54% of Weekly Church Attenders Believe Torture is OK

 A waterboarding table.  The victim's head goes down so that they experience a sense of drowning.
A waterboarding table. The victim's head goes down so that they experience a sense of drowning.

The Pew Forum offers a very disturbing view of regular church attenders with their latest report on torture opinions.  We might all be better off staying home on Sunday mornings if this is the best we can do.

When asked to respond to the statement, “Torture to gain important information from terrorists is justified…” here’s how weekly church-goers answered:

  • 16% said torture is justified “often;”
  • 38% said torture is justified “sometimes;”
  • 19% said torture is justified “rarely;” and finally,
  • 25% said torture is justified “never.”

Let me repeat this finding: 54% of weekly church attenders said that the use of torture is okay when used to gain important information from terrorists.  This position, of course, would be a violation of international law, the law of the United States of America, and the U.S. Military Field Manual, not to mention the law of love — love God, love your neighbor.

But, it only gets worse.  Only 42% of those who “seldom” or “never” attend church believe that torture is justified “often” or “sometimes.”  In other words, the non-church folks have a better, more humane ethic than church-goers.

In other words, non-church folks have a better, more humane ethic than church-goers.

I’m reminded of the legendary story of Vince Lombardi who, after his team lost a game, came into the locker room and announced that they were going back to the basics.  With that, Lombardi reportedly  held up a pigskin, and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Maybe we need to do the same on Sunday mornings.  Maybe we need to hold up the New Testament and say, “This is the New Testament.  It contains the story of Jesus Christ, whose name we have taken.  Matthew quotes Jesus as saying ‘Turn the other cheek. Do not repay evil for evil.  Go the second mile.  Love your enemies.’ ”

Of course, the response we would hear is one I have heard, “But in the real world, that’s not possible.” And that, my friends, is what the incarnation of Christ is all about.  To show that this Kingdom of God stuff does indeed work in the real world.  May God have mercy on our souls for not being clear that we are following the Lord of Love, the Creator of the Universe, and not expedient political policy.

31 thoughts on “54% of Weekly Church Attenders Believe Torture is OK”

  1. Chuck,

    In a land where mega churches have banished the cross from their sanctuaries in favor of American Flags, this makes perfect sense to me. After all, isn’t the cross the ultimate symbol of torture? Isn’t it the ultimate symbol of the existence of “a more excellent way?”

    What this represents, I believe, is a serious misunderstanding that a particular political party and the church are one and the same when it comes to issues like this. I’m with Shane Claiborne on this one–Jesus is my political guiding force and Jesus said to “Love one another.” We have to stand independent as a church and render unto Caesar without becoming a handmaiden to Caesar’s every justification of his actions.

    I think Christ was all about the “real world” and look what his methods have accomplished.


  2. Amen, Chuck.

    I’m afraid that too much of the Church has married itself to one particular political movement, and so is far too comfortable with such compromises.

    Just about everything else I want to say, Richard already did.

    My heart breaks to see what Christians are doing and supporting these days.

    Great post.

  3. So 54% of church goers believe that extracting information from wicked evil people is okay? Good. The information they gain saves many many lives. Plus, the CIA guys do it to themselves for training. So it mustn’t be that bad. After all, God uses government to punish evildoers right (Rom. 13)?

  4. I am so tired of hearing the ABSURD argument that “we do it to our troops, so it must not be that bad.”

    We do it to our troops so that they can learn to resist what might be done to them by the bad guys. Just like when you’re learning self-defense, someone has to attack you. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t bad to punch people, but the ordinarily-wrong behavior is being done in a particular context.

    Frankly, this is among the least-thought-out arguments that I’ve seen in my life, yet it’s become very popular. I assume that means talk radio is involved.

    The US Army, by the way, disagrees about torture. I assume, Brian, that you’re not suggesting that the US Army is soft on defense?

    (Sorry, Chuck, if my comment is out of line … this guy got my goat.)

  5. Chuck,
    You make a huge mistake in this piece concerning the law. Terrorists are not protected. I would also challenge you to look to the Bible and see all that occured and even some that God said should have and did not (hint: Middle East).

    And then, ask the ones still alive from WWII. You are able to blog because of what occured then.

    Keep searching. It is not as easy as you paint it. And what is the definition of torture anyway?

