Here’s my response to a recent inquiry as to how I would handle certain responses from rightist family or friends. First are excerpts from the inquiring email (blockquoted), then my response.

I recently had an argument with a christian republican … who felt it was morally justifiable for the US to torture suspected terrorists because in his words they’re “animals” and they “want to kill us.”

I told him (he watches a lot of Fox ‘News’ by the way and reads books by Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich) there were no biblical grounds to justify torture and he mentioned some obscure passage in the old testament where the Lord commanded the Israelites to slaughter their enemies and spare not the women and children.

He also said terror suspects don’t have the right to lawyers and a fair trial because they aren’t U.S. citizens and they don’t have rights under the Geneva Conventions because they aren’t prisoners of war.

It truly is sad that my family is so morally and spiritually confused that they think it’s ok to torture someone in the interest of national security even if they haven’t been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

He accused me (and democrats like me) of using the Jesus of the New Testament to justify being soft on terror. I told him we could effectively wage war against terrorists without losing the moral high ground and he equated that with democrats being too “nice” to the enemy.

He also used the end times Battle of Armageddon where Christ defeats the armies of this world to justify his views on torture.

I am writing … to ask you how you would address his arguments …

I’m ashamed to call myself a Christian now because of how warped the people who claim to represent my faith have become.

Sincerely, xyz

Here’s my slightly edited reply. How do you respond to such situations? What should be our “philosphy of response”?

Wow. Lots of issues here.

So my first answer is to quote Gandhi.

“Speak the truth, without fear and without exception … You are in God’s work, so you need not fear man’s scorn. If they listen … [good]. If they reject them, then you must make their rejection your strength.” (Quoted by Howard Thurman in “Jesus and the Disinherited”).

And Vaclav Havel (a leader in the east European resistance to Communism and later a Pres of the Czech Republic). “Live in the truth.”

Our job is not to win approval from people (especially not from people who are unwilling to seek the truth with any energy or integrity). Our job is to love them, and to love the truth. And this represents the hard part.

Other issues:

Sounds like they prefer Moses and monarchy to Jesus and spirituality. That is a choice often made on the religious right. But we are called “Christians” for a reason. We are not “Mosesites” or “Davidians”.

Jesus got in very serious trouble with the Moses-pushers of his own day. In fact they killed him. They were mostly corrupt, but at least they had a “Biblical theology” behind them (they thought!). I’m sorry. We don’t have that option.

As to the Battle of Armageddon – it is not something Jesus talked a lot about or set forth as a standard of his new Kingdom and – as with many of their Scriptural references – it is not clearly presented either in regards to its history or its moral philosophy. We have to go to what is clear, and that involves truthfulness and love, not arrogance and bloodthirstiness. To focus on such things as Armageddon is to deliberately avoid the life and teachings and Spirit of Christ. Whatever that battle represents or achieves, it will not be by corrupt human political machinations.

And we don’t have the option to be international criminals (which is where we are placed by unilateral abrogation of Geneva and other agreements). We don’t have the option to despise our own standards of law and Constitutional principle. Those things are what it MEANS to be an American. Deliberate rejection of those things is anti-American.

And we don’t have the option to get our “facts” and our moral guidance from known liars and criminals – like Hannity, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh. Sorry. There is just NO credibility there. Once someone chooses to take guidance from the likes of them they have already made a fundamental moral choice. If they also begin to listen to you (or other voices from reality), then there starts to be some hope. There is often a difficult period of ambiguity there as people sort thru things.

The (limited) success I’m having with people like the ones you describe seems to come from:

1. I do try to speak the truth, whether they want to hear it or not. I don’t talk about it all the time we’re together – very little in fact. But if they bring it up I try to speak truth. I try hard to be courteous and kind and friendly. But I take a public stand.

2. They know I’m credible in my treatment of Bible and of Christ – but that’s because many of them have heard me preach.

3. The behavior of the opposition is often the strongest motivation for people to start listening to alternatives. But the healthier alternatives have to be there (i.e. have to be speaking the truth enough that they are known as an alternative).

Thanks for your inquiry. I hope this helps. And maybe you’ll want to browse some of the articles listed in the left margin of the site – although you probably already have.

God bless your concerns and your efforts!


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