A new poll of 600 Southern evangelicals finds that they do not rely on the Bible when making decisions about torture:
A new survey suggests the very Americans who claim to follow the Bible most assiduously don’t consult it when forming their views about torture and government policy.
The poll of 600 Southern white evangelicals was released Sept. 11 in Atlanta in connection with a national religious summit on torture. It shows not only are white evangelical Southerners more likely than the general populace to believe torture is sometimes or often justified, but also that they are far more likely—to tweak a phrase from Proverbs—to “lean on their own understanding” regarding the subject.
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While a recent Pew survey showed 48 percent of the general public believes torture sometimes or often is justified in order to obtain information from suspected terrorists, the new poll shows 57 percent of white Southern evangelicals hold that belief.
Among that demographic and despite their high levels of religious belief and practice, the survey found, “white evangelicals in the South are significantly more likely to rely on life experiences and common sense (44 percent) than Christian teachings or beliefs (28 percent) when thinking about the acceptability of torture.”
Meanwhile, among the minority who pointed to the Bible and Christian doctrine as the primary influences on their view of torture, more than half—52 percent—oppose government use of such tactics.
“This is a spiritual crisis, I suggest, that should alarm all Christian leaders regardless of what we think about torture,” said Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a Baptist minister and human-rights activist from Nashville, Tenn., at a press conference announcing the survey’s results. “This bad news for the church is a plus for any special interest who wants to take advantage of us.”
Read it all here. The poll was released as part of a conference in Atlanta on torture:
Starting today, Atlanta will host a simmering ethical and religious debate about the United States’ use of harsh methods such as waterboarding in the war on terror.
David Gushee, a Mercer University professor and Baptist preacher, has put himself at the center of that debate. He is leading a push among Christians, and especially among evangelicals, to ban the methods, which he believes are torture.
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“From the moral perspective, to hear that one-fifth of evangelicals think torture is often justified, and that one-third think it is sometimes justified is extremely distressing. It shows we have a lot of work to do,” said Gushee, who also helped found Evangelicals for Human Rights in 2006.
Today and Friday, more than 200 U.S. religious, legal and political leaders will attend the conference that Gushee helped organize at Mercer’s Atlanta campus.
Keith Pavlischek from the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, also an evangelical, will not be there.
He has countered Gushee’s articles on torture in the evangelical flagship publication “Christianity Today.” Pavlischek does not rule out harsh treatment in extreme cases where lives could be saved, and he criticizes Gushee for not defining exactly what torture is.
“I want to push up against the boundary of that. Why, because I am sadistic? No, because I want to protect innocent people,” Pavlischek said.
Painful interrogations ought to be rare, but neither should suspects be simply jailed, he said.
“In between are a continuum of interrogation techniques that I believe are morally and legally permissible, that are aggressive, that are short of torture,” he said.
Gushee has responded to Pavlischek’s criticism, saying quibbling over what qualifies as torture is unseemly in the face of the golden rule and the Bible’s teachings on the sacredness of life. He defines torture as those things we would not want done to Americans and those forbidden by the Army Field Manual.
Read it all here.