Thou shalt waterboard: absurdity contra what you have heard


American Christians have pursued political power and, as a result, may have ceased to be relevant as a confessing body, ceased to reflect an ethic that gives meaning to Jesus’ life and death, and ceased to offer an alternative

to the present moral compass of a nation that aligns true north with political victory. I suggest that the church must maintain an ethic that understands the nation-state may reserve the right to act outside of the boundaries of

church ethics, and that, in order for the church to be the church, it must nevertheless speak out against such actions and sacrifice privileges in order to be wholly non-compliant. Yet, Christians must also offer comfort, solace,

and alternatives to each and every person who falls victim to the ethics of domination—both victim and victimizer.


To begin, there must be some account of the evangelical defense of torture and a rejection of this account as being Christian in nature. Even after the policy decisions driven by the events of 9/11, it was indeed difficult to find fully committed defenses of torture in Christian periodicals. It also proved difficult to find any authors who used the biblical text to support torture.


However, Gushee identifies a commonality in those evangelical Christians who either supported torture or tacitly steered clear of the debate. As an engineer of a statement authored for the National Association of Evangelicals that condemned the United States policy related to torture of detainees, Gushee states that those organizations who refused to sign “An Evangelical Declaration against Torture” were political supporters of the Bush administration and the Republican Party in general.8 Some of these organizations included Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Family Resource Council, and a lone dissenting organization, the Institute for Religion and Democracy.


No signers of the condemnation were representatives of the Southern Baptist Conference, according to Gushee.9 “At a superficial political level, the split between those who signed [the statement against torture] and those who

did not can be viewed upon political-ideological lines. The evangelical political right did not sign, the evangelical political center and left did.”10 Gushee has written a book that suggests “an emerging evangelical center is competing with the right for the hearts and minds of American evangelicals. The fracture between these parts of the evangelical community is obvious and may be irreparable.”11 As for biblical “support” of torture, Gushee found that political friends of the administration turned to Romans 13 as the most common, if not only, pericope to buoy their claims: God has chosen political leaders to use the sword against evil, thus, they deserve the support of Christians.


However, it is too easy to blame a right-wing political agenda for the church’s relative silence on the issue. In fact, center-to-left commentators such as Gushee must accept some of the burden. He readily admits that a main

objective of some evangelicals is to compete politically for adherents, thus legitimizing the negative discourse that occurs among those who claim to love their neighbors. It is saddening that both sides of the political aisle not only refuse to worship in the same congregations in most cases, but regularly compare the other side and its leadership to Hitler and the Nazi Party.12 Yet, Gushee writes credibly on the issue of torture and the manner in which the Bush administration, from the top down, supported the torture

of detainees. But he also admits that, when he first wrote in the popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today, though he felt it helped launch an “anti-torture” movement among evangelicals, that he had a regret.


I regret a lack of significant christocentric argumentation. I

ended the article with a reference to Jesus . . . but in an effort to speak to an evangelical community suspicious of ‘sectarian’ appeals to the model of Jesus and the radical demands of discipleship, and very much attracted to arguments based on government’s mandate to use the sword to protect the innocent, I avoided grounding my argument in Jesus Christ in any thoroughgoing or explicit way.13


8. Gushee, “What the Torture Debate Reveals,” 79–97.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Gushee, Future of Faith in American Politics.

12. Gushee cites Tooley, “Evangelical Left’s Nazi Obsession,” para. 2, 4, 5. Republished

with permission on the Institute on Religion and Democracy website.

13. Gushee, “Five Reasons Why Torture Is Always Wrong,” 33–37.


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