AN EVANGELICAL DECLARATION AGAINST TORTURE: PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS IN AN AGE OF TERROR
1. Introduction: From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred. As evangelical Christians, recognition of this transcendent moral dignity is non-negotiable in every area of life, including our assessment of public policies. This commitment has been tested in the war on terror, as a public debate has occurred over the moral legitimacy of torture and of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees held by our nation in the current conflict. We write this declaration to affirm our support for detainee human rights and our opposition to any resort to torture.
2. Sanctity of Life: We ground our commitment to human rights in the core Christian theological conviction that each and every human life is sacred. This theme wends its way throughout the Scriptures: in Creation, Law, the Incarnation, Jesus’ teaching and ministry, the Cross, and his Resurrection. Concern for the sanctity of life leads us to vigilant sensitivity to how human beings are treated and whether their God-given rights are being respected.
3. Human Rights: Human rights, which function to protect human dignity and the sanctity of life, cannot be cancelled and should not be overridden. Recognition of human rights creates obligations to act on behalf of others whose rights are being violated. Human rights place a shield around people who otherwise would find themselves at the mercy of those who are angry, aggrieved, or frightened. While human rights language can be misused, this demands its clarification rather than abandonment. Among the most significant human rights is the right to security of person, which includes the right not to be tortured.
4. Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy such a large place in Western thought should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk” after World War II. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.
5. Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act in ways that recognize human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must teach their members to think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues such as this one. Our own government must honor its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights. The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11. We need to regain our moral clarity.
6. Legal Structures: International law contains numerous clear and unequivocal bans on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. These bans are wise and right and must be embraced without reservation once again by our own government. Likewise, United States law and military doctrine has banned the resort to torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Tragically, documented acts of torture and of inhumane and cruel behavior have occurred at various sites in the U.S. war on terror, and current law opens procedural loopholes for more to continue. We commend the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning such acts, and urge that this ban extend to every sector of the United States government without exception, including our intelligence agencies.
7. Concluding Recommendations: The abominable acts of 9/11, along with the continuing threat of terrorist attacks, create profound security challenges. However, these challenges must be met within a moral and legal framework consistent with our values and laws, among which is a commitment to human rights that we as evangelicals share with many others. In this light, we renounce the resort to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, call for the extension of procedural protections and human rights to all detainees, seek clear government-wide embrace of the Geneva Conventions, including those articles banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners, and urge the reversal of any U.S. government law, policy, or practice that violates the moral standards outlined in this declaration.