem. You get these leftist leaning, emergent, liberal “Christians” that paint Jesus as a sissy and a pacifist while attempting to dissuade people from believing in absolute truth.
    I support torture at times. Not all times. In fact, only in very rare, absolutely necessary times. We’ve discussed this previously and don’t need to rehash it here. I support this because at times, while it’s not the ideal, it is needed in order to save lives. I believe this not because of my political party, but because of my belief in common sense.

    1. And herein lies the problem. You get these leftist leaning, emergent, liberal “Christians” that paint Jesus as a sissy and a pacifist while attempting to dissuade people from believing in absolute truth.

      David, what from Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels leads you to believe that Jesus wasn’t a pacifist?

      1. “David, what from Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels leads you to believe that Jesus wasn’t a pacifist?”

        Ben, there’s something wrong with your question. Do you not equate Jesus with God? Your argument is based only on the few years of Jesus’ ministry whereas mine is based on the entirety of who Christ was,is, and will be. You cannot grasp the teachings and character of Christ based only on the gospels. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. I think that when you begin to look at Christ in this way, there is no way you can refer to Him as a pacifist. A pacifist is someone who is opposed to violence, especially war, for any purpose, often accompanied by the refusal to bear arms by reason of conscience or religious conviction. (Webster’s) I don’t think this ever applies to Christ. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36). “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

        We are commanded to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9). In doing so we must take a stand against what is evil in this world and pursue righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22). Jesus did this and, in so doing, spoke openly against the religious and political rulers of His time because they were not seeking a righteousness from God, but rather of their own making (Luke 20:1-2, Romans 9:31-33).

        I would ask you and anybody else this question. Are you seeking a righteousness from God, or from your own making? Being a pacifist may be more popular nowadays, but it’s far from Godly righteousness.

        “Those who hate Him He will repay to their face by destruction; He will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate Him” (Deuteronomy 7:10). “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). All of this is God’s (aka Jesus) justice and Judgment. Sure doesn’t sound like pacifism to me.

        1. David,

          I’m going to challenge a few of your claims on a couple different grounds.

          Ben, there’s something wrong with your question. Do you not equate Jesus with God? Your argument is based only on the few years of Jesus’ ministry whereas mine is based on the entirety of who Christ was,is, and will be.

          The very foundation of Christianity is the claim that Jesus is God incarnate, and in my estimation, the two fundamental doctrines upon which Christianity stands or falls are: Trinity and Incarnation. I’m certain we agree about that much without any disagreement.

          Where I would challenge is, however, is your readiness to locate Jesus in the Old Testament so quickly. My argument from the start has been that Jesus should redefine the way we read the OT.

          I haven’t fleshed out my reasoning for that fully, but I’ll give you at least a synopsis of why I think that by following two examples, Jesus and Paul.

          Both Jesus and Paul interact with the OT in very interesting ways. They both call it Scripture at some point or another, but they interpret that Scripture in surprising ways.

          For example, take Matthew 5 — the entire chapter could be an example of this, but I’ll focus on 5:38 where Jesus quotes Exodus 21:

          38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

          Here’s the quotation from Exodus 21:

          23If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

          The context of this passage is retributive justice and could be summed simply: when it comes to punishment, the punishment should equal the crime. Yet, Jesus completely rejects that and rewrites the law of Moses.

          There are some interesting points we could debate here. Is Scripture contradicting itself? Or perhaps even more interestingly, is God contradicting God’s own self?

          But rather than getting tangled in that, I want to use this as an example of why I think Jesus redefines how we read the Old Testament — namely, because Jesus changed the way we read the Old Testament himself. And it’s even more interesting that he did so with respect to justice and punishment, a topic that’s intimately related to the topic of torture that we’re debating in this thread.

          On to Paul.

          A motif that appears time and again in the letters of Paul is that the law’s primary function is to reveal human sin. Take, for example, a passage from Romans 3:

          19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

          Now, this is a familiar passage (as is all of Romans, really), and maybe it’s so familiar that we don’t realize how radical Paul’s interpretation of the Law (i.e., Old Testament) really is.

          Let me try to make my point with a question: If one were to read the Old Testament completely apart from Jesus and the New Testament, how would that person ever come to the conclusion that the primary purpose of the law is to reveal human sin? If anything, one might conclude exactly the opposite, namely, that the law was given to restrain human sin. And that is exactly the conclusion to which Saul came before his conversion.

          But Jesus changed things for him. The revelation that Jesus is the savior, not the law, completely redefines the way Paul thinks about the law. It is not salvific; in fact, salvation is actually impossible through the law alone!

          I would ask you, is that the message of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, where the law is given? In my reading, it’s not. Apart from Jesus, I would have to agree with Saul. But after Jesus, I have to agree with Paul — Jesus changes how we read the Old Testament.

          So, my attempt to construct a theology that is opposed to torture is not an attempt to part ways with Jesus as God but rather an attempt to become more faithful to him (and I realize that’s your desire too; we have just come to different conclusions in our attempts at faithfulness).

          In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

          Do you think that means that Jesus is commanding his disciples to kill their families? I can’t imagine so. I interpret this passage to be extremely hyperbolic, not literal, and consequently, I don’t use it with respect to Christians endorsing violence.

          “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

          We grew up on the KJV and heard this passage time and again. It was interpreted spiritually, i.e., we had to fight against principalities and powers, not people, but I’m assuming you’re using it here with a literal application — that we’re called to advance God’s Kingdom by force.

