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"Tortured" Logic By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Despite its name, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), founded early this year, does seem to have anything to say about torture anywhere around the world by any alleged perpetrator. It has instead focused its ire upon the United States and the Bush administration.

On June 13, the campaign ran an ad on the New York Times op-ed page declaring "Torture is a Moral Issue." Twenty-seven "religious leaders" signed the ad, which insisted: 

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now -- without exceptions.

The campaign’s theme is that the Bush administration is lying when it claims not to torture. Signers included such predictables as:

  • Former Moralizer-in-Chief Jimmy Carter;
  • Left-wing religious activist Jim Wallis, whose magazine Sojourners had nothing to say about the suffering of Southeast Asians at the hand of the Communists;
  • National Council of Churches chief and former leftist Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar;
  • civil rights leader and far-Left United Methodist minister Joseph Lowery, who used Coretta Scott King's funeral to score political points;
  • "Emerging church" leader Brian McLaren; and
  • Academics like Stanley Hauerwas at Duke University, Glen Stassen at Fuller Seminary, and George Hunsinger at Princeton Seminary.

Less predictable are names such as now retired Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios, National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard, mega-church pastor Rick Warren (author of The Purpose-Driven Life), and Roberta Hestenes of the Christian charity World Vision. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel also added his signature -- all no doubt in good faith and with the best of intentions.

The campaign wants the "elimination of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as part of U.S. policy." It does not say anything about the routine use of torture by dozens of regimes, such as North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Iran, Syria, etc. According to the ad, there is uniquely a "torture abuse crisis" in the U.S., which threatens our nation’s soul.

In the campaign’s statement of purpose, it admits that torture by an U.S. official is punishable by criminal statute. But "recent developments" have generated "new uncertainties." The campaign is distressed the President Bush expressed reservations about the recently approved McCain Amendment, which bans all "degrading treament," even though Bush signed it into law. "Inhumane methods of interrogation may continue," the campaign worries.

Accordingly, the campaign demands that any "exemptions" to international law about torture be removed, that "extraordinary renditions" be abolished, that all "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" be regarded as torture, and that the U.S. close all "secret" overseas prisons. The campaign also wants an "independent investigation" of "severe human rights abuses" at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

The campaign was founded by Religious Left groups such as the United Methodist affiliated Center for Theology and Public Policy and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker), both of which are in Washington, D.C. Also involved in the founding was Princeton theologian George Hunsinger, who crafted the founding statement.

Campaign ad signer Stanley Hauerwas told the United Methodist News Service that the campaign is especially important as this moment. "In our current political climate, there is an attempt to make torture so ambiguous that we are not sure we know it when we see it. Therefore it is very important for Christians to say, ‘We know it when we see it.’"

It is appropriate that Hauerwas is a prominent supporter of the campaign. Like other signers, he is a special critic of the ostensible "ideology of America as empire" that he fears bewitches most Americans, including most American Christians. For him, "American imperialism" is the chief threat to world order and peace. Hauerwas seems to believe the whole American democratic-capitalist enterprise begun on July 4, 1776, has been a blasphemous disaster.

In a somewhat similar vein, Hunsinger has denounced the notion of "righteous empire" that supposedly guides the Bush administration. Unlike Hauerwas, he is not a pacifist. But like Hauerwas, he identifies the United States as a uniquely threatening hegemonic power that religious people must confront and resist, like the Rome of ancient times. Along with Jim Wallis and Glen Stassen, another campaigner backer, Hunsinger organized "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence" right before the 2004 presidential election. The statement, signed by 200 religious officials, condemned the Bush administration for its "false teachings," accusing President Bush of draping the quest for American empire in the language of Christian missionary zeal.

Hunsinger-Hauerwas-Wallis and Stassen, in their chronic hostility to an assertive U.S. foreign policy, easily mix with the habitually left-wing National Council of Churches, which has eagerly trumpeted the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Although the campaign successfully recruited moderate religious leaders to sign its New York Times ad, the campaign’s member organizations are almost exclusively from the Religious Left. Nearly each one of them is hostile not only to the U.S. military action in Iraq but also more widely to the U.S. war against terrorism.

Campaign members include the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Pax Christi, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and the disturbing Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Anti-Americanism has the rare interfaith capacity of uniting Unitarians with Muslims and left-wing Presbyterians with equally left-wing Roman Catholics. Apparently, The Unholy Alliance is not a wholly secular affair.

A study guide on the campaign website composed by Hunsinger and others is called "Way of Torture, Way of the Cross: A Bible Study for Lent and Other Occasions." Most Christians, of course, employ Lent to reflect spiritually about the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. This particular study guide exploits Lent as a time for arousing opposition to U.S. foreign policy. The guide presents Jesus as an anti-imperialist who was also tortured by "military" personnel" of His day. 

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has nothing to say about torture victims of the Saudi monarchy, of the Iranian mullahs, or of North Korean madman Kim Jong Il. Instead, the campaign is only distressed about supposed American policies of "torture." Its policy goals are somewhat vague, beyond simply condemning the United States. But clearly the campaign would like to expand the definition of torture to include all "cruel" treatment and for international regulations to override all U.S. law. It denounces the U.S. rendition of foreign nationals with terrorism ties back to their native countries, whose regimes actually commit torture, as opposed to the interrogation tactics of the United States they condemn with pretended piety. But, oddly, the campaign will not denounce the torturing regimes.

Perhaps they should remote the beam from their eyes before removing the speck in that of President Bush.

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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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