Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tortured Faith...

The most recent polling data expresses that Evangelical Christians are divided over the issue of torture, but that a) Evangelicals have a higher acceptance rate of torture than other expressions of Christianity, and b) there is a relationship between church attendance and torture: the more often you attend, the more likely you are to approve of torture!

Why is this? I'd suggest that it's because of the reality that church history is filled with justifications for war; it's reality, it's cost, it's justifiability. You can find it easily in CS Lewis. Even among those committed to non-violence, it's not hard to find convictions melting away in the heat and reality of the moment, as seen by Bonhoeffer.

I don't have conclusions as much as observations:

1. Since the primary calling of a Christ follower is to make Jesus visible, it's a slippery slope to ever justify violence. The justification itself presumes a position (usually) of moral high ground, presuming to both know enough and be righteous enough to resort to violence or torture for the greater good, and in God's name. Of course, the other side also claims the same moral high ground quite often... the more so these days as so much of war has religious overtones.
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2. God DID say that the purpose of the state is to curb evil, so that it doesn't reign unchecked, coursing through cultures, conquering nations, furthering darkness. Further, God advocates that the state must bear the sword in order to do this. Since I've never met a Christian pacifist who advocates anarchy, I'm assuming that Christian pacifists advocate that all use of violence be outsourced to people without faith? How would we presume that such people will have the wisdom to know when to use their guns? Wouldn't it be better for Christ followers to be in a positions where they have adequate authority to choose, on the basis of their dual citizenship as those belonging to heaven and earth, when to use violence?

3. There are no easy options here, and we who write from the towers of theory must be careful to hold our positions with humility. Bonhoeffer advocated non-violence until Hitler showed up. Even then, while party to an assassination attempt, he declared that there were "no good options". I sometimes think that's the reality of it when living in a fallen world. We're here, in the midst of sin, as citizens of a new world, while still living in an old one. Working it out is tough.

Maybe people's thoughts would help clarify our convictions...??? I welcome your posts.

18 Comments:

At 15/5/09 10:30, Blogger Kevin said...

Firstly, I do not believe it to be a slippery slope to advocate violence; it is only ever abominable. Whether it be the wholesale bloodshed of war or the marshal discipline of spanking our children, there is no just cause for human violence, for we are incapable of understanding and comprehending justice. This means that there is never a good time for violence, never a moment when the turn toward violence is the appropriate response. The acts of torture that we carried out are despicable and their stains will mark us and our children. We may not have wanted to participate directly, but we wanted to feel safe and in the name of our own safety we set aside our God-given humanity.

Secondly, it is not surprising that so many Evangelicals advocate our "advanced interrogation techniques," for we have created a religious culture that has blurred the lines between violence and love. Under the rubric of "tough love," we would much rather strike our children than listen to them, expel the immoral brother than understand his pain, and spend our lives lashing ourselves and others for our own self-perceived wretchedness. I say that we are redeemed, not wretched, and that the promise of the Kingdom of God is a promise of a life without violence. How are we making the Kingdom real if we advocate the torture of any of God's children?

 
At 15/5/09 11:22, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

wow... wasn't clear that I was advocating torture, so perhaps I miscommunicated. I was trying to articulate why I think some Christians DO support these techniques, and I DO feel that the discussion falls, as a subcategory, under the rubric of just war. It's THAT category that I was interested in discussing.

I'm respectful of the strong feelings Kristin, and actually agree with them.

Still the questions remain answered... is all violence wrong? If so, why did Paul sanction the use of the sword in Romans 13? Was Bonhoeffer wrong? Is it in the Christian's purview to outsource all violence so the sword is only carried by those w/o a Christian worldview? Are we citizens of one world or two?

It's fine to disagree with waterboarding. I do. But behind the easier question, these larger questions loom.

 
At 15/5/09 11:30, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

thanks for the resources Kristin. Again, to be clear -I don't need convincing. I want to understand why Chrsitians think it's OK, and why those who attend church MORE OFTEN are more inclined to approve of this?

Behind those stats, I believe there's a great deal of muddy thinking about violence and nationalism, subjects rooted in our understanding of the role of war and violence in the world as people of faith. So... the questions in the post are still up for discussion...