  6. I grew up on John Wayne films believing that America was always the good guy. We were above torturing people. We believed that people were created with ‘inalienable’ rights. As a follower of Jesus I am committed to laying down my life, giving up whatever rights I have, and loving others even if it leads me to a cross. I used to be a citizen of a country who believed in protecting peoples rights. In a very short period of time we have gone from ousting Saddam Hussein to being him. As the above comments show this transformation has not come by those awful liberals who deny the truth. It has been championed by angry conservatives in our own churches. I love America and I love what it once stood for. It breaks my heart that the slogans of brutal dictators now so easily flow from our mouths. “It is in the interest of National Security.” Who did not say that? Stalin, Hitler, Norriega, Saddam Hussein? Are we really no different? What happened to ‘inalienable’ rights?
    Well friends, you can become despots if you choose to. You can crush and kill men and women with no trial, no evidence, no reason if that is who you choose to be. I will be a true American but much more than that I will be a true follower of Jesus who laid down his life when he could have destroyed his enemies with 12 legions of Angels. You can be Joseph Smith who took up the arms his brothers smuggled into the jail for him and died with a gun in his hand. But then you will be a false prophet just like him.
    By their fruit….

  7. If your argument against torture is simply quoting Jesus on turning the cheek then I’m not surprised that Christians would have a tough time in making the right choice. I’m not in favor of torture but maybe we haven’t made a compelling argument against it. Merely quoting Jesus out of context will not suffice, unless we’re willing to deal with the other consequences of that passage as it applies to the state. I don’t think Christians have to be pacifists to be biblical, do you?

  8. Marcus, this post is obviously not an extended argument against torture. I don’t think that “turn the other cheek” needs very much context, however. Seems pretty straight-forward to me. I do believe that pacifism is a more valid stance for a follower of Jesus than aggression or violence. That tradition has been long-standing among anabaptists since Menno Simmons. Thanks for your comments, and pressing me to me more precise. Tough issue for our nation right now!

  9. Richard and wickle, thanks for your comments with which I obviously agree.

    Brian, two things bother me about the public dialogue on torture: 1) we cannot develop our ethics based on pragmatism (it works!) because then everything that produces the desired result is okay. In that scenario euthanasia is okay because it produces a more cost-effective solution to the problem of aging and healthcare. And, 2) followers of Jesus are to live differently, especially in matters involving how we treat others. Oh, and finally, waterboarding is considered torture which is illegal in every court of law globally, with the possible exceptions of those places we say are the bad guys.

  10. Tim, obviously I am no lawyer, so you may be right about my legal judgment. However, the Geneva Convention makes torture illegal. But, say I’m wrong and terrorists (non-uniformed fighters who do not fight under a flag but an ideology) are not accorded Geneva protections when captured. That is the legal side, but what about the Christian point of view. Is torture acceptable for followers of Christ? My answer is No. The abuse of others, whether legal or not, is not an act of love, and therefore not acceptable to Christians.

    As to what is torture, I think most people have an idea that torture is pretty bad stuff. The question posed to those surveyed was not “is waterboarding okay” or are “stress positions okay” or is “enhanced interrogation” okay. The question was “is torture” okay. I am astounded that 54% of weekly church attenders say torture is okay often or sometimes.

  11. Tim, one more thing that I forgot. My father fought in WWII, so I understand why we are free. But my freedom to blog did not come from torturing people, it came from liberating those who were tortured in Nazi concentration camps and Japanese POW camps. If you think kindness and civility do not work, read the story of Jurgen Moltmann, a great living theologian, who came to faith in Christ as a German soldier in WWII because he was well-treated and educated by the British POW system. That is the example we should emulate. Thanks for your comments even though we disagree. Tough issue.

  12. Strider, good thoughts with lots of good examples. Too many have chosen the way of the sword instead of the way of love. Thanks for contributing.

  13. One more thought for the religious right who champion the idea of torture being valid:
    One of the fears that plague the religious right is that our nation is increasingly secular and increasingly hostile to what many perceive to be ‘intolerance’. It has caught the attention of some that perhaps the next ‘intolerant’ group to be targeted and not tolerated would be…. us. Do you really want to support a State to use torture when the next victim could be you? As they start hooking the battery cables up to interesting places I can hear some of you saying, ‘Ah yes, good practice! Now I feel safer.’

    Just a little fear mongering before I go to bed.

  14. I have to confess — I can’t see how Christians can be so blase about torture mere weeks after recognizing the death of Jesus which resulted from legal, government-sponsored torture.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  15. No wonder they believe in torture. Congregations have been getting it for years, having to endure woeful sermons, too often leftist. They are just too polite to tell you.

