Monday, March 10, 2008

Speaking out against torture

I usually refrain from commenting on specific political issues. While I believe Christianity should be politically engaged, I don't believe it should be partisan in the way many on the Religious Right have been during my lifetime, seemingly giving unwavering support to one particular political party no matter what they do. Not being part of the Religious Right, I don't want to replicate the problem by giving unwavering support to the other political party. So what I'm about to say should not be taken as an endorsement of any political party or individual candidate for elected office.

At the end of last week President Bush vetoed a bill that would ban what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" that include a practice called "waterboarding", which creates the sensation of drowning for the purpose of extracting information from a person. I believe that waterboarding is cruel, inhumane punishment, and that terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" are a fancy way of avoiding the only adequate term for such practices: torture.

As a citizen of the United States, my government represents me in all of its policies. I have not only the right but the duty to speak out when my government's practices conflict with my personal beliefs.

Much more importantly, as a Christian I cannot sit silently while another human being is being subjected to such cruel treatment. Every human being, including a terrorist, is a child of God, lovingly created in God's image. God weeps whenever human life is treated as anything less than sacred. Practices like waterboarding are not acceptable to those who believe in the sanctity of human life.

One of the cornerstones of both of George W. Bush's campaigns for President was his very public Christian faith and his claims to be a strong moral leader. He claims to be staunchly pro-life, referring to his opposition to abortion. A great moral leader who is truly pro-life would respect life both in and out of the womb. 

The sacredness of human life is something granted by God's grace, and as such cannot be lessened or taken away by anything a person can do, including murder or acts of terrorism. Those who commit such acts should be detained and prevented from committing further acts that disrespect the sanctity of human life, but that does not make it acceptable for governments to disrespect even a single human life in the pursuit of protecting other lives. Either every life is sacred or none are.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930s who opposed Hitler but, unlike colleagues like Detrich Bonhoeffer (who called his own participation in the plot to kill Hitler a sin), didn't speak out, and he was eventually imprisoned in a concentration camp. Later he wrote a poem that said:

First they came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade Jews, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the homosexuals, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a homosexual.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.

I'm not worried that the US government is ever going to arrest me and subject me to waterboarding. But it doesn't matter. Fellow human beings are being tortured by my government, and because I am a Christian I cannot stay silent.


ed said...

I am afraid that when we utilize so called "enhanced interrogation techniques" we are no better than those against whom we struggle. We become as much terrorists as those who set roadside bombs to kill innocent people. Why the president vetoed this bill is beyond my understanding. If he is as strong a believer as he proclaims where is the proof. Jesus did say that we know them by their fruit.

B Smith said...

Amen Matt. Well said.