For Christians, there is no torture debate

Branson Parler

Branson Parler
December 11, 2014

Christians considering the torture report should remember: if the choice is between doing evil and suffering evil, the latter is clearly to be preferred.

December 12, 2014

Thank you for the thoughtful piece and the insight into how remembrance is too often linked to retaliation. You've deepened the meaning of the Lord's Supper remembrance as well.

John Hogan
December 14, 2014

Branson, your article ignores a central tenant of scripture found in Romans 13: "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer". (NIV)
It seems to me that waterboarding is a fitting tool for "an agent of wrath" that has produced information "for my good". Perhaps we need to broaden the "Just War" doctrine.
To make the claims that torture is an intrinsically evil act and that Christians need not be concerned with the consequences of evil in this world are naïve and narrow minded at best.
As for remembrance, 9/11 reminds me that the body count should have been much, much higher for the destruction of two building where nearly 50,000 people worked each day - why not higher? - but for the grace of God. Were the passengers of flight 93 wrong to confront evil as they did? Sometimes we must pray for God's protection and sometimes we must charge the cockpit door. On that flight - both were done to God's honor and glory. God's nature is to abhor evil. Do we?
We cannot falsely believe that there is something we are doing that is making Radical Islam angry with the West. That is to say, we just stop "torture" they will return the favor and stop beheading, car bombs, rocket attacks, etc. It is not in the nature of evil to change except for the power of the Holy Spirit and the Resurrection.
Finally, to equate "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by American intelligence services with the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans by calling them both torture is trite and immature. How in any way is that a logical or believable comparison? You denigrate the willing self-sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. Philippians 2:8

Branson Parler
December 15, 2014

John, thanks for your interaction. Here are a few thoughts in response.

First, Romans 13 can’t be invoked to justify government doing evil. If something is intrinsically wrong, then no one—no individual and no government—can ever be justified in doing it. Perhaps we disagree that torture is intrinsically wrong.

Second, if Romans 13 applies to any and every state, then certainly enemies of the USA are justified in using torture against Americans to extract information. Americans have done their fair share of killing innocent civilians. Therefore, enemy governments would be justified in their use of torture against American soldiers. To say that Americans can torture because it’s for the best, but other nations can’t, presumes a kind of sinlessness for America that is highly problematic.

Third, your logic is still consequentialist: if it produces results that are “for my good,” it’s justified. I’d be curious to know where you would draw the line. What about threatening or actually sexually abusing/assaulting a family member of an imprisoned terrorist? That may actually prove to be a very effective method of extracting information. So do we say that’s allowed because it leads to good consequences? Again, to say that the ends justifies the means is very popular; but I’m saying that it’s also not very Christian.

Fourth, I didn’t say Christians need not be concerned with consequences of evil in the world. I noted that doing evil to prevent evil is not a Christian response. The efforts of Flight 93 passengers were not torture. There’s a difference between justifiable force—which is just that: justifiable—and torture, which is intrinsically wrong.

Fifth, I was operating with a standard definition of torture, as given in the first article of the UN Convention against torture. I think we need to recognize that crucifixion is not just a generic punishment for criminals, but the kind of torture and death reserved specifically for political insurrectionists, those who pose a grave threat to the Roman Empire. We often fail to see Jesus’ suffering and death in all of its historical, cultural, and political complexity. I don’t deny that Jesus’ suffering and death is unique. But the theological significance of his death does not preclude commonalities with others who have suffered torture. After all, he was crucified alongside others who were accused of similar activities. Does that fact “denigrate” Jesus’ death? I think not. But this illuminates that our logic is that of Caiaphas: it is expedient that one man be tortured and killed rather than the whole nation. And so we find ourselves not operating with the mind of Christ—suffering love—but the mind of Caiaphas—calculating preservation. So again, I ask: what’s the advantage of gaining your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and losing your soul?

December 16, 2014

Branson, thank you for your article. You have provided words, provoked deeper thought and given new insight on a subject that I find so deplorable and heartbreaking. You have captured it perfectly: "What is the advantage of gaining the world and losing your soul."
It just seems so clear that torture is wrong and a terrible kind of evil. A human life is a human life - I cannot imagine any reason to justify such evil and abuse of another human being.

John Hogan
December 16, 2014

First, I do not believe that all torture is intrinsically wrong. So, yes, we disagree. Human life is intrinsically precious - it is created by God. The purpose of "torture/EIT" as practiced rightly is to prevent death and I might add any permanent damage to the one interrogated.
Second, you are implying that I said that only the American government is allowed to torture? What? "Americans have done their fair share of killing innocent civilians". Wow! - that is truly a stunning statement of moral equivalence to a lot of really bad actors on the stage of history. Are you also implying that the torture received by an American soldier and an ISIS member would be the same should they each be captured by the other side? Authority of any government of man is given by God and they will be accountable to Him. Those influenced by the religion of "Leftism" believe that they are a-nationalistic - citizens of the world. This is not really an option for Biblical Christians. While we are citizens of an eternal kingdom, it does not excuse us from being the best citizens we can be in the nation we happen to live now. It is part of the stewardship of our lives on earth. Being in the U.S. Navy was one of the most profoundly Christian experiences of my life - I was a servant and I was part of a "body" - something that we easily lose touch with in our highly individualist society/culture. John Calvin referred to the soldier as an agent of God's love.
Third, really? Where do you think I would draw the line if you knew I had served as an elder in two Reformed denominations? Does being a Calvinist who believes in a providential God make me a consequentialist? There can be legitimate danger in "the end justifies the means" but there are also evils that must be confronted and where a line of inaction/omission would make one an accomplice to the one who comes to rob, kill and destroy.
Fourth - yes justifiable - why because lives were at stake. They are still at stake every day by evildoers. Read "One Second After" if you would like to see an example of what unstopped evil might look like.
Fifth - three points:
1) UN Convention against torture - what significance vis-à-vis Rom. 13?
2) ISIS crucifying Christians today. Imagine the pain of a loving Father God.
3) your argument is zero sum, i.e. only one side can win - why? Why wouldn't God (same loving Father) want us to experience goodness in this life as well as the next? Does the fallen sinful world need to be as fallen as it can be until Christ comes again or are we called to be agents of redemption/righteous now? Christ is Risen! By faith in His sacrifice – the gift of grace I cannot lose my soul. How do I then show my gratitude? False piety?

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