When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.... These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.
--Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to
those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone
takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who
asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to
others as you would have them do to you.
--Jesus, Luke 6:27-31.
These two opposing statements by former Vice-President Dick Cheney and Jesus Christ bring into sharp relief the contradictions of being a country that simultaneously lays claim to Judeo Christian values while going to any lengths to protect and preserve the American empire - including torture.
There are compelling pragmatic questions that need to be raised about torture such as the evidence that shows that torture is ineffective in getting trustworthy information; and whether US torture practice has provided recruitment tools for al Qaida and severely damaging our global reputation. But putting these questions aside - what does the practice of torture by our government say about those of us who are American Christians and our commitment to Jesus?
Some of the great evangelists of the early church were the martyrs (Paul and Stephen being the main figures) who were themselves tortured, but continue to profess what they believe. They never used violence or coercion to spread the faith; rather people came to Jesus in part because of the non-violent Christian witness of the early members.
They were a strange crew these Christians who followed this even stranger Jesus who was himself tortured and killed and rose again. They espoused love in the face of hate, generosity in the face of theft, blessings for curses, and turning the cheek in the face of violence. They did this not out of a sense of weakness, but out of strength. They had been admitted into God's royal spiritual kingdom and so they granted a certain noblesse oblige of love and peace to the violent material world around them.
This changed when Constantine made Christianity the official church of the Roman Empire and the church was co-opted. Members of the church began to use the violent techniques of force that had formerly been used against us - the Crusades and the Inquisition being two prime examples. George Bush and other professing Christians succumbed to the temptation of perceived expediency to employ torture in order to preserve national economic and security interests. Dick Cheney says "these are evil people" as a way to justify torture. But Christians have dealt with evil people before and Jesus taught us explicitly that evil is never overcome by evil; it is over come by Good. Plus, Jesus' final words in Luke 6 - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you - have a chilling resonance when it comes to torture.
These torture documents do make me frustrated that our legal system was subverted, and our national reputation damaged. But mostly they make me fearful for our national soul. Let us practice the time-honored tradition of confession and repentance. The airing of these memos by President Obama is a good place to start, now let us continue to rid ourselves of this stain on our society and banish the barbaric and un-Christian practice of torture forever.
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