 
At 15/5/09 11:51, Blogger Kevin said...

It doesn't seem as though Paul is advocating the use of the sword as much as he is simply offering an observation on its presence and historical use against those who resist and oppose the state. For an emerging community, often itself associated with a rebellious ethnic minority of similar mores, it would be important to insist that their religion not become something akin to nationalism and thus challenge and pose a threat to the Empire. Moreover, observation of the potential for violence does not equate advocacy.

Was Bonhoeffer wrong? I honestly don't know, but I have a hard time seeing how he was right...

 
At 15/5/09 11:53, Anonymous Kristin Brown said...

I'm glad you don't need convincing, Richard. Unfortunately, as your post points out, it seems many people do need to hear the truth and understand why torture is CLEARLY, ALWAYS, ethically, morally, legally, WRONG. I put the information out there as a witness to truth.

My main objection is to asking the question whether or not torture is wrong, for Christians or otherwise. My response to that answers stands, unapologetically.

 
At 15/5/09 13:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with you on WHY Do Christians approve torture ? i don't think people are REALLY Hearing you,Preacher !! the questions remains...As a Native, Americans has always tortured our people all in the of Religlious or God. Look in the history books or hear stories how Natives were torture all in the name of God.

The question is, WHY???

 
At 15/5/09 13:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i often wonder the "why?" question as well. sure, i don't agree with torture of any kind, but that doesn't mean i can't ask why people do. i want to understand those who are different from me before i pass judgement.

i was hoping this post would let someone shed light on the why... but i think it's too late for that. IF i thought that violence was part of god's plan and he had reasons for it, i sure wouldn't share it on this blog post. mainly because i would feel like someone would chop my head off for disagreeing with them.

violence isn't the only thing that hurts and oppresses people.

 
At 15/5/09 16:51, Blogger Sean said...

Do you think people approve of torture because the views in our culture tend to oscillate between "legally sanctioned military force" and "never a good time for violence"? It's quite confusing, even if you read up on one side of the debate, because the other side always has an answer. One would think there would be a balance somewhere, but I've yet to see that pop up anywhere. I think the whole notion of a "just war" plays a big role in the muddiness of thought. I doubt there has ever been a war where someone didn't think they were just.

But I don't know really. Bonhoeffer intrigues me quite a bit, but mainly because it seems he despised doing what he thought was best. Takes a lot of will to live that way.

I guess one could argue we live in a violent world (one only needs watch Animal Planet for proof), and as such people will always be violent. Its in our natures, perhaps?

 
At 15/5/09 22:24, Blogger kfrye said...

I think you bring up a good point that deserves some attention. It is very easy to say, "all violence is always wrong" and then end the conversation. I believe violence is wrong, i can't really think of any violence I would approve of, but does that mean it doesn't have a place. Should we all sit by and watch fascist leaders pursue genocide without intervening? But then what does violence bring us except more violence in the form of revenge? Perhaps that is what Bonhoeffer was refering to when he said there were no good options. We cannot sit idly by, but what then can we do? I don't think there is an easy answer.

It is unsettling to me that people use god to support their claims for violence. It has happened all through history- with the crusades, slavery, the native americans, gays...anything we disagree with we think we have the right to destroy. I think that's when violence becomes the scariest, when people feel vindicated by their cause to do whatever they think is necessary. There is no cause that justifies torturing or taking another person's life...but then if I had been given the opportunity to stop someone like Hitler by shooting him, would I shoot? would you? I don't know. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword... we can pretend it's a black and white issue, open and closed, but it's really not and i'm glad you brought it up.

 
At 16/5/09 08:36, Anonymous Ken said...

This is a very difficult topic because we bring so many preconceived notions of war, torture, justice, mercy, etc. to the discussion. But I would share an experience from my past that may speak to the issue. While volunteering in search and rescue through the Sheriff's office I rose to a leadership position and was asked to take an "Arrest and Firearms" class because I was a "sort of deputy". It ended up being quite interesting, taught by a retired LA patrol cop who had the rare history of being in not one but two fatal shootings. He shared of responding to a call of a prowler in a neighborhood and upon arrival spotted someone duck into some bushes in a dead end alleyway. As he got out of his patrol car two shots hit his door. Instinctively from his training he drew his gun, hit the ground and fired three shots at the flash in the bushes. After the dust had settled, the assailant was found to be a twelve year old boy with the gun that had fired the shots.

