The release of the “Torture Report” last week generated heated discussion about the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques by the CIA on detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. 49% of Americans believe these techniques are torture, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. Since 59% of all Americans approve of the measures, some who would call this torture believe it was justified. White evangelical Christians constitute the largest group of people who endorse the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. 69% of white Evangelicals said they believed these techniques were necessary while only 20% opposed them. The author of the survey comments that this is roughly the breakdown of Republican versus Democrats among white Evangelicals.
The reason this number astounds me is that the Senate report confirms that as many as one quarter of the detainees were not guilty of anything. When questioned about this on Meet the Press Sunday Dick Cheney said he had no problem with this fact whatsoever, commenting that he would do it again “as long as we achieve our objective.” Apparently American Evangelicals endorse this sentiment.
What we have is another case of American Evangelicalism’s thinking being shaped more by FoxNews and political talk radio than by the Bible. Christians endorsing the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques sound more like Dwight Schrute from The Office who said “Better a thousand innocent men are locked up than one guilty man roam free” than they do a people who have been shaped by the author of Genesis who said, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Evangelicals, who are fighting to tooth and nail against Common Core, claiming they don’t want their children brainwashed by evolutionary teaching are applying evolutionary theory to the way we view the treatment of prisoners. Was Gul Rahman, who froze to death while chained to a wall made in the image of God or was he an unfortunate mistake that will be made during the achievement of an objective? (By the way, Rahman was a case of “mistaken identity.) We have to take some long looks in our Bibles and in our mirrors and answer this question. Does our commitment to law and order justice trump our compassion for men and women made in the image of God? Does the possibility that a person might have information we want to know mean we are justified in locking them in a small box filled with insects? Are we okay treating the image bearers of God this way? Are we okay with people who might be innocent being on the receiving end of brutal, inhuman torture?
Some would object to my point by appealing to the teaching on civil governments in Romans 13. People who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear and the government bears the sword. I agree, but doesn’t this mean we should demand our government not use the sword on people who do not stand guilty of a crime? The government’s sword loses its effectiveness when it is wielded unjustly. For my friends who love to appeal to law and order, please remember that the mistreatment of those who are not guilty will ultimately undermine law and order.
A closer examination of the biblical text makes us reexamine our unqualified thumbs up for Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. First, there is the Bible’s teaching about the image of God in all people. Our belief that men and women bear the image of God has led Christians to take remarkable steps to serve our fellow man. It led Christians to push for the abolition of slavery and to care for the sick during the Plague even though it meant they could get sick themselves. This conviction motivates Christians to fly to Africa to care for Ebola patients and spurred the modern adoption movement. Then there has been the nearly half-century old pro-life movement. The truth that all are made in God’s image has driven our concern to see babies born rather than snuffed out in the womb. If this truth inspired those actions, then shouldn’t it form how we view the treatment of prisoners?
In addition there is the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” With these words Jesus reminded us to treat other people as we want to be treated, recognizing we are all made in his image. Then even deeper are the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse plays an important role in the present discussion for Christians. As D.A Carson has noted, the loved of God described in this verse is not remarkable only because of the wideness of God’s love. The word “world” in John’s Gospel and letters often refers to the world united in sin against the will and command of God. That God loves the world shows us the depth of God’s love for those who have spent their lives running from him and rebelling against him. We marvel at God’s love not because it covers such a large number of people, but because it extends to a large number of people who have been so bad. If we believe in the love of God, how should that change the way we view other people? Should we not have compassion on the prisoner as Jesus taught in Matthew 25? Wouldn’t this especially apply to our compassion on the prisoner who is not guilty? Are we reflecting the love of God when we would rather see the innocent punished than the guilty go free?
Evangelical Christians in America have reached a crossroads. We cannot sound like the talking heads on cable news and Jesus at the same time. The stake is in the ground and our time of decision has arrived. We either believe people are made in the image of God and have been loved and died for by Jesus or we do not. If we believe men and women have been created in the image of God and are loved by him, then we must think through how that changes the way we treat people and the way we think people should be treated.