Moral Contradictions

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shock and awe

Believe it or not, I'm patriotic - I read all of Tom Clancy's books in high school, love American history (got a degree in it), love visiting the battlefields and historic sites minutes from the house I grew up in, and love visiting DC and checking out the monuments. Additionally, I love serving the Marines and military from our boot store in Quantico, VA, as I look up to them for their daily sacrifice and love of country.

I grew up reading war stories and admired how American soldiers were "different", in a good way. Prisoners of war often expected harsh treatment or instant execution, because that's how their army dealt with their prisoners. (How many of us understand what "Hanoi Hilton" means?). Yet, they were surprised.

Americans clothed and fed the prisoners - they didn't coddle them by any means, but definitely exceeded their expectations. Yes they were trying to kill us, and yes they probably hated us, but they were still human beings and deserved dignity.

I often viewed Christians in the same way - we're "different" from the world. We respond to bad situations in different ways - for instance, instead of dismissing and telling homeless folks to get a job, we're called to treat them with dignity. Growing up I remember the question "when you die, if the saints held a trial, could they convict you of being a Christian?". We were taught that we should be able to show that we were a Christian through our actions and our words - we shouldn't have to say "I'm a Christian". Natural human reactions, or those of the world, were supposed to be replaced by a "What Would Jesus Do?" attitude.

I'm disappointed in those who justify torture. I see the issue in simple terms - if we are at war, and we take prisoners, then they are prisoners of war. To say anything else creates a paradox. I also believe that torture has no place in Christianity. None.

Dr. Richard Land disagrees with me and is quoted in an Associated Baptist Press article about the Supreme Court's invalidating President Bush's denial of rights for prisoners from the war on terror.

"Make no mistake, we are at war with an enemy that loathes with every fiber of its being everything that we stand for as a nation," he said, adding that the court's invalidation of Bush's policy toward the detainees "weakens presidential powers in a time of war and betrays a serious and perhaps fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the threat we face…."

Land said the most troubling issue was the ruling's premise "that terrorists, representing no nation and wearing no uniform, are somehow deserving of being accorded the protections of the Geneva Convention covering prisoners of war, protections which exceed those afforded an American citizen arrested for a crime and incarcerated in the local jail."


Am I the only one to see a paradox in his statement? His words "we are at war" and concluson that prisoners of the "war" are not "prisoners of war" baffles me. Read that sentence out loud. Doesn't that sound a bit silly?

Yes I know that these folks want to kill us - you don't need to remind me of the deep anger I felt when I crested the hill in Arlington, VA on I-395 and saw the blackened hole of the Pentagon three weeks after September 11. You don't have to remind me of knowing that plane hit the Navy section of the Pentagon and that my dad works for the Navy and occasionally goes to meetings at the Pentagon. You don't have to remind me of my frustration of trying to call back east to make sure everyone was okay. I can't imagine the grief and anger of folks who lost loved ones that day.

I'll be the first to admit that I wanted to string them up and have them experience the pain that they caused - yet deep down, I knew that wasn't right. My spiritual convictions were trying to replace my visceral human reaction. I have to repeatedly tell myself that the terrorists deserve dignity. Why?

Believe it or not, even God loves them, and because Jesus taught "love your enemies", I would hope and pray that the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics spokesman would forego his natural humanistic instincts and attempt to follow Christ's teaching. It's hard - oh man is it hard - but what part of our faith is easy?

Furthermore, I buy the argument that the ceasement of torture will actually help the United States.

Jeanne Herrick-Stare, senior fellow for civil liberties and human rights at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, agreed. According to Herrick-Stare, the administration has been treating "individual human beings" at Guantanamo in ways it would not tolerate for Americans. The Friends Committee is one of Washington's largest peace lobbies, and was founded by the pacifist Christian Quaker sect in 1943.

"The administration's cruel and brutal treatment of detainees shows the world an ugly picture of the United States, a picture that reinforces the terrorist recruiting efforts," Herrick-Stare told ABP.

She said that when it comes to Christian ethics, the end of "ridding the world of tyrannical despots and those who would kill and maim innocents" does not always justify the means of circumventing international agreements on the conduct of war.


Justifying the means by the end is a human and wordly mode of operation, yet religious organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention exude this mentality. Long-cherished teachings and values are thrown in front of the bus and justified as being good for the overall group. Individuals are often sacrificed for the supposed greater good.

Herrick-Stare goes on:

"While the goals the administration says it is pursuing may be considered worthy or even admirable to many…the means that the administration has utilized to achieve those goals will forever sully the good intentions with which the goals have been pursued."

Simply put, by crossing the line into unethical conduct, Herrick-Stare said, the current administration has "shocked the conscience of the world."

To make it clear - I'm not disputing the ends, I'm disappointed and shocked by the means. Justified war is unfortunate, but necessary, but so is following the rules, even if the other side does not.

How can we proud of a country that justifies torture? More importantly, how can we be proud of our faith in Jesus and His teachings when fellow Christians endorse torture?

I am a Christian. I am an American. I interact with Marines and soldiers everyday and pray for them. I love my country. I do not like terrorists. I want our cause to succeed over their cause.

I do not want to stoop to their level and compromise what makes us different, special, and unique. We're called to a higher standard - it's time to stop taking the easy highway and start down the narrow path.

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