    While God does deal with ungodly & proud leadership of Nations [Daniel Chapters 4 – 8], you should be thanking God that the US Government and Defence Forces provide you the freedom to preach the Gospel, in the face of Muslim tyranny.

    Would love to see you run this blog as a Chinese Pastor….

  16. Steve, you may be right about the sermon as torture :-), however, it doesn’t justify the real thing. The US government does not provide anyone freedom to preach the gospel. The gospel proclamation is not dependent upon the permission of any government, as scores of Christian martyrs will testify. However, I do appreciate my freedom of speech here in the US, but do not think it was secured by torture. War maybe, but not the sanction of torture. Thanks for your comments.

  17. Andrew Bolt, a high profile Australian journalist writes..

    Torture even in the “ticking time bomb” scenario may still be morally indefensible, but can opponents at least quit using the deceitful argument that it won’t save lives? Charles Krauthammer on waterboarding, which the CIA used on three senior al Qaeda terrorists:

    Did it work? The current evidence is fairly compelling. George Tenet said that the “enhanced interrogation” program alone yielded more information than everything gotten from “the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together.”

    Michael Hayden, CIA director after waterboarding had been discontinued, writes (with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey) that “as late as 2006 … fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from those interrogations.” Even Dennis Blair, Obama’s director of national intelligence, concurs that these interrogations yielded “high value information.” So much for the lazy, mindless assertion that torture never works.

    Asserts Blair’s predecessor, Mike McConnell, ”We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.”

    Wonder if any of those people vilify Bush as a torturer?


  18. Steve,

    I don’t care whether it works.

    Jesus told us that we should prefer to see evil done to us rather than commit evil acts ourselves. That’s the message behind turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, and not resisting an evil man. We were told to allow ourselves to be oppressed if it came to that.

    Machiavelli would be happy to argue that the ends justify the means. But Jesus said that the means justify the ends.

  19. Perhaps Pastors should stick to shepherding & leave the God ordained Army & Government do the defending, as deemed appropriate.

    Torture is bad, but 3000 people dying on Sept 11 in NY City was criminally satanic. How soon we forget.

    In the meantime, I will pray & repent on your behalf for your collective pacifism, which is really the key issue behind this particular discussion.

  20. Steve B, again let me reiterate that torture under all civilized legal conventions is illegal, and that pragmatism (it works) is not a valid test for public policy, or Christian ethic. The sources you quoted were all either directly involved in approving torture as an “enhanced interrogation” technique, or were representatives of the previous administration, or are self-identified as ideologically to the right. The one exception is your citing of Mr. Blair, who is in the current administration, and whose comments I am sure do not represent the current administration. Plus, as Mr. Obama observed in his recent press conference — we don’t know if we could have obtained the same high value information using other means because torture was used first and exclusively. I could quote an equal number of sources that would take the opposite opinion as those you have cited, but let’s just say we disagree profoundly on this issue.

    Oh, and you do not have to repent for me or others with whom you disagree. We can handle that ourselves, thank you. Thanks for your comments. -Chuck

  21. I am having a really hard time swallowing the argument that to not torture someone is to be a pacifist or to not defend our country. The Govt must defend our Country but the Govt must do this by upholding the rule of law. When it does not we declare that it is unjust. The Bible says a thing or two about injustice. Let’s look more closely at torture. Under our constitution a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the case of an enemy combatant we have declared methods of behavior. Torture means that we take an ‘innocent’ person and subject him to violence because some individual deems it appropriate. No trial, no evidence, no jury, no accountability. Just a couple of people who want us to trust them and then violate all of our laws. This is not a hypothetical discussion. I watched Condeleeza Rice before Congress apologize for our Government arresting a Canadian citizen who was transiting through New York, shipping him to Syria where they shocked the fire out of him for nine months until he confessed to being trained as a terrorist in Afghanistan. He had never been to Afghanistan. Torture does not work. It is not dependable. Rice said she apologized for sending the man to Syria as she had no idea that they would torture him! Unbelievable. We have met the enemy and he is us.

    Steve B- What you are saying is that to keep us from becoming like China we must behave like China. There is no logic to that argument.

    We can not defeat the terrorists by being them, that is common sense.

    To stand up for torture and the abuse of fellow human beings is to take off your WWJD bracelet and declare that Jesus’ ‘Way’ is a lie. I renounce any who declare such.

  22. Oops. Ok, I will cut back on the caffeine. I do not renounce people. I do renounce the idea. Sorry Steve- consider your idea renounced- not you!

