In a move very surprising to this veteran of far too many southern talk radio programs where I was the one condemning torture to a hostile audience, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has just condemned torture.
“I don’t agree with the belief that we should use any means necessary to extract information,” said SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land. “I believe there are absolutes. There are things we must never do under any circumstances.”
Furthermore, they clearly indicated that waterboarding is indeed an act of torture:
“For me the ultimate test is: Could I, in good conscience, do whatever I am authorizing or condoning others to do? If not, then I must oppose the action. If I could not waterboard someone—and I couldn’t—then I must oppose its practice.”
Land said he considers waterboarding to be torture because the definition of torture includes the determination of whether a procedure causes permanent physical harm, noting he is unable to “separate physical from psychological harm” in this instance. The practice contravenes an individual’s personhood and their humanity, he said.
“It violates everything we believe in as a country,” Land said, reflecting on the words in the Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
“There are some things you should never do to another human being, no matter how horrific the things they have done. If you do so, you demean yourself to their level,” he said.
“Civilized countries should err on the side of caution. It does cost us something to play by different rules than our enemies, but it would cost us far more if we played by their rules,” Land concluded.
To begin, I’d like to applaud the Southern Baptist Convention for taking this stand. Based on my anecdotal observations, this won’t be popular with the let’s-waterboard-them-another-hundred-times crowd. However, some of their members may now think through the issue or gain the courage to publicly oppose acts of torture.
While this condemnation is clearly many days late, it’s not a dollar short. Perhaps it’s time to welcome the Southern Baptists into the fold of people who like to have rational and reasonable debate over issues of a political nature. Or perhaps not.