Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

George W. Bush and waterboarding

When I read that Bush 43, in his new book, cheerfully affirms his decision to torture Khalid Sheik Mohammed, I thought of a letter that I wrote to the Wall Street Journal in 2004. I never got a response to either one of my submissions. I therefore publish the letter here:

June 18, 2004

Introductory note to the editor:

I e-mailed a version of the letter appended below to you last week and have been very disappointed that it was not printed. I sent it to The Wall Street Journal instead of the Times because the Journal is much more friendly to overtly Christian themes and therefore, I thought, more likely to accept my letter for publication. I also believe that you have more readers whom I am trying to reach. And finally, to your great credit the Journal has taken the lead in publishing some of the background material about Attorney General Ashcroft’s role in the matter at hand. I have rewritten the letter and am now sending it again, hoping that you will give it a second chance.

If you Google me you will see that I am a person not without credibility.

Fleming Rutledge



Where are the voices of American Christians in the current debate about torture? President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft have made the profession of Christian faith a conspicuous identifying mark of this administration’s public persona, thus reinforcing the perception of the world, especially the Muslim world, that we are a self-identified Christian nation. Yet, as the abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to global attention, the voice of the church has been strangely muted. During the debate about the character of Islam following 9/11, a number of commentators observed that Christianity, being based upon the life and teachings of Christ, possesses crystal-clear internal correctives which would always rise to the top to counteract distortions of the faith. Such intrinsic correctives, it was sometimes argued, were missing in Islam, or at least lacked equivalent clarity.

So where is the outcry from the pulpits and congregations now that America is debating the permissibility of torture? It is time for the entire Christian Church unequivocally to repudiate the use of such means, not only because of the Geneva Conventions, and not only because torture is against everything that America stands for, but especially because the Christian ethic is an ethic of means. The Christian is known not only by the end or goal that he seeks, but especially by the means he uses to strive toward the end. The attainment of the end must be left to God. It is the means by which the end is sought that distinguishes the Christian community and links it to the Son of God. If the submission of Jesus to crucifixion means anything at all, it means the total identification of the Son of God with malefactors. If his commandments are not to be sentimentalized out of all connection to his life’s offering, Christians must hold to their original rigor, which requires merciful treatment even of the perceived enemy. This is a call to American Christians everywhere to stand up and make their voices heard on this matter which is central to our faith.