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The Evangelical Left's Tortured Logic By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 15, 2007


The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is condemning the United States for its ostensible pro-torture policies, and demanding that the U.S. regain “moral clarity” by heeding the evangelical Left.

Is the NAE becoming a carbon copy of the left-wing and largely irrelevant National Council of Churches (NCC)?  As the evangelical Left continues to exploit the leadership void at the once staunchly conservative NAE, the similarities between the NCC’s notorious decline from mainline to sideline is sadly similar.

Ironically, even as evangelicals are now America’s largest demographic group, their supposed representatives at the NAE think they must turn Left to become more popular

"The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11,” the NAE complained, in a statement called “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror.”

Although several times admitting that the U.S. already prohibits torture, the 18-page document implied that the U.S. has and likely will continue abusing prisoners in the War on Terror, unless the NAE’s demands are met.

"There is a perception out there in the Middle East that we're willing to accept any action in order to fight this war against terrorism," NAE chief lobbyist Richard Cizik told the Associated Press. "We are the conservatives - let there be no mistake on that - who wholeheartedly support the War against Terror, but that does not mean by any means necessary."

In fact, the drafters of the torture statement were hardly “conservative” or supportive of the War against Terror.  The 17 member committee, called “Evangelicals for Human Rights,” is comprised nearly exclusively of pseudo-pacifist academics and antiwar activists who sharply condemn the Bush administration. The lack of any pretense towards balance was odd. Polls show that evangelicals are America’s most reliably conservative voting bloc. But apparently only anti-Bush diehards qualified for this committee.

Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary, George Hunsinger of Princeton Seminary, Ron Sider of Eastern Seminary, and “emerging church” guru Brian McLaren, the most prominent among the torture statement drafters, all belong to the Jim-Wallis/Sojourners universe of the evangelical Left.  The NAE has suffered more than a decade from lack of effective leadership. The most recent calamitous example was former NAE president and mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, who resigned last year amid a sex and drugs scandal. Although pegged by much of the media as a conservative religious ally of the Bush administration, Haggard in fact facilitated NAE’s slide to the left on issues like Global Warming.

NAE lobbyist Cizik has made Global Warming his chief issue, appearing in Vanity Fair and in Keanu Reeves’ climate apocalypse docudrama as the evangelical voice on “creation care.” But Cizik, who is a frequent critic of the Bush administration, has adopted torture as another issue for supposedly broadening NAE’s constituency. He was one of the torture statement’s drafters and main proponents.   

The NAE torture manifesto declared that that the U.S. has committed "acts of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," against U.S. detainees, "especially in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, in Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, in CIA black sites and at the hands of other nations." It charged that “the most widely publicized acts of torture by the U.S. came on the heels of the 9/11 attack.” This supposed post 9-11 sanctioning of torture was “not bound by principles of human rights [and]…was rightly seen by Muslims as hypocrisy and thus all the more damaging.”

Although the NAE torture activists refused to provide any definition of torture, which “would narrow the boundaries of what is morally and legally forbidden,” they renounced “the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government).” But note that neither the NAE 18-page statement, nor the Evangelicals for Human Rights group that drafted it, expressed much concern about “other governments.”  The U.S. is its only target. 

The NAE torture declaration also demanded the “extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, whenever or by whomever they are held.” And it called for the “legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.”

Most of the NAE document lays out the moral case, from a Christian perspective, against torture, with the unquestioning implication that the U.S. is guilty as charged. "As American Christians, we are above all motivated by a desire that our nation's actions would be consistent with foundational Christian moral norms," the NAE insisted. "We believe that a scrupulous commitment to human rights, among which is the right not to be tortured, is one of these Christian moral convictions."

Fair enough.  But because the torture statement’s drafters are almost entirely hostile to current U.S. foreign and military policies, they believe they have a simple case of national sin, for which repentance is required. Even accepting all of NAE’s worst case assumptions, it could have at least acknowledged the legitimate moral tensions between defending the innocent from mass murder and imprisoning some of the most unsavory of the guilty.

More to the point, just as NAE is not directly responsible for the sexcapades or dubious theologies of some NAE leaders and members, neither is all misconduct by U.S. forces directly a reflection of U.S. policies.  In the military scandals that NAE cited, the U.S. personnel have been tried and convicted. Doubtless there will be future bad behavior by some in the U.S. military. Evangelicals are supposed to understand that unregenerate human nature is bent towards evil. But does moral failure by some necessarily indict an entire government?

Much of the campaign against “torture” is a barely disguised crusade against the U.S. war against terror. The NAE is not yet eviscerated enough to align openly with the National Council of Churches. But evangelical Left activists and academics got as much as they could get from the NAE, at least so far. Left-wing religionists rarely create broad-based organizations. Instead, they usually subvert religious groups founded by conservatives, and then preside over their decline, after expending all remaining moral capital.

The National Council of Churches was once an admirable expression of mainstream Christianity in America, before it substituted left-wing politics for its original spiritual purpose. For some reason, the NAE seems to find the NCC’s downward trajectory a laudable example to follow.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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