What the Torture Debate Reveals about American Christianity

On Wednesday, November 5, 2008, Candler was proud to host a talk and discussion with Dr. David Gushee and Abbas Barzegar (Dr. Gushee left below; Abbas Barzegar right) about torture and American Christianity and how this issue shapes the impression of the United States in the Muslim world. Dr. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. Abbas Barzegar is a PhD candidate in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion and is teaching Introduction to Islam at Candler this semester. The lunch-time gathering drew about 55 Candler faculty, staff, students and visitors.

Dr. Gushee is an Evangelical Christian, a recognized scholar in the field, a highly visible public figure in the torture debate, as well as President of Evangelicals for Human Rights. Gushee began by stating that the revelation of the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was a symbolic, triggering event that brought out Church leaders to speak out against the U.S. government’s use of torture. Gushee went on to say that he, as an Evangelical leader, worked with other Christian leaders on drafting a pan-Christian resolution straightforwardly repudiating the use of torture by the United States. Yet some major Evangelical Christian leaders, such as James Dobson and Charles Colson, refused to join in the call.

Gushee was critical of the moves by the Bush Administration to, among other things, redefine what is and is not torture, to institute “new interrogation protocols” (code for expanding the number of cruel techniques that the U.S. government can use on detainees), and finally to block the release of information regarding the practices that the United States uses to interrogate detainees.

Among Gushee’s recommendations to the leadership of this country regarding torture, I found the two to be most simple and yet most powerful. First, to remind our government that Torture is a Moral Issue. Simple as that. Second, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) suggests that the United States adopt an position called The “Golden Rule” principle, which states simply: “We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.” As Christians, even in difficult times and in dire straits, we need to stick to our Christian Principles and “do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” (Matthew 7:12 ; Luke 6:31) even regarding interrogation techniques!

Abbas Barzegar gave some wonderful reflections on how the United States’ use of torture has affected the Muslim world and the Middle East. Barzegar stated that the pictures that emerged from Abu Ghraib unfortunately confirmed the fears that many Muslims and Middle Easterners already had about the United States. Namely, that, while speaking about moral leadership in the world and seeming to champion democracy and human rights, the US was acting in deeply and horrifically hypocritical ways. On a hopeful note, though, Barzegar relayed that the Muslim world is willing to believe in the ideals of America and that America can once again be a leader in human rights. The hope is that the torture, deceptions, and cover-ups that have taken place under the Bush Administration will be part of an isolated, though dark, chapter in American history never to be repeated.


One Response to “What the Torture Debate Reveals about American Christianity”

  • Kevin Crawford Says:

    I’m wondering if our inclination toward or away from torture is in any way connected to our more basic stance on confrontation and conflict. Do our views on conflict sway our ethics? To what means are any of us willing to go to ensure our own safety? It may not seem like an immediate threat to an individual which would initiate torture but when the information saves lives isn’t it necessary to use any means necessary. If someone threatens your life, don’t we all reserve the right to defend ourselves? On the other hand what is it that we can do to prevent such events from occurring again? What can we as Christians to in a proactive stance to work towards a world where torture isn’t necessary for the survival of the masses?

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