Torture isn’t Christian (Part 2)

This entry is part 26 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

If someone is attacking you then you may kill or disable him. Self-defense is a biblical principle. However, you may not toy with him as with a spider dangled over a candle’s flame. Sadism is not a biblical ideal for Christian practice. All men—even captured soldiers in aggressing armies, criminals, and terrorists—are created in the image of God and must be respected.

Thus, captured soldiers should not be tortured. Once an aggressor is captured then he is no longer a threat. He may be executed when doing so is the just penalty for his crimes but he must not be tortured. Do unto him as you would have him do unto you if you were the one captured. As well, remember that most soldiers in aggressive actions are conscripted by states and may not share the philosophical goals of their rulers. They may not want to fight but are doing so to save their lives from state tyranny. This fact should at least be a mitigating circumstance in many cases that gives us further reason to shun the practice of torturing captives.

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Torture is not Christian (Part 1)

This entry is part 25 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

Contemporary Christians face many ethical dilemmas regarding Christian reaction to public policies of self-defense, capital punishment and, especially, the use of torture. Jesus Christ was tortured by the state. He was scourged, humiliated, had his beard plucked out, was forced to bear his own cross, and was ultimately cruelly executed by crucifixion.1 Yet was such state practice something to be emulated by Christians or a practice that they should condone? While torture is part of God’s overall plan for the ages, it does not seem to be part of His plan for the present age. One day, Christ will return and deliver all the workers of iniquity to the torturers for eternity in hell (Matthew 18:34). But on earth neither He nor his followers practiced retribution in the form of torturing other men for any reason. Indeed, at least in terms of earthly retribution and vengeance, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:29).

The exclusion of torture as part of God’s plan when Christ walked the earth was evident. God was even merciful to the demons: “And suddenly they [the demons] cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29). Jesus did not torment them immediately. In a similar passage: “And he [a demon] cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). Why Jesus was so merciful to demons may be somewhat of a mystery. But given the way that He treated His enemies, should not Christians also take their cue from Christ? How can Christians back state policies that deal with other men’s lives so cavalierly?

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