I was disappointed, but not too surprised, to see lots of my Messianic Jewish and Christian online friends jump on the CIA-Republican bandwagon when the Senate Intelligence Committee released its December 9 report on CIA interrogation techniques. It was even more disappointing to see some of them take up the pragmatic argument—these methods are OK because ultimately they save lives.
It seems to me that we have to first address the moral issue before we argue whether the methods are effective—and moral issues never seem to prevail on the bandwagon. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote, “The Senate report overreaches in its claim that torture was ‘not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.’ Would that we could be so sure. It’s wiser to be agnostic about effectiveness, but clear about ethics.”
Right on target. The headlines speak of “CIA Torture.” Did the techniques in question cross the line into torture? If so, is torture ever acceptable, ever something to be sanctioned, however secretively, by a legitimate government?
Ironically, the argument against torture rests on the same biblical foundation as other positions that my conservative friends deeply hold—as do I. I’m thinking of support for the right to life and for traditional marriage. We don’t advocate for these causes just because of their beneficial influence on society (although they have that effect if they’re applied in a balanced and humane fashion), but because of the moral dimension, which depends on the biblical picture of humankind as created in God’s image.
This is precisely why laws that block same-sex marriage are being systematically struck down by the courts—they rest on a moral, and ultimately biblical, base that our society has foolishly decided to abandon. The kind of pragmatism that would justify torture (if that’s what the CIA was doing) would also ask how you can ban or stigmatize a relationship between two consenting adults that doesn’t hurt anyone else, or how you can define a tiny embryo within a woman’s very private body as a human creature with a right to life.
If we want laws to reflect the biblical definition of human identity and human worth in one case, we need to support the same in every case. A biblically-informed ethic trumps pragmatism. I don’t know whether David Ignatius believes in Scripture, but he gets it right again: “That’s why banning torture is a moral choice: Because in doing so, we may indeed lose useful information. That’s the risk we take in doing the right thing.”
If the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” constitute torture, we should know where to stand, regardless of the partisan divide on the issue. If we want to defend the Bible and follow Messiah Yeshua, we need to watch out for the snare of partisanship. Otherwise, we’ll just let our prophetic mantle slip off our shoulders.