Sad story... But afterward this cop faced mandatory counseling and had a tough time convincing his counselor he had no regrets. Was he sad it was a twelve year old? Yes. However he said that did not change anything. Would he rather it had been himself, his partner and/or other innocent bystanders dead? No. Sometimes cops are asked to be judge, jury and executioner. Know the law and yourself and make your best call in tough situations for the good of society-at-large.

Obama made many campaign statements and promises. Now as the President he is finding it much more difficult to simply leave Iraq, win in Afghanistan, close Gitmo, put terrorists on trial, etc. than he certainly ever suspected.

We live in a world governed by the aggressive use of force. It's a very broken world, but God has given us thousands of years of guidance to make decisions. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then the Jesus of Old Testament times asked His people to wipe out entire races. How do we reconcile that? One day we will judge angels. In this life we are sometimes called to make judgments. The girl at Columbine made a judgment, declared her faith and died. Other Christians I know serve as peace officers or in our military just as readily declaring their faith in service to others. Just as we apply God's mercy and grace, sometimes we also must apply God's justice and protect those unable to protect themselves. At times individuals (and nations) put themselves above all else, including God and they must be dealt with. We as God's people must search ourselves and determine how best to serve the Kingdom.

 
At 16/5/09 14:35, Blogger Kristin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 18/5/09 09:20, Blogger nach said...

Why are evangelicals more likely to "approve" of torture? Because God ordered Israel to acts of genocide and God is good. All "just war theory" is an untagling of this apparent mess. We ALL make concessions to the falleness of this world. I've never met a pacifist in Seattle who also didn't lock their door at night.

 
At 18/5/09 23:12, Blogger Geoff said...

Hi Richard, your post has inspired to blog my own thoughts:

gdargan.blogspot.com

:-)

 
At 19/5/09 23:14, Blogger Krista said...

I know I'm a little late to this party, but as I was reading through the comments a thought occurred to me... (and yes, I have a pacifist for a husband! ;)
For all the money we've spent on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wouldn't it have better been invested in things like clean safe drinking water, better infrastructure and schools? I've heard somewhere that the cost to bring clean drinking water to every person in the world is *only* about 10 billion dollars.

I can't begin to know what the logistics of this would be, but I wonder how many militants and crazies would still want to attack us if we were actively working to make the world a better place?

 
At 20/5/09 07:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lost somewhere in this discussion is the simple reality that we as a nation are not dealing with rational people. Terrorists are sociopaths and it isn't clean water, better schools, roads, infrastructure or even love that they desire. What they want is for Americans to die because they have been raised to focus their hatred by their "religious" fanatic leaders. I have no argument with loving our enemy, but if it has no effect on changing their ways, then are we all called to lay down our lives in surrender as a nation? That is what they want.

 
At 23/5/09 11:59, Anonymous thomas said...

Just a note on the Bonhoeffer point: Bonhoeffer is often enlisted as a pacifist who, when confronted with brutal reality, became an advocate for for the use of violence in (extreme) situations, such as the one he found himself in. However, when we enlist Bonhoeffer to make a case for the use of violence this seems to me to miss the point of Bonhoeffer's final work, Ethics, (which was left, tragically, incomplete). Part of Bonhoeffer's argument in Ethics (whether you find it convincing or not is another matter), is that Christian ethics cannot be a matter of choosing the best possible action out of a variety of potential goods and evils (in one of our current national dicussions: whether to inflict physical/psychological pain in interrogation of suspected threats to national security). This is ethics of the "knowledge of good and evil", placing us in the position of judge, and it speaks to our "disunion" with our origin, says Bonhoeffer, of essential unity with God. The Christian, suggests Bonhoeffer, instead of conforming to an ethical code/standard, is instead, in union with Christ, undergoing formation as a new unified being (Christ is formed within you, rather than you conforming to a code - be it pacifism or justified violence). For Christian ethics, what then becomes essential, is not determining what is right or wrong (ie. exercising our knowledge of good and evil), but the will of God. Now determining the will of God is not some sort of simplistic or mystical thing - but the shift of our primary foundation in ethical reflection that Bonhoeffer is describing here from conformation to formation is crucial if somewhat impractical when we want to enlist his help in most ethical debates.

