11 October 2007


You can't whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day's coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. (from Luke 12:3, The Message.)

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on ''combined effects'' over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion's overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be ''ashamed'' when the world eventually learned of it. (from "Secret U.S. endorsement of severe interrogations.")
So it appears that, in the struggle to keep our President's itchy fingers off the waterboard and other contemporary instruments of torture, vigilance was not enough. We also needed telepathy and X-ray vision, and, sadly, a huge dose of cynicism. A Pentagon memorandum insisting on adherence to Geneva standards was made readily available, and at the time I optimistically linked to it (pdf). But memoranda uncovered by New York Times reporters, showing that cruelty was very much still part of interrogators' menus, are withheld even from congressional scrutiny. No wonder Senator Jay Rockefeller got a little hot under the collar: "I'm tired of these games. They can't say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program." ("Bush says interrogation methods aren't torture.")

Where do we go from here? It is not newsworthy that Bush describes torture as X plus 1, where X is whatever method he wants to defend. The rest of the world may be clear that X is already torture, but the rest of the world is of no interest to our leaders. We have now been living with this reality for six years. I'm not really interested in indulging myself in yet another round of observations that are already obvious to our president's critics and irrelevant to his supporters.

Instead, I'm struggling to find a Biblical and spiritual context for this ongoing shame and embarrassment--namely that the American nation, the "beacon of liberty" about which I'm assembling a curriculum here in Elektrostal, turns out to be hiding from the light whenever the subject of torture comes up. My tax dollars have been paying people who believe that the application of pain and extreme terror is a legitimate way of defending me from terrorism and preserving my access to carbon-based fuels.

The spiritual challenge has something to do with this: the defense of torture is only part of a larger disease, one that infects our culture and politics in various ways. It's the disease of impunity. Impunity is the freedom to torture without even a worry that we could be prosecuted by the European Community or sued by a misidentified victim. (The Supreme Court won't review the Masri case.) Impunity is our hired security guards' ability to make unfortunate mistakes and shoot innocent people in Iraq without facing serious consequences (latest case). Impunity is what we appear to seek when we excuse ourselves from ABM defense treaties, refuse to support an international criminal court, and demand that our allies agree with all of our interpretations. Some form of impunity is what some wealthy corporations and their lobbyists are hoping for in campaigning for tort "reform" and weakening ordinary people's access to the courts. And with no apparent capacity for shame, impunity is the finger with which we are seen flipping off the world, weakening goodwill and increasing cynicism on all hands.

What do we do next? Our criticism of the White House's tortured logic and flexible approach to the Constitution must continue, day in and day out. We cannot permit ethical and linguistic drift--we cannot get used to a Constitution defined by those least loyal to it. But criticism is not enough, and when it simply demonizes the human beings playing those roles, it just plays into the old polarizations. Somehow we need to shine a light on the danger that the attitude of impunity poses for all of us. How do we restore the urgency of preserving ethical boundaries, and how do we build ties of mutual accountability so that this preservation is not just left to those who find shortcuts convenient?

Here's a highly inadequate set of suggestions:
  • stay in touch with friends, relatives, penpals overseas, and circulate their questions and viewpoints at home (the best American ideals are in fact the property of the whole world community, and when we betray them, we betray more than just our own country)
  • ask our political candidates whether they intend to respect the balance of power in our tripartite system, and to hold the other branches of power accountable
  • as believers, assert the right to define for ourselves what safety means, and what we're willing (and NOT willing) to give up for the sake of safety; when our politicians tell us that they're pursuing this or that policy for the sake of our safety, challenge them!
  • continue demanding access to information the government doesn't think we should have
  • rather than protesting when the FBI sends undercover people to our gatherings, welcome those people and invite them to put their faith in Jesus instead of the nation-state
  • support (and hold accountable) those members of our community whom God leads into prophetic civil disobedience
  • challenge our churches to wake up; the more conservative and biblically-based your church is, the more material you have right at hand to sound the alarm
  • pray for President Bush; impunity is a situation with spiritual danger for him and his colleagues, as well as for the rest of us and our global neighbors; AND it is extremely important that we not succumb to spiritual pride in thinking that we are better than they are.
What else?

Can evangelicals reproduce?--part two: Warm thanks to the Quaker Mole for digging up this Barna Research item entitled "A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity." One of its observations:
One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).
Here's a fantasy I'm nurturing in my imagination: Given the latest governmental equivocations about torture, I long for the day when people say, "Oh, those evangelicals! Aren't they the ones who rose up, spoke with one voice, and finally forced the White House to end all abusive interrogation practices?"

Is this Portland? It's been raining for days. But the fall rains let up yesterday, so I took some long walks. I noticed that a sign had been put up at one end of the new and attractive grassy mall between the shopping center and the building supply store here at the southern end of Elektrostal. The sign says, "The civic improvements of the mall were carried out with the participation of the Elektrostal Local Social Support Fund of the All-Russian Political Party 'United Russia'."

While heading toward the grass mall, I ran into the Neiferts, who invited me to their home tomorrow. It's a great neighborhood. We've got everything within walking distance--ATMs, a library, bookstores, grocery stores, McDonald's, and politics!

Righteous links: On November 1, George Fox University will present the premiere of a play by Trisha Gates Brown, Whatever Kindles, about the Christian Peacemaker Teams. ~~~ Halo 3 in church?? Thanks to Tina Russell for these commentaries: The New York Times and Mining Grace. ~~~ I am thoroughly enjoying this Master and Margarita Web site. ~~~ What our neighborhood doesn't have: great films. We have a wonderful movie theater--state-of-the-art. I've not seen better in Portland. But the fare on offer is mostly pretty weak. Judge for yourself. I guess we won't be getting David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.

Dessert!! Solomon Burke provides a wonderful soul/blues medley. Good golly!


Chris M. said...

Well said. Then there's this:

Jimmy Carter: US Tortures Prisoners (AP via Common Dreams):

-- Chris M.

Johan Maurer said...

Right. And I can't say that the evangelical establishment has said nothing--there's the NAE statement against torture. But in all the speculation in the media about the place of faith in the next U.S. presidential elections, you'd think the time was ripe for this establishment to do more than approve a statement.

John Kindley said...

Greetings! I share your distaste and revulsion at the crimes of the government. Among the worst are kinds you speak of in this post, but I would extend the critique to the greed-fueled oppression practiced by the politically-powerful against the American people as well. This leads me to some pretty libertarian conclusions, which I've been trying to address on my new blog at leftlibertarianquaker.blogspot.com.

I also appreciate the conservative Bible-based stance you've taken in various threads re: FUM etc. I've been an active commenter on various non-Quaker blogs for some time, but am new to the Quaker blogosphere. The convergent Friends "movement," which I've also reflected and posted on, appeals to me as a step in the right direction for the larger Quaker community.