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Rallying the Faithful

The religious left campaigns against U.S. interrogation policies.

12:00 AM, Sep 26, 2008 • By MARK TOOLEY
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PRIMARILY ORGANIZED BY the Evangelical left, a summit called "Religious Faith, Torture and Our National Soul" convened in Atlanta on September 11 to inveigh against the Bush administration's allegedly pro-torture policies.

Evangelicals for Human Rights President David Gushee was the summit's chief organizer. A Christian ethicist at Mercer University, Gushee helped persuade the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) last year to endorse his evangelical manifesto against torture. The manifesto, along with intensified interest in Global Warming, has marked the NAE's shift to the left. Gushee and other leaders within NAE also represent the increasingly predominant Evangelical Left within evangelical academia, where the traditional Religious Right is shunned as an embarrassment.

Gushee's NAE-backed manifesto, like the Atlanta summit, largely avoid any definition of "torture" but widely assumed that the United States is a routine and pervasive practitioner of it. And although ostensibly focused on inhumane interrogation techniques, the religious anti-torture campaign seems to represent a wider opposition to the wars of the Bush administration.

Stressing the summit's interfaith backing, Gushee enthused: "It began as a Baptist and evangelical event and I'm really happy to say it evolved," he said, according to a United Methodist target=_blank>report. "That's profound. We do share this country. We need to learn each other's name. I'm excited about the interfaith aspect of this gathering and I believe that only religious belief provides the grounding that we need to pull us out of our worst self."

Summit sponsors included The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which is comprised largely of oldline Protestant groups, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for non-conservative Southern Baptists, the Islamic Society for North America, Jim Wallis's Sojourners, and Ron Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action.

"Since the beginning of our effort we have faced critics who could not accept that any group could take such a stance without an ulterior motive," Gushee wrote shortly before the summit. "Rarely willing to offer full-throated defense of torture, our critics most often tried to attack our motives, charging that we were politically motivated--simply leftists in Christian clothing, peaceniks unconcerned with American security."

Urging "every Christian" to read Jane Mayer's new expose on Bush Administration policies, The Dark Side, Gushee cited the book as vindication against purportedly "Christian" critics who have derided him and other anti-torture activists as "unpatriotic leftist peaceniks." Gushee concluded: "I leave it to those Christians who defended--and still defend--such policies to explain themselves before God and man."

Among those critics is Keith Pavlischek from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who has accused Gushee and many of his anti-torture activist colleagues of a soft pacifism that disregards the state's vocation to uphold justice and defend the innocent. Himself an Iraq War veteran and Christian ethicist, he noted Gushee's reluctance to define torture, telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "I want to push up against the boundary of that. Why, because I am sadistic? No, because I want to protect innocent people." Terror suspects do not qualify for the same protections afforded U.S. citizens and lawful combatants, 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," Pavlischek insisted.

According to the Journal Constitution, Gushee's dismissed Pavlischek's critique as a mere quibbling over torture definitions, when the Bible and the Golden Rule of Christianity affirm all human life as sacred. Gushee would invest all terror detainees with the same protections as U.S. citizens and as afforded by the Army Field Manual toward lawful combatants. In turn, Pavlischek has pointed out that this standard would preclude even "angry shouting," and that Gushee's anti-torture manifesto pacifistically urges that the U.S. War on Terror rely on "non-lethal methods."