Torture is not an option, says the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which endorsed a statement against the practice of torture this week.
The newly-formed Evangelicals for Human Rights, comprised of 17 activists and scholars, spent more than six months drafting the 18-page document, "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror." The document is intended to be both a moral and theological statement.
"From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred. As evangelical Christians, recognition of this transcendent moral dignity is non-negotiable in every area of life, including our assessment of public policies," the statement begins.
The NAE endorsed the document at their annual March 11 meeting, with one dissenting vote.
"Everyone bears an obligation to act in ways that recognize human rights," the statement says. "Churches must teach their members to think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues such as this one. Our own government must honor its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights."
Drafters said the statement was motivated by recent accounts of torture, such as the numerous 2004 accounts of abuse and torture of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"There are some who have misconstrued this as criticism of the United States, but that is clearly not the intent or the character of the document," NAE interim president Leith Anderson told CT. "The most frequent question I have been asked is, 'Why did we not do this sooner?'"
NAE vice president for governmental affairs Richard Cizik said he has seen an overseas perception that even evangelical Christian Americans are willing to engage terror by any means necessary.
"We support the war against terror, but not by any means necessary," Cizik said. "If you don't think torture is a topic worthy of a statement, just watch 24." The enormously popular counterterrorism drama depicts American military officials using torture, even though it is illegal.
Although it has not received the same amount of attention, the document is similar to the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement signed by many evangelical leaders in February 2006, said Cizik. "The idea is not to just draft a statement and put it on the shelf."
"An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture" criticizes provisions of the Military Commissions Act that do not hold intelligence officials to the same standards as the military. It also commends the Pentagon's recently revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning torture.
"This is not evangelicals versus the government," said Union University professor David Gushee, one of the statement's drafters. "We're saying the Pentagon has it about right. Let's have all branches play by those rules."
Gushee says the document is not a political statement but something which can be used as a study tool. "We sort of want to be a clearinghouse for evangelical reflection on this," he said. "Our dream would be an evangelical consensus, and we are working diligently to build that."
Institute on Religion and Democracy vice president Jerald Walz criticized the endorsement by saying that those who helped draft the document and those who originally signed it were largely from the evangelical left. "It doesn't build broad support for the document," he said. "It makes the document look like a political document used to criticize the administration or the U.S."
Walz also sees "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture" as being incomplete, because it only addresses the United States policy on torture. "They need to include countries that are actively torturing. There's no moral equivalence between the United States and a regime like North Korea," he said. "To remain silent on that is a travesty."
However, University of Missouri professor Carl H. Esbeck, who helped draft the document, said it was most important to deal with the United States government before criticizing other nations. "You first get your own house ready before you even have standing to be heard by others," Esbeck said. "We need to reclaim among the Muslim community our position of strength, our position of integrity."
Esbeck said the document was framed in order to encourage the United States to act in a way that honors civil rights and the sanctity of human life. "Since the Christian worldview speaks to the totality of reality, this speaks to the reality in which we live."
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An executive summary of 'An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror' is available at the Evangelicals for Human Rights website.
At the meeting, the NAE also reaffirmed "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Public Engagement," which it adopted in 2003.
Related articles include:
Evangelicals Condemn Torture | The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed an anti-torture statement. (Associated Press)
U.S. evangelicals slam torture in war on terrorism | A major U.S. association of evangelical Christians has condemned torture by the U.S. military and reaffirmed its commitment to environmental activism, positions that highlight broader splits in a movement associated with conservative causes (Reuters)
Evangelical Christians attack use of torture by US | Statement on torture suggested a new determination on the part of the evangelical churches to detach themselves from the Republican party and stake their independence (The Guardian, London)
Ethicist: NAE torture declaration 'irrational' | An anti-torture statement endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals "is a moral travesty managing not only to confuse but to harm genuine evangelical witness in the culture," says Daniel R. Heimbach, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Baptist Press)
NAE Leaders Advance Broad Agenda with Landmark Document on Human Rights and Torture | The board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals advanced a broad public agenda at its annual meeting this week (Press release, NAE)
Other Christianity Today articles on torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and prison abuse, are available in our full coverage area. The articles include:
5 Reasons Torture is always Wrong | And why there should be no exceptions.(January 27, 2006)
Front Line Dilemma | Christians in intelligence services are conflicted over the use of torture. (January 30, 2006)
Silence on Suffering | Where are the voices from the Christian community on cruel and degrading treatment of detainees? By Gary A. Haugen (Oct. 17, 2005)
The Evil In Us | Prisoner torture in Iraq exposes the ordinary face of human depravity. A Christianity Today editorial (June 10, 2004)
I Was in Prison and You Abused Me | What would Jesus do at Abu Ghraib? By Steven Gertz (May 28, 2004)