Culture At Large

Choosing Our Battles


Andrew Sullivan shares an email from a reader who is incensed about the torture of detainees by American soldiers. The emailer condemns not only President Bush, whom he accuses of failing to live up to his Christian principles by allowing these acts to happen on his watch, but also Bush's Christian base, which has not spoken out against prisoner abuse.

Where is the compassion Christians are supposed to have for others? Where is there evidence of the Golden Rule here? Why have we not heard the Christian fundamental base rise up in loud, vocal anger over the poor and abusive treatment of these prisoners? Simply put, would Jesus treat the prisoners this way? Obviously not. Should a self-proclaimed follower of Jesus treat prisoners, or allow prisoners to be treated, this way? Definitely not.

As an aside, Sullivan mentions that some evangelicals have condemned these policies. There really isn't much of a defense to be made against the emailer's criticisms, however, because Christians have been largely silent on this issue. It's not like Christians are adamantly in favor of the grisly treatment of foreign detainees, but the rest of the country that reads the news only sees Christians getting impassioned about issues like abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research - not torture.

Andy had a good point on a post a few weeks ago that got buried among all the fervent comments: "Maybe the question should instead be (and I think this is what a lot of you guys have been getting at all along—I guess I’m just slow today) 'Why have evangelicals chosen to focus on the particular issues that they have?' Why is sexual morality a more compelling civic issue to many evangelicals than, say, attention to the poor? Answer that sort of question, I think, and you’ll have more insight into evangelical political behavior."

Andy's question is an excellent one that I think Christians need to address. And the reaction in the email above raises another question: What are the consequences when Christians focus on a narrow range of issues and what do we do about these consequences?

I don't know anyone, Christian or not, who wasn't sickened by the images from Abu Ghraib a few years ago. I don't know any Christian who is openly pro-torture either. Yet the treatment of these prisoners has not become a major moral issue for politically active Christians. When Christians choose not to speak out on an issue, it makes just as much of an impression on the general public as when we do. People will judge us on the absence of moral leadership as well as the exhibition of it. Non-Christians like the outraged individual who emailed Andrew Sullivan look at Christians and say, "They believe in a culture of life, BUT..." or "They talk about a loving God, BUT..." And this lack of consistency causes Christians to lose credibility on not only our political beliefs but also our faith.

When Christians choose the issues that are most important to us, we make a loud statement about who we are as a community and what kind of God we worship. When we choose to remain silent, we make just as clear a statement. In this case - when we vocally condemn some evils but refuse to condemn an evil like torture - our actions do not go unnoticed. They certainly speak as loud as our words.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends