Friday, September 22, 2006



by PastorDan

Yesterday, as part of a conversation with National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar about what he likes to call "Middle Church," I raised a question: how is it possible to speak plainly in today's political climate? The netroots have tried to do so, only to be criticized for "obscenity" and incivil discourse.

That drew this comment from Street Prophets poster Karmakin:

...I understand no[t] wanting to drop the F-bomb. Hey, sensibilities and all that. What I don't get, is why the Middle Church, as they put it, don't want to drop the E-bomb. Another 4-letter word.


Today, I am going to meet that challenge.

What is happening on Capitol Hill today is plainly evil. As defined by Walt Lowe in the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, evil is

that which causes harm, depriving a being of some good which is proper to that being. Moral evil (in religious terms, sin) is the result of a deliberate choice.

Sen. McCain tells us "there are no losers in this deal," which is patently false. The losers are those who suffer from coercive techniques - whose definition is still left up to a cold and reckless White House - those who are charged with carrying out the policy, despite their objections, and anyone who gives a damn about life, liberty, and the rule of law. The administration has chosen its path, and the Republican Congress has wickedly chosen to follow its lead.

The new interrogation policy, if ratified, will cause harm. Obviously, it will harm prisoners lost in some black hole in the second or third world, subject to tactics that haven't quite been made public for what should again be obvious reasons. It will deprive them of goods which are proper to them, namely liberty, dignity, due process, and the fundamental right not to have to have the shit kicked out of them on the authority of an unaccountable regime.

Less obviously, this policy harms us all. Aside from the damage it does to US moral authority abroad, and the danger to which it exposes captured American troops, it degrades our shared humanity. I am less of a person because of this shocking and disgraceful policy, and so are you.

What our elected officials intend to carry out is, in a word, evil. It is time for our leaders to say so.

They won't, of course, unless one of them has a sudden attack of conscience.

More likely, they will have to be dragged into finding their consciences, kicking and screaming. It is our responsibility to do the dragging. If necessary, we will need to raise the stakes to such a point that they cannot resist the pressure. Anyone - anyone - who accomodates torture takes part in evil. That might not make us all equally responsible, but it does make us all guilty. May God have mercy on me for what is being done in my name. I do not want to be safe at that price.

Many people are asking what can be done now. I have to say, I don't know. We can try shaming our representatives into doing the right thing. Some have called for civil disobedience. We'll see what shakes out in the next few days.

I can say this much, however. Should some US Senator step forward to filibuster this awful bill, he or she will have my full support, and the support of millions. Screw political calculation: we are fighting for our nation's soul. I would rather have every last Democrat voted out of office than that they should be complicit in evil. Some will no doubt deride that as politically naive. I don't care. It is faithful.

In my faith, we often speak of the necessity of maintaining love for one another despite the consequences. I worship a God who would rather have gone to the cross than abandon his people in their suffering. Which makes another point raised by Walt Lowe all the more profound:

One repeatedly encounters testimony to the deep and almost inexplicable comfort which individuals have found in the simple fact that another person was present, sharing in some miniscule way in the pain the experience.

Jesus died alone because good people could not find the courage to overcome evil. But his sacrifice is being re-presented in secret jails across the world owned and operated by another imperial power, our own. There is no reason for the prisoners of those facilities to suffer and possibly die alone. Whether we are religious or not, we have a fundamental human responsibility not just to speak out against the abuses perpetrated upon them, but to stand in solidarity with them. They may be our enemies, but have we not been taught to pray for our enemies? Have we not been taught never to return evil for evil?

The religious among us can take comfort in God's steadfast and transformative presence. I expect the non-religious have their own sources of strength. Whatever the case, I believe we are obligated to reach inside ourselves and find what it takes not to resist evil, but to overcome it by good. I don't much care how that is accomplished, but I do know that it begins by finding a way to be present with those who suffer at the hands of our government, if only through our prayers, and by pulling our leaders into naming what has happened to our nation for it is: evil.

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