A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christianity, torture and mercy

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 25, 26 or 27

This week offers a moment of joy for many, a time of celebration and good cheer. Yet some reports following the release of the U.S. Senate’s report on torture put a damper on the holiday mood.

I’m a Christian. I also believe in free will, so I guess that means I choose to have faith, accept the unknowable, and embrace the Mystery.

But some mysteries confuse me. Take the Christian minister from Arizona who said there’d be an AIDS-free world this Christmas if society would simply murder all gay people, or the Baptist pastor who responded to a gay Christian author by saying “I pray that you will commit suicide,” or the Michigan House of Representatives, which passed a “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act , which could let first responders deny treating patients if they were gay, druggists refuse to fill a prescription for birth control, clerks deny a driver's license to a divorced person, etc. (Debate on the bill – which has not been passed by that state’s Senate or signed by Gov. Rick Snyder – apparently did not include refusing business to bankers despite the Bible’s repeated bans on charging interest.)

But none recent struck me with such shock and dismay as a news story after the Dec. 11 release of those findings of torture. The report’s contents stunned me, but I was soothed some by comments by Republicans including U.S. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, who either condemned torture, called it abusive or said they had reservations about the practice.

“This question isn't about our enemies,” McCain said. “It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea ... that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights.”

Maryann Cusimano Love, with the Institute for Political Research and Catholic Studies, said, “Being disciples of a tortured God means that we must never be torturers, but must see in the image of Christ our solidarity with the powerless and marginalized, the victims of torture. We must see the fundamental dignity of human life, the face of God, even in suspected enemies, and treat them accordingly.”

Then I read an Associated Press piece saying that 71 percent of Americans accept torture under some circumstances – in a country where more than 75 percent of us say we’re Christians.

As for Christians’ freedom to practice the faith, “The idea that we need to ‘restore’ religious freedom – rights that are already enshrined in the U.S. Constitution – is a farce created by conservative lawmakers,” said Lonnie Scott of Progress Michigan.

Plus, the Gospels don’t record Jesus condemning – or mentioning – gays. In the entire Bible, “there are only seven references to homosexuality,” said Bible scholar Ann Naffziger. “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of references to economic justice.”

Unlike the Old Testament – where the Book of Leviticus sets down dozens of prohibitions, ranging from homosexuality to tattoos and including adultery (punishable by death), disabled people (condemning those with “a blemish”), not eating certain seafood, rabbits and fat, and not blending linen and wool – Jesus said generally to love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies, and specifically to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the stranger and the unwanted child, and care for the ill.

Such teachings echo what had been expressed elsewhere in the Old Testament, featured in readings a couple of weeks ago at my church: In 1 Isaiah, it’s written, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”

Then emerged “the rest of the story,” as the late radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say. Political scientist Peter Miller of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of California-Irvine has shown that both media and politicians exaggerate public support for torture.

What a relief and revelation! (True, 55 percent still back “harsh interrogation,” but that’s a vague term.)

In Christianity, Advent awakens the thought that God came as an infant and became one of us. Let’s hope this week we’re awakened from nightmares and become aware of all of our shortcomings, of the hope of mercy, and the mystery of love.

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

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