Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Presbyterian Pastor's Take on Torture

THIS FROM A recent Daily Dish post.

As a Presbyterian pastor, I continue to be stunned by the unthinking support of many evangelicals for a policy that permits torture. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the so-called "Traditional Values Coalition" decided that torture was among the traditional values that they feel compelled to support.

When Jesus was put on trial and handed over to Pontius Pilate, he rejected violence and said, "My kingdom is not of this world." He was then tortured and brutally murdered (three hours in a "stress position" on the cross, as one of your readers aptly noted). "Caesar", of course, went on to torture and brutally murder innocent Christians who were "threats to the state." Now, 2,000 years later, in their wordly lust for power, Christians are hopping into bed with Caesar and signing off on anything Caesar wants, especially if Caesar takes care of the Christian "base".

In my Presbyterian tradition, we are called to stand outside the halls of power and speak truth to those in power, no matter what party is in control. We are not called to become that power ourselves; Jesus' kingdom is not of this world; his values are not Caesar's values.

Last year on Good Friday, my church had our traditional worship service at which we read the story of Jesus' torture and execution. To make the story more than just a past event, we read three contemporary accounts of innocent individuals who had been tortured. If we were going to shed tears for our innocent Lord Jesus, we also needed to shed tears for other innocent victims of torture. One story we read was about Christians in China - "threats to the state" - including a mother who was brutally interrogated while hearing the cries of her son being tortured in the next room. Interestingly enough, the Christian Right would join me in expressing outrage against innocent Christians.

Another story was of a man who described these conditions:

"I saw a cell almost the size of a grave. 3 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and 7 feet high. The cell had no light in it; it only had two thin mattresses (two thin blankets) on the ground ... I was kept in that dark and filthy cell for about 10 months. The worst beating happened on the third day ... they were asking the same set of questions and they would beat me 3-4 times. They would sometimes take me to another room where I could hear other people being tortured ... at the end of the day I could not take the pain anymore and I falsely confessed of having been to Afghanistan."

We read that story last Good Friday. The man's name? Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, who was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He was then deported by the American government via Jordan to Syria, where he was detained in the cell described above. Just last week Arar and his claims of innocence were completely vindicated by the Canadian government. The Traditional Values Coalition would probably respond: an unfortunate mistake, but torture is still a necessary policy.

And What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus wept.


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