Dallas, Texas: A New Vision

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 18 October 2006 0 Comments
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Several weeks ago I solicited reader comments on a letter from

Graeme Moore on torture. I promised to print the responses in place of the

regular question and answer feature to my column. The letters below are a

fulfillment of that promise. Thanks to all of you for your participation in

this debate.

John Shelby Spong


Gerald Nordstrom from Minneapolis, MN, writes:

Graeme Moore is correct in saying that torture or any defense of

it violates the Golden Rule. Failure to observe this rule accounts for

cruelty and dishonesty of all kinds - the effluence of self-centeredness,

the core of all evil. By contrast and at the heart of the Golden Rule are

empathy, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness.

Too many born-again Bible-worshipers brush the Golden Rule

aside, disinclined to do the soul-searching necessary for following it.

Preferring commandments easier to follow, they proudly come out against

abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, etc., and then comfortably give

ignoble support for preemptive violence, presumptuous dominance, and


As to why liberals do not move against the President's defense

of these things, liberals are characteristically laissez-faire, and their

tolerance has dangerously allowed Bush too much rope - though there is hope

it will be pulled back smartly in the coming election.

Gladys M. Peckham from Bradenton, FL, writes:

These are the same people who advocate war as an answer to world

problems. There are no faces in war, not even our own troops. It is simply

the good guys and bad guys. Us versus them, and them is always wrong. It

takes too much trouble to work things out by listening and respect. Seems

we are back in the wild west, no value in people, just land.

John Backus via the Internet writes:

I come from a family whose past (before my parents) was very

violent. My mother, in a fearful time of our life, once told me (before I

was a teenager) that if someone were to ask me a question, and then start

breaking my fingers - I must never answer - because I was already dead, but

just didn't know it yet. And if I absolutely had to speak, I must lie - and

lie in such a way that I take "one of them" with me.

I not only believe that any form of torture is beneath us - but

it is demonstrably counter productive. I have witnessed it in my country,

and it was what I was taught in my own family. Those days are long gone -

all those folk, and my parents, are dead. But the memory of that

conversation lingers strong.

Alan via the internet (jepysdad) writes:

As Mr. Moore from Canada wrote and you so accurately nailed in

your "Small Leaders in a New Dark Age" column there appears to be no

political price for our leaders to wander naked down the street in the

parade. Sure a few of us are pointed at the horror of two old rich white

men in their sagging birthday suits, but most cheer them on cause they wear

the crown. I did a piece on my blog about torture being a new family value.

It is below. Peace, Alan

New Family Value, Torture!

Apparently listening to sermons preaching fire and brimstone isn't

torturous enough. Family values means more than just imaging the damning

lake of fire, it entails ensuring Biblical level suffering is inflicted upon

infidels. The techniques have been updated for our century. Rather than

dunk suspected evildoers in the closest river or lake, modern day plumbing

enables the drowning to occur inside a jail cell.

Two techniques approximate a winter time dunking in the

Elizabeth River. One, the prisoner is kept naked in a 50 degree cell and

splashed with cold water for days at a time. The second is called

waterboarding, where the prisoners only think they are drowning. Really

they are just suffocating due to plastic wrap over their face while water

splashed over them.

Groups endorsing these practices include the Family Research

Council and The Traditional Values Coalition. Apparently these are common

adolescent behavior modification practices in the Biblical family known for

treating others the way they wish to be treated. Leaders of both groups

implied those blocking the President's plan to use coercive techniques and

testimony, hearsay, and restrict access to evidence will pay the political


"Maverick status is looked upon as a strength in Congress, but a

maverick in the White House is not looked upon with great admiration from

our folks," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said


"Politically, this isn't wise," added the Rev. Louis Sheldon,

chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, which supports the president's

call for Congress to approve touch interrogation techniques for terrorism


Tony Perkins and Rev. Sheldon likely desire the day any God

fearing Christian can simply shout "This person is possessed" and the might

of governmental power descends upon the innocent victim. Yes, bring back

the use of hearsay that saw many innocents in America's early history

exterminated for crop failures and violent storms.

Yet, there is no price for government failure.

D. A. Taylor via the Internet writes:

I agree with Mr. Moore that leadership must find its voice in

this horrendous spectacle of Mr. Bush using and manipulating torture to

further ends of war. Where are the Jerry Falwells, the Oral Roberts, The

Billy Grahams, the Pat Robertsons and Shulers of the Christian world? Or

are they extremists similar to the Imans and clerics who burn churches and

effigies in the name of peace loving and tolerant Islam? I guess I know the

answer to that part of the established Christian leadership and that it

exposes their hypocrisy for its enormity. At the same time, leaders of the

main line denominations like United Methodists, Jews, Catholics, Baptists,

etc. should all be stepping up to the podium to speak clearly of Christian

values and how they are against the behavior being shown by the born again

Mr. Bush, a self professed Christian disciple. To hear Mr. Bush puzzle over

what is meant by "outrages upon human dignity". As John Spong relates, this

puzzle is a smokescreen that seeks to hide the fact that outrageous things

have already been done and condoned by the leadership.

I have seen the documentary called Guantanamo and it makes me

sick in its portrayal of the abuse and inhumane treatment of political

prisoners at the hands of Americans and British. Canada's Mayar Arar is

only the tip of the iceberg in what has happened in the American-led Western

World in the last 6 years. It is truly appalling.

Rob Hirschman from Saginaw, MI, writes:

The honest answer is that many Christians support torture

because they support George W. Bush and his so called war on terror. These

are the people that continue to say Saddam was involved in 9-11 and that we

are doing God's will by liberating the people of Iraq no matter how many of

them get killed along the way. Facts mean nothing to these people who

honestly believe God is on their side. The foundation of their belief is

that they and they alone know the truth about God and everything concerning

God. These people have no room for doubt or open thought because it makes

them uncomfortable even to consider the possibility that they might be

wrong. The world is black and white to them with no shades of grey. They

pick and choose which part of the scripture to follow. It is like eating at

a buffet. The bottom line with them is that only Christians have real truth

and to hell with everyone else figuratively and literally.

Dr. Sharon Gilliland from Indianapolis, IN, writes:

I completely agree with Graeme Moore's comments about Christians

and torture. I feel strongly that torture is wrong. I feel appalled to

realize that my feelings and opinions are not shared by those who have power

in this country. I am ashamed to be an American and wish I could easily

move my allegiance to another country. I feel powerless to effect any

change in those who rule this country.

John Kenyon from Silver Spring, MD, writes:

Regarding the recent letter writer's question about the failure

of Christians to stand up against torture, I think it is much like anything

else: we only notice the thing that "sticks out" (Erich Fromm's term) and

not that which is already doing as it ought. We committed Christians, not

necessarily aligned with any specific sect or organization, are raising Holy

Hell about this issue, and we will continue to make a loud noise and will

walk the walk as well as talk. I would go so far as to say that those who

oppose man's inhumanity to man, regardless of the banner beneath which they

do so, are all acting in the spirit of Christ and therefore may be

considered Christians (even if some of them might be offended by the


This is about as succinct as I ever get. Thanks for your

ongoing good work. We are with you, and we are many.




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