Would Jesus waterboard?

SurferOn Saturday, March 8, 2008 President Bush announced that he vetoed a bill that would end the use of waterboarding. At first glance the term waterboarding seems to be synonymous with surfing or some other kind of wave-riding sport. Maybe one would think it’s something akin to boogie boarding or paddleboarding. It sure sounds recreational. However, for anyone not living in a cave or hasn’t been paralyzed by their video games for the past couple of years or so, they probably know the term waterboarding is hardly related to any accepted recreational sport. Of course, if you see torturing other humans as an accepted recreational pastime, you may disagree.
According to my favorite quick-reference encyclopedia Wikipedia, waterboarding is “a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on their back with the head inclined downward (the Trendelenburg position), and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning and is made to believe that death is imminent. In contrast to merely submerging the head face-forward, waterboarding almost immediately elicits the gag reflex. Although waterboarding does not always cause lasting physical damage, it carries the risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, and even death. The psychological effects on victims of waterboarding can last for years after the procedure.”
Waterboarding was used for interrogation at least as early as the Spanish Inquisition to obtain information, coerce confessions, punish, and intimidate. It is considered to be torture by a wide range of authorities, including legal experts, politicians, war veterans, intelligence officials, military judges, and human rights organizations. In 2007 waterboarding led to a political scandal in the United States when the press reported that the CIA had waterboarded extrajudicial prisoners and that the Justice Departmenthad authorized this procedure. The CIA has admitted waterboarding Al-Qaida suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
The central issue here is whether the use of waterboarding or any other form of torture is a legitimate program for extracting critical information. There are many people, including Christians who believe this form of torture is warranted given the value of the information extracted from high-valued suspects. It has been said that the intelligence obtained from these suspects through waterboarding was critical to preventing other specific acts of terrorism against the United States and some of its allies. Many of these acts if carried out, would have resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives, billions of dollars of economic damage, and a depreciation of our “way of life.” Given the level of possible destruction to people and property, some could assume that any form of torture is legitimate if it is to insure the national security and well-being of the nation. After all, the purpose or government is for the defense of the nation (against foes, foreign and domestic) and to insure domestic tranquility. Shouldn’t the government use whatever means it has at its disposal to insure national “peace and safety?”
Even though there are plenty of people who support the use of torture for preventing acts of violence and terrorism, there are also a number of dissenting opinions. According to a CNN poll, “a majority of Americans consider waterboarding a form of torture, but some of those say it’s OK for the U.S. government to use the technique, according to a poll released Tuesday.Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.”Although I think I have a good understanding of the complexities of the questions being raised regarding torture in general, and waterboarding specifically, I want to explore what side professing should Christians areon. Should Christian give assent to torture or not? I believe theScripture give us some fundamental direction in dealing with these kinds of questions. I think the first thing we must remember is that, man’s ways and thoughts are not the same as God’s and that the characteristics of God’s Kingdom hardly mirrors the same attitudes as those that are typical to our own natural, worldly understanding. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) presents such a comparison and contrast between His kingdom and the world. The sermon presents the essence of true Christian character seeking to represent Him in the world. Throughout the sermon, Jesus presents His hearers with the evidences of Christian character and piety. He does this by exposing the thinking of a unregenerated, worldly mindset. This is most profoundly detailed in his treatment of enemies, where in Matthew 5:43-48 we read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Is itevident that Jesus is compelling those who follow him to be as God is. That is to be perfect as God is perfect. Even though many would argue that that ideal is impossible, I think that one can see it is a real matter of intent that is at the core here. We are to be imitators of God, as children of God. Therefore we should resolve to demonstrate love for our enemies and to seek to do to others that which we would like for them to do to us.How about torture?
Is there any place in scripture that suggests God approves of the activity of inflicting severe physical or mental pain on an individual for the purpose of extracting information relative to a crime planned or committed? Doesn’t a loving God want to prevent the bloodshed of innocent lives and desires the destruction of evil men? I would agree that God hates to see injury come to anyone, especially the innocent, but it is abundantly clear throughout scripture that God loves his enemies and continues to give mercy until that mercy is ultimately rejected. The issue of the use of waterboarding, or for that matter, any kind of torture is not of the Kingdom of God and is clearly rooted in the belief that the ends justify the means. For Christians the question is whether there is a place in our lives where we can give legitimacy to acts that bring physical, mental, and emotional harm to one human being so as to “guarantee” the physical, mental, andemotional wellbeing of a larger community. Ultimately, as members of the Kingdom of God, can you see Jesus using waterboarding or torture to save other innocent lives. What would Jesus do, and should we imitate Him?
This week I’ve read a few blogs considering the question regarding torture and the relationship of the Church in society. Please take a look at these submissions by Mark Liederbach, Greg Boyd, and David Kuo. It may be a bit to read, but I think it’s pretty insightful, responsible, and serious. Let me know what you think. _ Steve

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