By David P. Gushee
Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a series of two on David Gushee’s comments during the final event of our “Public Theology and the Sacredness of Human Life” series at All Saints Church on April 21, 2013. Find the second post here – including a video recording of his talk.
In the Fall of 2005 I was just minding my own business, sitting at my desk at the Southern Baptist college in Tennessee where I used to teach, when I got an email from the main editor at Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism. He was wondering if I would be willing to write a moral analysis of the issue of torture for their magazine. He said that they were getting a number of inquiries from evangelical Christians in the armed forces and intelligence services (there are lots of them) who were troubled by the treatment of prisoners that they were seeing or being asked to participate in. This was also not that long after the release of the horrifying pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, so the issue of prisoner abuse was on people’s minds. They wanted me to address it in their pages. I didn’t have much time, I hadn’t written about this before, but I felt I had to say yes to this invitation.
I Enter the Torture Fight
On February 1, 2006, the article came out. The editors called it “Five Reasons Why Torture Is Always Wrong.” I said right from the beginning that the 9/11 attacks were heinous and that the US had every right to defend itself. After that I tried to confine the question to whether the repertoire of legitimate self-defense measures, from a Christian perspective, could include torture. I said “absolutely not.”
I offered five reasons. Listen for the way my Christian tradition and its way of reasoning functioned in what follows:
1) Torture violates the dignity of the human being, made in the image of God.
Here is my actual language in the article:
“Every inch of the human body and every aspect of the human spirit come from God and bear witness to his handiwork. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–28). Human dignity, value, and worth come as a permanent and ineradicable endowment of the Creator to every person…Christians, at least, should be trained to see in every person the imprint of God’s grandeur. This should create in us a sense of reverence. Here, we say—and we say it even of detainees in the war on terror—is a human being sacred in God’s sight, made in God’s image, someone for whom Christ died.”
2) Torture mistreats the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.
I said: “In the Scriptures, God’s understanding of justice tilts toward the vulnerable. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry” (Ex. 22:21–23). Primary forms of injustice include violent abuse and domination of the powerless… The 83,000 people who have been detained by our government and military in the last four years are, as prisoners, vulnerable to injustice. Those who have been tortured are victims of injustice.”
3) Authorizing torture trusts Continue reading