For Christians, glorifying God and accepting torture are incompatible

Birth of Christ

The recent Senate Torture Report should be a wake-up call to Christians. Especially in light of Christmas. As believers we give thanks each December that God became man and was born to die for sinners like us. But the truth of Christmas should do more than provoke a seasonal cheer and religious attitude. It should transform our entire lives. That includes our worldview, and how it relates to others.

Christians have long bemoaned the growing secular influence of the Christmas holidays and society in general. “Keep Christ in Christmas”. “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. But if we fail to honor Him with how we live, does it matter what people think of Christmas?

What should be far more disturbing to us than whether or not someone says “Happy Holidays” is the willingness of American Christians to be satisfied with only a veneer of talking points while turning a blind eye to evils within our own borders. The recent revelations from the Senate Intelligence Committee are just the latest example of this.

In 2009, Fox News host, Sean Hannity claimed he was “offended” by remarks President Obama had made suggesting America was not a Christian nation. And yet Hannity has never been concerned that supporting such heinous acts as torture would dishonor God or undermine the gospel. Unsurprisingly, he defended the latest findings on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation tactics” with the typical retort that “I know American lives were saved.” This has been refuted numerous times, including by torture victim, Arizona Senator John McCain who said such practices have “stained our national honor”.

But this past week, McCain’s former running mate, Sarah Palin parroted Hannity’s “ends justify the means” mentality while also pushing the sale of her book as a way to “keep Christ in Christmas”. This appears to be a common problem among American Christians. We settle for lip-service and a shallow religiosity instead of humbling ourselves before the majesty of God.

In response to the Senate’s report, a fellow believer recently opined, “All I know is that we must do whatever it takes to save Americans…why should we show them mercy?”

Have we forgotten that we are all guilty before a holy God and without excuse? (Rom. 3:10-12) We may not be guilty of terrorism but we’ve committed cosmic treason against the perfect King. Are we not to be merciful as He is merciful? (Lk. 6:36) Did the God whose very essence is love not command us to love our enemies, to forgive and pray for them?

The question for the Christian in all areas of life is not one of utility but does it glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)

Are we seeking to be more like Christ, (1 Jn. 2:6) or Sarah Palin? Could we honestly say that Christ would advocate for forcing food into a man’s rectum? Or leaving a man to die on the floor of hypothermia? Forcing prisoners to be stripped naked and deprived of sleep repeatedly for days? Torturing a mentally ill man (who was known to be innocent) and recording his cries of pain to provoke confessions from his family? Would Christ support this? Such notions are so absurd that no one would dare even ask them. And that’s precisely the problem. (2 Cor. 13:5)

A 2009 Pew Research study reported that 62% of white evangelicals favored the use of torture on suspected terrorists at least in some cases. These findings confirmed a similar poll conducted the previous year that found 58% of white southern evangelicals believed torture to be justified at least some of the time. Only 38% said it was rarely or never justified. Interestingly, when asked from a “Golden Rule” perspective, (would they want American soldiers treated in the same manner) the number of southern white evangelicals who opposed torture rose to 58%. A more recent Washington Post/ABC poll found similar results: Christians support torture more than unbelievers.

Is this how we proclaim the gospel? How can we be heirs with Christ and support the mutilation and debasement of people made in His image? Do we not see ourselves as the sinful woman, weeping at Jesus’s feet? Or are we the Pharisees who love little because we think we’ve been forgiven little? Have we lost the central point of the Good Samaritan, that everyone is our neighbor? Terrorists may not deserve mercy, but neither do we.

Defending this country from threats is one thing, seeking to cause vengeful suffering to those already in custody is another.

How can we truly honor the birth of the Lord if we fail to grasp its meaning ourselves? No Christmas isn’t about Santa or receiving material gifts, but The Gift: God Himself. It’s that the King of Kings who sustains the universe became a servant to the point of death in order to save an unworthy people who hated Him.

The humility and mercy of God revealed in Christ cannot be overstated but it can be undermined. That He would forsake His infinite Majesty to become a helpless infant for us is the Marvel of Marvels. Christ came to reconcile us to God and in doing so, reconcile us to each other. We should always proclaim this Truth but it should be more than mere words reserved only for December. It should compel our hearts and wills to crown Him King of our lives and cause us to practice what we preach.


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