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Slandering Ourselves

As a child I was taught that the ends do not justify the means. Or as the New Testament says it, we don’t do evil so that good may result (Romans 3:8). But a new survey reveals that many Evangelicals either haven’t read the New Testament or have decided to scrap that rather inconvenient aspect of Christian morality.

CNN reports that “White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified—more than six in 10 supported it.” That’s right. Evangelicals—those who claim that the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives within them—are more likely to go against the teachings of Jesus (if they believe something good may come of it) than those who seldom or never attend church. In fact, according to this survey, “The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists.” It makes me wonder what is being taught in American churches. Is going to church supposed to make us less like Christ?

I know that some will accuse me of being simplistic. They say that these are complicated moral issues. I would agree that ethical arguments regarding violence can be complex. I’ve been studying the moral issues surrounding war and peace for almost thirty years. I’ve read all the arguments from the various perspectives. But there is a certain measure of simplicity in the midst of the complex theories. To justify the use of torture you must either say: a) torture isn’t evil, or b) something—some circumstance—can justify doing evil.

The proponents of torture have been busy with both arguments. White House lawyers wrote memos saying that torture isn’t torture. The arguments are hard to swallow. When other nations used these “techniques,” we called them war crimes. When our own soldiers used them in Vietnam, we court marshaled them. But now they are not torture? That’s the key—now. And that leads to the second argument. The circumstances have changed and because of those circumstances what was a crime is now acceptable. It’s called situation ethics. (See “Tortured Morals” post below.) It was exemplified in recent days by the former vice president of the United States. After the Obama administration authorized the release of torture memos, Dick Cheney called for more. Why? Because he wants the American people to know that we gained information by using these procedures. The argument is clear. If something good came of it, it was not wrong. The ends justify the means.

Now I know that we live in a fallen world. I know that the kingdoms of this world have not yet become the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 11:15). I know that powerful people and powerful nations will spin the truth to justify their actions. They will do evil so that good may come. But the church—the Bride of Christ—is not supposed to share the values of those kingdoms. We are supposed to be the agent of the Kingdom of God in this world. In fact, the church is to be the manifest presence of Christ on earth. How then, can the church call evil good or say that we can do evil so that good may come?

Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way—when we act like our enemies we become like our enemies. This burned in my mind when we discovered that the very prisons that Saddam Hussein used to torture and humiliate people had become venues in which the United States tortured and humiliated. We acted like our enemy, looked like our enemy and became like our enemy.

That happens to the nations. But it should never happen to the church. In fact, St. Paul called it slander to say that Christians believe that the ends justify the means.

"Why not say - as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say - 'Let us do evil that good may result'? Their concemnation is deserved."

If the survey is correct, it is not the world that is slandering the church. The church is doing it. But is it slander if it is true? And is it true? Will we really set aside the message of Jesus because we might get some actionable intelligence? I hope and pray that we will trust Jesus’ wisdom and not the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).


(For a more graphic view of the survey results, go to http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=156.)

Reader Comments (4)

I'll tell you what's being preached. Health & wealth, baby! I deserve it and anything I do to keep it is OK with God. Just don't point out that I am taking God's name in vain when I do, OK? I'd hate to have to actually think about my motives and relationship with God.

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRick Shelton

Thanks, Phil. It is of crucial importance at this time that these thoughts find their voice. At times in the past, I have hesitated to tell people that I am a Christian because of what may be assumed about my character and my beliefs. Now I realize that the opposite must be done. Thanks for that reminder!

It is still difficult to determine what is torture. The United Nations would say that not turning off the lights at night is torture. Also it is torture if we did not tell them the truth while interrogating them.

Our police in the US have the right to do this but not the military.

I am not saying that I know what torture is. But it should be open for debate.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTony Hull

@Tony Hull: I agree that determining what is and is not torture can be difficult. For example: If you leave the lights on at night it would make sleeping difficult and would be a form of torture. However, if you turned them off and someone was afraid of the dark that would be also. Because of things like this sweeping standards can not cover this topic effectively and it must be determined if an act is torture on a case by case basis.

Here is a pretty good definition of torture:
"The deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason".

I recommend people treat their prisoners (legal, militant, or otherwise) as guests. There are a lot of arguments that can be made to support that, but as followers of Christ I think that is what we are called to do. For a Biblical example read 2 Kings 6:8-23.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Voigtsberger

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