What is wrong with American Christianity, especially those of us who call ourselves evangelicals? Have we exchanged believing in the Prince of Peace for the Tsar of Torture?
How true are the words of the Apostle Paul, who chastised the church at Rome by saying, “You teach others, but not yourselves? You teach against stealing, yet you steal. You teach against adultery, yet you commit it. You teach against worshipping idols, yet you do wrong in God’s house. You take pride in the law, but are you doing wrong to God’s honor by your acts that are contrary to the law? No wonder God’s name is blasphemed among the pagans on your account!” (Romans 2:21-24). To Paul’s litany we can add: You teach human rights, love and compassion, yet you torture.
In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center from April 14-21, the more often Americans attend church, the more likely they are to support torture. Has anything changed since the days of the Inquisition when the faithful, attempting to protect the greater good (here defined as protecting their privileged space) would torture human bodies in the name of God? Of course, today rather than doing it in God’s name, we do it in democracy’s name. Regardless in whose name we say we are doing it, in reality, we are doing it in the name of Satan who signifies all that is pain, misery and death.
More than half of those who attend church every week (54 percent) say that participating in torture is “often” or “sometimes” justified. The other 42 percent said “seldom” or “never.” Here is the kicker: White evangelicals were the religious group more likely (six out of 10) to list “often” or “sometimes” while those unaffiliated with any religious organization were the least likely (four out of 10). I need to repeat this. Those with no religious affiliation, who do not attend church, are more Christian than white evangelicals.
How true will the words of Jesus come to pass: “Then (Jesus) said hard things to the towns where most of his works occurred because they did not turn away from their sins. You, Capernaum, were to be lifted up to heaven but you will go down into hell, for if the works of power done in you were to be done in Sodom, that city would still exist this day. But verily I say to you, it will be better for Sodom on the day of judging, than for you” (Matthew 11:20, 23-24).
Replace Capernaum with the United States, for in this land there is no excuse for so-called Christians to know we worship a Messiah who embodies unconditional love. And no matter how much we try to manipulate the Scriptures, we simply can never reconcile Christ with torture. To do so would only extend the violence done on the bodies who we allow to be tortured to God’s holy Word. Can’t you just see the bumper stickers? “Who would Jesus torture?”
When I read polls like this in the light of a Christian history characterized by crusades, conquistadores and colonialism, I must wonder why I should remain affiliated with a faith where the majority still believes torture is acceptable. How can I worship in a white evangelical church where one of the two folks on either side of me is lifting hands to praise God that are dripping in blood?
I am so tempted to give up on a Christianity where preachers from their pulpits preach a personal piety that ignores public responsibility. Like Muslim apologists who keep reminding us that true Islam does not condone terrorist acts, I am placed in the position of having to argue that true Christianity does not condone torture. Woe unto us to have lowered ourselves to these levels. We have exchanged the good news for a Constantinian Christianity that places empire before God. May God have mercy on our souls.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice and Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.