          Unfortunately, the KJV makes an absolute mess out of the Greek in this passage, and while it gets complicated, you could learn more about it here: http://www.biblicaltheology.com/Research/OssaiC01.html

          The author’s point is summed well by the comment:

          The gospel of Matthew is located within a cultural context of Kingdoms initiation and authority. Jesus, Yahweh’s Yeshua is pictured, as the Sum total of Yahweh’s promised kingdom, while John the Baptist is the proclaiming voice about the Kingdom of Heaven. The opposition to both the initiation and proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven reaches feverish peak in Matt.11: 12. The opposition earlier cited begins from Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus at infancy (2:16-23), Satan’s attempt to distract Jesus from the goals of the Kingdom (4:1-11), Jesus` confrontation with the Pharisee’s over the purpose of the Kingdom (9:1-8), the empowerment of the twelve over powers of evil (10:1-4) and the revelation of the patterns of persecution over the Kingdom (10:16-24). It is this sort of confrontation that builds up into the violence that the kingdom of heaven is subjected to in 11:12. So, the foundational structure of Matthew’s gospel shows that the violence that comes into play in our text cannot be positively located for the advantage of the kingdom of Heaven. Rather, it is detrimental to the kingdom for, Matthew shows violence to be the manifest attitude of Satan and his aide’s to frustrate the purposes of the kingdom of Heaven. An analysis of Matthean silt-im-leben, grammar and context will support the view that the violence of Matthew 11:12 is not positive for the kingdom of Heaven and bearers of its proclamation.

          All that to say, I don’t agree that Matthew 11:12 justifies violence for the Christian.

          “Those who hate Him He will repay to their face by destruction; He will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate Him” (Deuteronomy 7:10). “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). All of this is God’s (aka Jesus) justice and Judgment. Sure doesn’t sound like pacifism to me.

          This is a common argument, one that Chris raised in a previous thread. He said something like, “If the evil person will ultimately be judged by God, then I’m just hastening the judgment…” (or something to that effect). Your argument is different in that you’re simply saying that Jesus isn’t a pacifist, but there’s a criticism I would levy against both arguments.

          First, how did Jesus relate to “outsiders” while he lived on Earth? Did he threaten them with hellfire and brimstone? Or, did he lovingly invite them into the Kingdom? I would challenge you to answer carefully, because the overwhelming majority of passages about judgment on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels are directed toward religious folks, not non-religious people. A follow-up question would be, if Jesus lovingly invited people into the Kingdom of God, how does is torturing them congruous with that sort of invitation?

          Or a bit crassly, how can a Christian say, “I’m about to torture you now, but don’t worry, Jesus loves you and so do I.”

          Second, I would say that appealing to the eschatological judgment that will take place in the future as grounds for justifying violence in the present is misguided for two reasons.

          First, because the eschatological judgment of all human beings is by definition future, not present. And nowhere in Scripture does God call us to execute that type of judgment, i.e., final judgment for the human soul for all eternity. In fact, Jesus’ limits our judgment of human beings to ourselves (the plank in my eye), and Paul limits our judgment to people within the church community (1 Cor.).

          Second, in the eschatological judgment, God is the judge, not us. Not only is that judgment future, not present, we’re not the ones doing the judging. So, how can we appeal to God’s final judgment of humanity as a justification for Christian violence in the present?

          We are commanded to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9). In doing so we must take a stand against what is evil in this world and pursue righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22). Jesus did this and, in so doing, spoke openly against the religious and political rulers of His time because they were not seeking a righteousness from God, but rather of their own making (Luke 20:1-2, Romans 9:31-33).

          I would ask you and anybody else this question. Are you seeking a righteousness from God, or from your own making? Being a pacifist may be more popular nowadays, but it’s far from Godly righteousness.

          This is a common objection I hear from other Christians as well. Because my arguments are unfamiliar, they are perceived as being unfaithful to Jesus, i.e., of my own sinful creation. I hope that after I’ve done all this exegesis that you realize that I’m not pulling this out of thin air in an attempt to be intellectually justified for myself; but rather, I am attempting to be as faithful as I can be to God’s self-revelation in Jesus — which is the very same thing you are trying to do. So, I hope we’ve put that objection to rest.

    2. I’m unaware of the political leanings of the writer of the article, but considering it is from Sojourners I can assume it’s more to the left.

      You’re probably right. But I’m guessing the author would describe herself as independent with respect to parties but who leans to the left on a lot of social issues.

      Also, pacifist doesn’t necessarily equal sissy. At least I don’t think so.

  2. Did Jesus ever torture anyone? Should a christian support it. NO!
    Torture is wrong and does not work.
    Read my article on torture. I have been part of it, seen it, in the french military.
    bernie1936.wordpress.com

  3. I don’t doubt that a large part of the reason for the support is due to these people being Republicans. Another thing to consider, though, is that the reason that a large part of Christians are Republicans is because the Evangelical church has told them they are obligated to in order to be good Christians. This typically traces back to the abortion issue, but once a political party is endorsed as being the one good moral choice, the church has underwritten their platform whether they intended to or not.

    Recall all of the religious hype around President Bush (ie. what evil would come to the world if the Christians didn’t show up to vote for him)? Well, it is only logical that if the former President comes under fire, this Evangelical base will come out in defense. Their only other choice is to admit that Bush wasn’t the moral leader they thought him to be.

  4. Ben, it’s clear we have differing viewpoints and neither of us is going to change the others mind. But that’s ok. You have the right to be wrong! lol! That was a total joke, even if I think it’s somewhat true. Anyways, good points and a good debate. I look forward to the next one. God Bless

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