Scot McKnight: You Can’t Be a Christian and Support Torture

Christians and Torture

Brian Zahnd, in a recent post, opens with some strong, attention-grabbing and profound claims:

You cannot be a Christian and support torture. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a “patriot” and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of a Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.

(Clearly you do not have to be a Christian to reject the barbarism of torture, you simply need to be a humane person. But to be a Christian absolutely requires you to reject the use of torture.)

I remember when Pew Research released their findings in 2009 revealing that six out of ten white evangelicals supported the use of torture on suspected terrorists. (Patton Dodd talks about thathere.) The survey stunned me. I spoke about it from the pulpit in 2009 and have continued to do so. I said it then and I’m saying it again today: You cannot support the use of torture and claim to be a follower of Jesus.

Any thoughtful person, no matter their religion or non-religion, knows that you cannot support torturing people and still claim to be a follower of the one who commanded his disciples to love their enemies. The only way around this is to invent a false Jesus who supports the use of torture. (The Biblical term for this invented false Jesus is “antichrist.”)

Those who argue for the use of torture do so because they are convinced it is pragmatic for national security. But Christians are not called to be pragmatists or even safe. Christians are called by Jesus to imitate a God who is kind and merciful to the wicked.

“Love your enemies! Do good to them.…and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” –Jesus (Luke 6:3536)

I don’t know of a greater indictment against American evangelicalism than the fact that a majority of its adherents actually admit they support the use of illegal torture on suspected terrorists!

Brian brings up the commandment to love, which some no doubt will turn around to say “to love my family or nation I must protect by use of torture,” but I would go as well to the cross. It was an expression of the hideousness of Rome’s violent powerful rulers to use force and torture in the use of crucifixion as a deterrent, as a punishment, and — what’s more — an extravagant display of its arrogant power.

Torture is the arrogance of the mighty.

What Christians can do in responding to American torture is a theme I develop briefly in Kingdom Conspiracy — show to the world its worldliness for naming it as torture and by showing that the way to respond to enemies is love, grace, and forgiveness. A cycle of violence met by a cycle of love create a culture of grace and justice and peace.

The cross of Christ reveals what God thinks of torture: it is not the way of God. God turned torture into new life by resurrection and overcoming torture.

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