Christian Perspective on Torture

I'm back from an early Thanksgiving celebration with my mom's side of the family. Although I'm furious with the local radio stations for jumping the gun on Christmas music, the holidays are truly my favorite time of year. The entire trip was great, but the highlight of the weekend was listening to the technologically-savvy Pyromaniac attempt to explain the intricacies of a wireless network to my 80-year-old grandparents. I'll probably get blogrolled as "annoying" for saying it, but he might have had a better chance had he tried to explain supralapsarianism.

A week or so ago I got into a discussion with a very educated person in one of the secular forums I read. The topic was "torture" and whether or not the United States government should torture prisoners of war in an attempt to gain critical information that might save lives. I took the position that torture might be necessary in some instances, and she took the opposite side. The discussion was going along fine until someone posted the following comment:

"I find it amazing how many so called Christians favor torturing Iraqi's. So called Americans who spout cliches about freedom and human rights as long as it is our freedom and human rights. But they are certainly willing to throw those moral values away pretty quick."

The fact that Christianity is not about human rights or freedom aside, the comment made me think about values we do hold dear and how they come in to play when we talk about this issue. And while I have in no way changed my position, the above comment made me realize that we as Christians need to be very careful when they talk about issues like this so as to both defend what we believe and clearly articulate the way our values play into these issues.

The first issue in play as we discuss torture is the value of universal human dignity. Scripture teaches that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) - a little lower than God and crowned with glory and majesty (Psalm 8:4). As a creation of God, in His image, each human should be seen with dignity as such. Many of us as Christians are very good at pointing to this argument in defense of a pro-life stance (and rightly so), but the argument is tougher when we're discussing a rabid terrorist who wants us and our families dead.

Secondly, vengeance ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19) Hebrews 10:30). He is the judge, and the ultimate avenger of the innocent. It is not the job of the Church, individual Christians, cultures, governments or armies to execute vengeance or judgment on evil doers at their own bidding.

Thirdly, although I would argue that the government may be used as an agent of God to execute His judgment (Romans 13), we must be extremely careful in claiming that the judgment we execute on prisoners of war is God-ordained judgment on these men. We have to tread very carefully when we speak with "authority" about God's intentions, even when they seem to be obvious. Speak when God has spoken, and remain silent where God is silent.

Personally, I find the practice of torture absolutely deplorable. And yet, I am convinced that such acts might take place in certain educated, specific, controlled situations, and remain completely in line with the values and principles found in Scripture.

(It should be noted here that I am not arguing for the abuse of prisoners for sport, or for the personal enjoyment of the soldiers involved. It shouldn't even have to be said, but such acts are reprehensible, disgusting, and inherently wrong. The acts for which I'm arguing are acts conducted on known terrorists with terrorist ties who are suspected to be withholding information that could be used to protect innocent lives.)

The inherent dignity due to a terrorist POW as one created in the image of God is not greater than the dignity of the person or persons that terrorist intends to kill either directly or indirectly through the withholding of information. If a person held my wife at gunpoint, I would be foolish and sinful to not protect my wife in that situation if I was able. The very analogy makes my stomach churn, but I believe it is apt. If anything, it is over states the point, as we're not debating the use of lethal force against terrorists, but the physical coercion of a terrorist in order to gain information. When we're forced to make a choice, it is foolish to sacrifice the dignity of many people for the dignity of one.

In order to protect the dignity of its citizens, it is my belief that government is completely with in its God-ordained boundaries to engage an enemy of that dignity in whatever way necessary. It should be done as minimally as possible, and only when necessary as a last resort, but if necessary it should be done.

The failure to protect individual human dignity is as egregious a sin as the failure to respect it.