  23. I am not supporting torture, even though it looks like it. There are a lot of things I don’t support. Like Obama’s tacit approval of abortion & same sex relationships. In God’s sight probably just as bad as torture.

    Lord, we pray that President Obama will be convicted for any sins [of ommission] in this area. We know from Daniel Chapters 4 to 8 that in your plan you raise up leaders of Nations. But when they lead, they must humbly acknowlege your eternal kingship. And if they don’t, you will deal with them, often harshly.

    Lord, I pray in thanks for our respective Defence forces that keep us safe from violent men, while I can pray & read with my children as I put them safely to bed tonight.

    Thank you that these brave men are prepared to fight [& in many cases give their lives] for their nation, as they provide protection for us. We are eternally grateful for their sacrifice.

    Lord, we pray that you will protect their families, and that those leading the Forces will have the wisdom of how to defeat our enemies, and bring about peace.

    Lord, we thank you for the sacrifice that you have made, so that we can witness revival & healing of our lands.


  24. Steve, there are many tragedies in this world, and in our own land. Torture is only one of them, as you point out. I join your prayer for wisdom for our leaders, and for safety for our troops (which is our public prayer in our church each Sunday), and for peace. Thanks for your very heartfelt comments. -Chuck

  25. In relation to Condie Rice & torture etc…

    If ever you needed further proof of the “person of color” America really needs in charge right now, I urge you to watch this fabulous YouTube footage of the magnificent Condoleezza Rice being ambushed by left-liberal students at Stanford University with a series of “difficult” questions about torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and US foreign policy under George W Bush….

    Her coolness under fire is magnificent, but more impressive still is her refusal to duck the issues…

    “Let me tell you something: unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11 you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that we faced in trying to protect Americans,” she says.

    “A lot of people are second guessing now but let me tell you the second guessing that would have hurt me more is if there had been 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn’t do everything we could to protect them.”…

    And she is quite withering when the pallid leftie student tries having a go at her about supposed torture at Guantanamo… “Maybe before you make allegations about Guantanamo, you should READ,” says Condi, with exquisitely measured scorn.


  26. Steve, I am not as impressed with the Condi Rice video as Andrew Bolt is. But, that’s really off subject for this post and the discussion. I would like to get back to my original point: 54% of weekly church attenders believe that “torture” (not enhanced interrogation techniques) is acceptable “often” or “sometimes.” To make things worse 62% of evangelical weekly church goers (who are predominantly white) also believe “torture” is acceptable “often” or “sometimes.” To me these statistics reveal a failure to understand and follow the clear teachings of Jesus. Period. That was my point. I still hold to that point because I can see no other response that is possible for one who reads seriously the words of Jesus.

  27. Chuck, to go back to Tim G’s post on 1 May, & as others Christians I know have subsequently been asking, could you SPECIFICALLY define what “torture” is? This is a serious question, if you don’t mind taking the time to address this. No hurry.
    Many thanks.

  28. You are missing the point. The Pew survey asked if “torture” to gain vital information was permissible often, sometimes, seldom, or never. 54% of weekly church attenders said, “Often” or “sometimes.” Everybody who answered that question knew that “torture” was something bad one party does to another. Torture is torture and regardless of precisely what the word means, everyone knows that torture is not something you want done to yourself or your loved ones. Torture by its very definition is also illegal, and everyone knows that as well.

    You’re trying to prove that waterboarding is not torture. But that was not the question in the survey, nor did the word “waterboarding” ever come up. The word used was torture. That is what amazes me — that followers of Christ would think that torturing a fellow human being is ever acceptable, whatever your definition of torture.

  29. The point being is that when you do research, you need to be very clear with the questions. Believe it or not, what one person would define as “torture” can actually differ from what another person being surveyed would regard as “torture”. [I have discovered over the past few days]. To do this debate justice, I think that some clarity to the term would be helpful. Perhaps the survey should include “waterboarding” as a separate survey question. This is a legitmate issue.

  30. We only have the survey that Pew did. However these church attenders defined “torture” — which you must admit is recognized by logical Americans as doing harm to another — 54% of weekly church attenders said torture is okay. This is alarming and a completely indefensible response if you take the new testament seriously.

  31. Steve, let’s be serious. We live in the most free nation in the world.
    Your comments and questions are increasingly off-topic. Thanks for the
    comments that addressed the issue, but we’re at the end of this discussion.

    Chuck Warnock

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