Torture still needs to be stopped

By Carol Wickersham and Tom Driver

Many people think that under the present Administration the US has stopped sponsoring torture, but this is not so. Worse, public approval of the occasional use of torture has edged upward over the past year. According to a Pew poll released December 3, half of Americans now say that the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can either often (19%) or sometimes (35%) be justified. This is the first time in over five years of polling by Pew Research on this question that a majority has expressed these views. Another 16% say torture can be justified "rarely." Only 25% say it can "never" be justified. Still worse, an earlier Pew poll documented that the more frequently people attend church the more likely they are to find torture acceptable.

As Christians committed to nonviolence, we in the PPF should find these opinions unacceptable. In spite of everything, including the election of Barack Obama, approval of torture has soaked deep into our culture. It is no longer a shameful practice which, if called out, will be stopped. On this subject, the church has failed to convey foundational moral teachings. This sad fact makes it clear that we must call our congregations back to the core of the Christian gospel.

Torture is a violation of the sacred image of God imprinted on every human being. Torture is designed to turn a person's body and mind against her soul. Torture degrades all involved. Torture never makes us more secure, as it turns us towards fear and away from God. This message must be heard from every pulpit, in every Presbytery, and in every seminary. Unless we reverse church people's passive acceptance of torture, it will not stop, no matter who is in the White House.

Ways you can help

  • Enlist congregations
    The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), with which PPF and No2Torture are affiliated, has produced a 20-minute video, Ending U.S.- Sponsored Torture Forever , designed to stimulate discussion of why torture is always wrong. Between now and April 1, 2010, NRCAT aims to find 300 congregations in at least 30 states who will make a commitment to show the video and hold an adult discussion. PPFers should try to enlist congregations in this effort, especially those who have not already had such discussions. The video can be viewed online, purchased on DVD for $5.00, or downloaded from the iTunes store. There is also a discussion guide in 6 versions: Mainline Protestant, Evangelical Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or Unitarian Universalist. Full information is available online at http://www.nrcat.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=384&I temid=289.

  • Pray and worship
    Powerful prayers and exegetical material are available through the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
  • Protest Guantanamo
  • For more details, resources, suggestions, and support, please visit nrcat.org.
  • Either of us will be glad to answer questions, provide information, or come and speak.

    Carol Wickersham, for No2Torture
    CLWickersham@charter.net

    Tom Driver, for PPF
    tfd3@columbia.edu