Jesus was tortured to end all torture

Dec 16, 2014 by

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I grieve over torture. I grieve not only for those subjected to abuse no human being should be forced to endure. I grieve not primarily as an American citizen who feels ashamed of the morally bankrupt national leadership that authorized and promoted the practice. I grieve not just as an individual who is personally appalled that supposedly civilized people could bring themselves to deliberately inflict prolonged and terrifying pain on helpless captives.

I also grieve as a Christian minister who hears brothers and sisters in Christ voicing support for torture, torturers and those in authority who sanctioned torture. And these are not just an isolated few. Polls show that at least half of Americans support torture at least in some circumstances.

The distribution of torture supporters among the population is not even. Considerably more Republicans support torture than Democrats, but the percentage of both groups is high. White people are more likely to be torture supporters than people of color. Religious people are more likely to support torture than the religiously non-affiliated. Those who are the very most likely to support torture are people who go to church the most, particularly white evangelicals, according to a Pew poll taken a few years ago.

I grieve. And I’m disgusted. It is enough to make you want to quit church. It seems that going to church exposes people to bad moral influences. But I know that the influences that leads Christians in America to support torture have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with the propaganda absorbed from politicians and partisan pundits that have a greater impact on a lot of church-goers that the Gospel of love.

Unfortunately, too many Christians in American listen more carefully to people like Bill O’Reilly than they do to Jesus. O’Reilly, who often announces that he is a Christian, boldly asserted that torture is “morally correct.” Why? “It is morally correct to protect innocent lives from barbarians.” No one disputes that innocent lives should be protected. At issue is how people are to be protected. A good end does not justify every means possible, at least not if Jesus matters.

But it seems that lifting up the ominous images of 9/11 and repeating warnings about the threatening nature of radical Islamists is a sufficient argument for torture. “We have to protect ourselves and do whatever it takes.” Forget Jesus. Forget, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17-18; 1 Peter 3:9). Torture is acceptable because, as O’Reilly has said, “Bad things happen in war.” And in the war on terror, whatever bad is done by the U.S. is small potatoes compared to the evil of them.

Of course, among torture supporters the concern for protecting the innocent doesn’t extend to the many innocent ones who are caged in Guantanamo Bay (a majority of the detainees, by any credible account). Instead of Gitmo being filled with “the worst of the worst,” as President Bush once claimed, Army Major General Antonio Taguba’s investigation found otherwise. Years before the Senate report released this week, he discovered, “Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees . . . systemic and illegal abuse.” His investigations led him to conclude that most who were locked away were innocent, picked up in sweeps.

But I have heard Christians heartlessly disregard any concern for these innocent people. Instead many of my brothers and sister in Christ have echoed the politicians’ and pundits’ quibbling over the definition of torture. Minimizing the suffering of others by those who have had no similar experience is shameful, utterly unworthy of those who claim to follow Jesus. It is noteworthy that one politician who has not indulged in this self-serving callousness of his colleagues is someone who actually has some personal experience, Senator John McCain.

I’m not interested in arguments about whether torture resulted in information that “made us safer.” There are good reasons to doubt those claims, claims mostly made by people who have vested. Regardless, as someone who is unwilling to put Jesus on the curb when the rubber hits the road, I believe torture must be condemned without qualification as unambiguously evil and utterly incompatible with following Jesus.

American Christians need to remember who we call Lord. I grieve because it seems many have forgotten. With Jesus, “whatever it takes” never meant whatever suffering and destruction inflicted on others. Rather “whatever it takes” meant suffering for the sake of others. Our Lord was a victim of torture. His torture was done to him in the name of “national security” (John 11:50). Security was not among the values Jesus extolled. Supporters of torture — then and now — deceive themselves about the nobility of the ends they seek and the effectiveness of the violent means they use.

Jesus was never one who pressed the point of nails into anyone else’s flesh. Jesus was on the receiving end of the nails. And we can’t legitimately claim to follow him if we insist on doing “whatever it takes” to someone else in order to avoid finding ourselves on the sharp end of the nails. As Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

Craig M. Watts Craig M. Watts is the minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Fla., and co-moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. This post is provided thanks to a partnership with Red Letter Christians, where this first appeared. 


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  • Jerry Moyer

    I agree that we should not torture our enemies but I am uncomfortable with your seeming disregard of the very real torture and death inflicted on thousands of ordinary people on 9/11 and of the real and present danger that continues to this day. ISIS and other extremist groups want to kill you and your family simply because you are not a follower of their particular distorted view of Islam. If you haven’t done so already, you should go to the 9/11 memorial in New York. Go at night like I did when you can see the thousands of backlit names around glowing streams of water pouring down into the black abyss while you recall the explosions overhead and the people jumping to their deaths to avoid the agony of dying by fire. Walk over to the nearby fire station and read the names of the over 300 fire fighters killed that day. Imagine what the families of all those killed and seriously injured must still be going through. Write about that first and then you can legitimately write about how we should treat our enemies.

    • Herbert Reed

      You present a false choice. We can mourn the loss of life on 9/11 and the violent deeds of ISIS and also deplore the use of torture by our government. We are not responsible for the deeds of the those who attacked us on 9/11. We are responsible for the deeds of our government. Protesting one is not disregarding the other.

    • Berry Friesen

      Jerry, you are right to express outrage about the evil of 9/11.

      Yet we have this standard wisdom from intelligence professionals: torture produces intelligence
      garbage. That isn’t something liberals thought up; it’s an axiom of the trade. So let’s be thoughtful here. Why did the USA start emphasizing a technique it knew would produce garbage?

      Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times, Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times during a six-month period from August 2002 until April 2003. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi was turned over to Egypt for
      brutal torture during the same period of time. They are three examples that help us think this through.

      What was going on during that time period? The campaign to convince the American people to support the invasion of Iraq was one thing.

      During the torture of al-Libi, he was asked to talk about what he knew of Iraq, al-Qaeda and nuclear weapons. He knew absolutely nothing. After the pain became intolerable, he provided a made-up story that met his interrogators wishes. President Bush spoke soon after (October 2002) in Cincinnati: “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” I still remember that speech; lots of people do.

      Preparation for the official 9/11 investigation (authorized by Congress and approved by President Bush in November 2002) was a second really important activity during this period of
      time. As it turned out, at least 25 percent of the footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report released in the summer of 2004 cite information gained from suspects being tortured.

      CIA Director John Brennan admitted using the information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. So that’s a third very important use of garbage intelligence: scare FISA judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.

      A fourth reason torture was used is that it is an extremely effective way to recruit victims to become covert operators for the USA. You know, work for groups like ISIS, do terrible stuff and keep the USA informed about it all.

      Think about it, Jerry. The story you and I have been told about 9/11, about the need to destroy
      Iraq, about the need to invade the privacy of every American—it all had to have urgent justification. America wouldn’t transform itself into a security state willy-nilly; there had to be a
      reason.

      Torture provided the reason. To read for yourself, do a search for “The Debate about Torture We’re Not Having: Exploitation.”

  • Stephanie Siam

    I want to thank you for writing this. I am Muslim, formerly Christian (Church of Christ, to be exact). It truly hurts me to see people who claim to be Christians and act as completely unlike Jesus (may peace be upon him) as they can get. Jesus (pbuh) spread love, not hate. He taught tolerance, not revenge. It’s so exhausting seeing people use religion to hurt, torture and kill others — any religion. It’s definitely not something the God I worship would promote…..

    Thank you again for writing this beautiful article!