Thursday, October 23, 2008

Question of the Day

Can one be a Christian and support the waterboarding of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay?


Jim said...


Larry B said...

If it is done in a manner where there are checks and balances in place to prevent the deliberate torture of innocents, I think an argument could be made that a Christian should not attempt to interfere with a government who chooses to waterboard.

I do think however that a government should not expect Christians to participate in waterboarding a suspect.

RevSarah said...

Larry B--If Christians shouldn't be expected to participate in waterboarding, that assumes that it could be seen as incompatible with Christian teaching. If that is the case, then why would a Christian stand aside and let it happen? Surely not interfering makes them just as culpable?

BruceA said...

I don't see how a Christian could support the waterboarding of anyone. Even if someone is labeled a "terrorism suspect" they are still a human being. Torturing them is not going to advance the kingdom of God.

Dan Trabue said...


Or rather, one could be a Christian and do so - just like one could be a Christian and beat children to death. But one would be a horribly wrong Christian not following in Christ's steps and do so.

Larry B said...

Revsarah -

To clarify my response, I simply don't think the government is required to be held accountable to every tenet of Christian teaching, especially in our system of government where we make an explicit preference for the separation of church and state.

There are secular consequences to certain behaviors such as those taken by terrorists and using a religious ideal to shield them from those consequences makes no sense to me. Elimination of any and all suffering isn't what I understand Christianity to be.

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...


How is this even a question? Torture is incompatible with Christian teaching.

John Wilks said...

When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, it wasn't so we wouldn't get splashed while we tormented our enemies.

Torture has been proven to be highly flawed as a means of getting reliable information out of the guilty. There is no value in torture except to dehumanize and brutalize those whom we hate or fear.

Now, in a totalitarian system, larry b would have a point about non-interference.

But the last time I checked, this is a representative republic. That means that in a very real since, all of us are the government. If Christian citizens continue to stand mute in the presence of senseless violence simply because we happen to like the politicians who approved it, we risk the judgment of the Sovereign who will hold all governments accountable for the ways and means by which they attempt justice and public welfare.

It seems clear to me that we should use our voices and our votes to show our disapproval of this barbaric practice just as we already do when it comes to the slaughter of the unborn.

The Ironic Catholic said...

Absolutely not.

National Religious Campaign Against Torture has some great materials here.

John said...

Jeremy Smith wrote:

How is this even a question? Torture is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Hey, you try coming up with original Questions of the Day after doing this for four years.

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

C'mon John, it's not that hard. When inspiration flees your conscience, just make fun of people's blog titles.

- Is it morally ethical to eat Locusts with Honey?
- Is it appropriate to Hack Christianity?
- Does Grace REALLY have 33 names?
- Was the man REALLY called Preach?
- Is Gen-X Rising or Sinking based on a recent report on the presence of lead in some UM pastors brains?
- Is Holiness REALLY commonplace, or is it just EVERYWHERE?

And so on. Get on it.

(and truly, I do appreciate your blog)

Larry B said...

I don't see a deep conflict in allowing a government, republic or totalitarian, to choose to use a particular technique with terrorism suspects.

From what I glean from scriptures, Jesus made no reference to the Roman government in his critiques or displays of anger, instead he was directly concerned with the religious establishments of his day. The Roman state was guilty of far worse practices than waterboarding today and I find no writings to suggest that Jesus considered the reform of the Roman government as his mission.

In our system of government, if given the opportunity to speak up then certainly we can make our voices known, but in my mind, it cannot be considered a moral failure of Christianity if a sovereign secular government chooses to engage in waterboarding of terrorism suspects.

I would agree that torture is incompatible with Christian teaching, but so too are many other behaviors (some explicitly listed in the Methodist Discipline). However we see governments passing laws allowing and even encouraging these behaviors. I'm not about to judge the depth of a person's faith however on the actions of it's secular government.

Anonymous said...

Does God allow torture to take place to further his kingdom? Mark 15:24a, "And they crucified him."
Steve Johnson Exeter Township PA

John Wilks said...


Once again- in our political system, the government is not a "them." It is us.

Jesus didn't get to cast a vote to pick the next Ceasar. We do.

The Bible in general is pretty clear that God holds those with political power to account. (This, by the way, explains the conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders.)

In this nation, the electorate is the final holder of political power.

So I ask you, are you an eligable voter?

If so, then you are accountable for what this government does.

If you'd like to resign your citizenship and live hear as a resident alien, then you will be off the hook.

But unless every Christian in this land does so, we are all responible before God for the choices made by the people we elect and re-elect and re-elect and re-elect to represent us.

TN Rambler said...


Larry B said...

John W.

I appreciate your perspective, but I don't understand our government to operate that way.

Firstly, my vote doesn't count if I vote for a losing party in my state. Every one of the losing votes is rolled up into the winning party. I don't see how that makes the government directly accountable to my vote.

Secondly, there are numerous powers given to the government that I cannot override with my votes. The presidents responsibility to command the military cannot be abrogated by the voters even if the voters disapprove of the military handling.
I get no say over the Presidents choice of cabinet and advisors - yet they conceivably have more influence over the decisions of the President than the general electorate or congress. Agencies get created by congress and endowed with legal powers without the input of the electorate. I could go on and on.

Our government is a representative government which by my understanding of the definition means that political power is transferred to a very small number of people through an election. The use of that power, however, for the period of the representatives term, is entirely up to the representative.

I fail to see how one can be held directly accountable for a representatives decision, if first of all, ones vote was not counted towards his election, and secondly, the representative is clearly given the power and the responsibility to decide without having to consult voters during his term.

All of the above is far off topic from John's original question, but again, it is central to how I understand that a Christian can live in a nation where waterboarding of terrorism suspects is acceptable.

John Wilks said...


If you vote to re-elect that representative and thus endorse their actions, how are you not at least partially on the hook?

On the other hand, if you vote against those who do such things- even if they win the election- then have you not taken a stand?

Does God expect us to speak for justice only when we know we will prevail, or does the Lord call us to do what we can even when it may not be enough to end an evil?

From where I sit, that is the very heart of John's original question.

Larry B said...

John W.

It's a good question as to whether I should be responsible for the actions of someone I vote for.

I have thought about this a lot, but I don't see how we can do so because of the representative nature and our two party dominated system.

If we could go into the election booth and carry our list of say for example 10 issues that are important to me and divide my vote into units of 0.1 and assign each 0.1 to the candidate who correctly matches my view, then I think we would be responsible for our choices. As it is, If one candidate is against the war, but wants to remove all federal restrictions on abortion, and the other is against abortion altogether, but want's to attack iran unilaterally, how does one make a vote in that situation.

I don't take my votes lightly, and I exercise my Christian values when making my choices, but the hard reality of our situation is that when we vote for a representative government with a two party dominated system, we are compromising. We inevitably support an action that we don't agree with. Does God hold us responsible for that? I happen to think not. Jesus didn't come to overthrow the secular government. We aren't tasked with that task either.