Evangelicals opposing torture

waterboardingWhat in the world was the Apostle Paul thinking in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 when he told Christians to eliminate all divisions and “be perfectly united in mind and thought”?

The National Association of Evangelicals’ annual meeting in Eden, Minn., was a largely neglected story. The conservative group “condemned torture by the U.S. military” and said that the U.S. has crossed “boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible.” The endorsement of the document by 17 evangelical scholars, writers and activists united as Evangelicals for Human Rights was made by a 38 to 1 vote, with Jerald Walz of the Institute on Religion and Democracy as the lone negative vote.

The best story on this vote so far has come from the Associated Press’ Rachel Zoll, who was also one of the first on the story (aside from Reuters and the one-sentence mention from The Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman on Sunday). Zoll’s lede is quick to the language of the statement, while the Reuters article (with an odd Dallas dateline) focused more on the evangelical cat fight that is by now nearly a week-old story.

Here’s the AP:

The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed an anti-torture statement saying the United States has crossed “boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible” in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.

Human rights violations committed in the name of preventing terrorist attacks have made the country look hypocritical to the Muslim world, the document states. Christians have an obligation rooted in Scripture to help Americans “regain our moral clarity.”

“Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values,” the document says. “The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9-11.”

The New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein picked up the whole evangelical cat fight story on Wednesday and tucked the torture issue in near the top. Here’s an interesting note from the lone dissenter on the torture vote:

The only board member who has voiced public criticism of Mr. Cizik is Jerald Walz, who represents the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a resource group for conservatives in mainline Protestant denominations.

Mr. Walz said many board members were angry about the letter concerning Mr. Cizik because it was sent to the news media before the board received it. His was the sole vote against endorsing the document on torture; he said he thought it needed more time for consideration.

Someone should go ask Dr. Dobson and his people about sowing disunity among Christians. I’d be curious to hear what he has to say.

But back to the torture document. An angle that everyone except the Times is missing is that the NAE did this three years ago. Does that make this less newsworthy? That depends. None of the stories say whether this statement is stronger than before or has more support from the group’s members.

A final thing that I hope reporters will follow up on in a press conference sometime soon is the “White House spokesman” who said he could not immediately comment on the group’s condemnation of torture. Who is this spokesman? Is it Tony Snow, who has quite a spiritual testimony? Will the AP follow up on this piece once the White House decides to comment?

I hope a reporter will ask Bush about this at his next press conference.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The trouble is defining torture–some on the extreme left would consider a raised voice directed at one being questioned as “Torture.” On the other hand some on the extreme right would allow all that it takes- no matter how painful– to get needed information to head off a mass murder and still not label it “Torture.”

  • Brian

    Personally, I’m hoping someone asks Barry Lynn whether this is yet another sign of the looming theocratic fascism threatening the country…

  • Roberto Rivera

    The trouble is defining torture—some on the extreme left would consider a raised voice directed at one being questioned as “Torture.”

    With all due respect, Deacon Bresnahan, the people protesting the current policy aren’t talking about people raising their voice st prisoners or detainees. Folks like Mark Shea are simply pointing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  • Brian

    Roberto: Referring to the Catechism would be a good basis point if this statement were coming from the USCCB. Given that it’s the NAE we’re talking about, it’s not particularly relevant, is it?

  • Jerry


    The document refers to Catholic positions on torture albeit without mentioning the Catechism directly. But I assume the Catechism would like behind the positions they site and thus be indirectly relevant.

  • http://mrc.org Tim Graham

    Geek point: there is no Eden, Minnesota. There is an Eden Prairie in suburban Minneapolis.

  • Roberto Rivera

    Brian: my comment was in response to Deacon Bresnahan’s remarks about people objecting to yelling at prisoners, not the NAE statement itself.

  • http://orrologion.blogspot.com Christopher Orr

    6. The press release at nae.net for the event lists the location correctly as the southwestern suburb of Minneapolis, Eden Prairie:


    The other possibility could have been Edina, MN, but…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Roberto–I guess I should have made clear I was using the two most extreme positions I have heard or read in the media to point out that it is extremely important in a news story or debate to agree on a common definition of “Torture.” So often I have read or heard “Torture” condemned or approved, but with no definition of what exactly is being approved or condemned. Genuine “Torture” of course should be condemned, but there seems to be a problem in getting agreement on where strong or forceful interrogation ends and becomes “Torture.”

  • YetAnotherRick

    E. J. Dionne Jr. has joined the chorus:

    Christians Who Won’t Toe the Line

    While Googling this subject, I found another voice from the past:

    Bible Bloc
    The evangelical political movement is just getting started.

    Regarding the “NAE did this three years ago” about torture, I couldn’t find a specific reference. Do you have something with a URL?

  • Scott Allen

    Wow, how brave of the NAE and others to oppose “torture.” They issued some sort of environmental position recently, right? Is the NAE the lite beer version of the NCC?

    I guess it’s too much to ask for these “christian leaders” to focus on evangelizing — that is, spreading the Word about Christ.
    Why do we even discuss the political statements these groups announce from time-to-time? We’re only encouraging the self-importance of these fools.

  • Str1977


    Matthew 5,22

  • Scott Allen

    Thanks for the Matt 5:22.
    Now, explain what is meant by the verse. Or, here’s a strategy: just lazily type the numbers of a single verse, and pretend to yourself that this has any validity. Oh, you already did that! Good for you!

    Well, if you care to actually read the passage and think about it, try this…
    ESV: “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
    [a] Matthew 5:22 Some manuscripts insert “without cause”

    (1) Are these people my brothers?
    (2) Am I angry with them?
    (3) Some manuscripts include the words “without cause.” Am I calling them fools without a Biblical cause?
    (4) When the passage mentions the word “fool” (a loose interpretation of the Aramaic word “Raca” which in the Talmud can mean empty one, or empty-headed) why does it include the word “You?” Strictly speaking, isn’t Christ telling us to avoid angry fighting words?

    (1) I don’t know if these people are my brothers. That’s why I used scare quotes around the words “christian leaders.”
    (2) No, I am not angry with them. I am upset that christians are asked to treat their pronouncements as “news.”
    (3) My Biblical reason/cause was that their statements are distractions from the Great Commission.
    (4) Did I say “you fool” in the face of any one of these people? No.

    Now, you certainly may disagree with me. Still, perhaps what I wrote inspired actual thoughts, so as a result of my explanation you are no longer empty-headed and I will not call you a fool.
    Have a better one, and try to avoid taking isolated passages as proof texts.