As far as how I understand what Bonhoeffer was saying, living rightly in the world does not involve a judgment of the available options in our circumstances, but in living out the will of God in those circumstances (which involves taking ethical and moral action - and I would contrast 'ethical decision' with 'ethical action' - but as a living out of the will of God). This may even mean rejecting or living under condemnation of your own ethical code (as Bonhoeffer did as a committed pacifist involved in a conspiracy to assasinate Hitler - with all the killing and destruction that a military takeover of the Hitler regime would have necessarily involved - and which the failed assasination attempts did involve). I think describing Bonhoeffer's progression as a progression from pacifist to justified violence is too simplistic - and it does not do justice to how he himself saw what he was doing - he was not rejecting one moral code (pacifism) for a new one (justified violence). A better way to describe what occurred within him, and how he seems to have been more likely to describe it himself, is a move from moralism to a new understanding of Christ's relationship to our present reality through us - I think he might say a move from moralism to true Christianity. I just think we should be cautious with how we want to enlist Bonhoeffer as an advocate for justified violence. We look at the outcome of his actions, and sometimes miss the origins of those same actions as we work backward.

 
At 23/5/09 11:59, Anonymous thomas said...

As far as your question Richard, regarding why American evangelicals are more comfortable with torture, - I think that we could side-step the whole violence/non-violence debate for a moment and I would point to what could be (arguably) a bigger issue, namely the idol of nationalism, which seems to infect Republicans and Democrats both, if in different ways. I'm not American, and I find the partisan split in the American church shocking, and perhaps I am making an unfair assumption here - but do you think the numbers would be the way they are among Evangelicals (who are still dominated demographically by Republicans I believe) if it had been a Democratic president who had authorized these techniques and a Republican majority was now taking advantage of the opportunity to possibly prosecute those that authorized the torture because it is now politically expedient? On a related question I wonder if evangelical Christians in other countries would also poll in the same way as evangelicals here?

 
At 23/5/09 15:58, Anonymous Ken said...

Thank you, Thomas. Your point about determining God's will in a given situation was the issue I mentioned in my earlier post. If it was indeed God's will at times in man's history to have His people properly execute (literally) His will by the elimination of individuals or nations, why is it so different in our present times? As distasteful and seemingly "Un-Jesus" as war and its full array of connected messiness is, the question remains... Is there ever a proper time for war? What about simple law enforcement? How does what our local police is called to do any different from what our nation's security forces (i.e. Army, Navy, etc.) are called to do except on a much larger, global scale?

This current argument is in regards to torture where we seem to find a big gap between the two. But do we really? How often do local police "force" information from criminals in the infamous "ticking time bomb" scenario in trying to locate a kidnap victim or a very real bomb? In theoretical discussion, we all love the high moral road of no torture ever, but in real situations with people that have no regard for human life endangering thousands of innocent people, can we be so certain? If your loved ones are at ground zero and you know you have the person with the knowledge to save their lives, what would you do? What would God call you to do?

Our present enemies had no "Gitmo" or "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a rallying cry before 9/11. Yet on that day they struck our nation with no more care for the lives they snuffed out than for their own. They have since brutally tortured and killed numerous additional American soldiers and civilians and our allies with the same disregard for human life. I believe with confidence that nothing our nation has done has approached that level of brutality. Have we made mistakes? Certainly. Has that inflamed them into a hotter fury? Hardly. It has merely given them "good press" to justify their, (what did the anonymous post call them?) Oh yes, sociopath behavior. We need to get a grip on who's who, what's what. Does God really call everyone in this present life to surrender to the evil around us? I have a hard time believing that.

 

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