This is Torture Awareness Month, and I’ve been working to recruit congregations to hang banners saying “Torture is Wrong.” Sometimes I get the question, “Why should our congregation take a stand on this issue?”
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has compiled a good list of resources about why people of faith are speaking out against torture. Let me add my own thoughts.
As I look at my tradition, Christianity, and its roots in Judaism, I see much of its ethical teachings as based in empathy.
We see this clearly in the Laws of Moses:
“You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
Why not oppress? Because you know what it’s like. Even if you as a person have not experienced this, remember your history as a people and a faith. Remember what it’s like to be powerless, so that you won’t take advantage of the weak.
Jesus continues teaching from this tradition by reminding his followers of Lev. 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
If you love your neighbor, you won’t torture him. That may be trite, but it is true.
Likewise, when we look at the history of our faith community, we as a people know what it is to be tortured. From the St. Stephan, the first Christian martyr, to the Jews of the Holocaust, people of faith have seen what it is to be unjustly beaten, tortured, and killed. From a Christian perspective, of course, we see this most in Jesus, who was flogged, humiliated, and nailed to a cross–certainly a form of torture.
The teaching of Exodus can be restated, “you know the soul of the tortured, having been tortured by Rome.”
And now we are in power. As people of faith in America, we are part of the world’s only remaining superpower.
We are part of the New Rome. The New Egypt. The new empire.
And it is vital that we look back to our history and our tradition that we remember that we too as a people were victims of torture, and that we choose God’s path of empathy and declare:
Torture is wrong.