Via Balkinization, a statement from the Traditional Values Coalition, which, according to its website, "is the largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby in America", and seeks "to empower people of faith through knowledge":
"The Traditional Values Coalition asked members of Congress to support President Bush's reform of prisoner treatment policies because "this is a war unlike any other we have fought -- the enemy is faceless and deliberately attacks the innocent."
TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon said American military and intelligence experts are hampered by a vague "outrages upon personal dignity" statement in Article Three of the Geneva Convention of 1950.
"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists. Civil suits against our military personnel are tying their hands as they try to get vital information which will save the lives of our young military people and the innocent."
"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post -World War II standards do not apply to this new war.
"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits.
"And since this debate is, at its very core, about preserving the traditional value of prosecuting injustice and protecting the innocent, TVC will score this vote in both the House and the Senate. We encourage all of our supporters and affiliated churches to contact their elected representatives and let them know we support President Bush's efforts to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees in order to provide greater protection for our troops and the innocent.""
Brian Tamanaha, who wrote about this at Balkinization, adds: "This can't be right (although I'm not a Christian)." Well, I'm not a Christian either, but I used to be one, and retain a lot of respect for my old religion. Therefore, I don't feel the least hesitation about saying: it's not just that this isn't Christianity; this is the antithesis of what Christianity is supposed to be all about. And I think it's worth documenting this. I am not in favor of pretense generally, and so I am not in favor of Democrats who don't like religion pretending that they do. For that very reason, however, I think it's worth pointing out that there's a lot in Christianity that is genuinely worthy of respect; and that whenever those in power, or those who wish to ingratiate them, have sought to pervert its message, they have always stood condemned by the words of the God whose name they take in vain.
Documentation below the fold.
As the Traditional Values Coalition says, Christianity does say a lot about protecting the innocent. That's one reason why I would have thought that Christians would be horrified at the the idea of stripping habeas rights from people who have not been convicted of any crime. In particular, the Bible has a lot to say about the innocent being thrown in prison, and how we should treat them. The passage that would have leapt to my mind, had I been writing a statement for the Traditional Values Coalition, is this:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
But that's hardly an isolated passage. Many good people are thrown into prison in the Bible, and God always hears their cries:
"Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die." (Psalm 79:11)
"When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD." (Psalm 102:16-22)
"Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever: Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners: The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous: The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down." (Psalm 146:5-9)
"I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isaiah 42:6-7)
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isaiah 61:1)
"Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry." (Lamentations 3:52-6)
The Bible does not describe nearly as many good people who are prison-keepers or guards, and those it does describe are merciful:
"And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." (Acts 16 27-34)
The God described in the Bible is just, and He is deeply concerned with both mercy and justice:
"Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted." (Psalm 89:14-16)
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts. To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3)"
"Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil." (Isaiah 56:1-2)
And one of my favorites, both for the language and for the message:
"None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.
We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;
In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.
And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him." (Isaiah 59:4-16
(If the Traditional Values Coalition has its way, there will never be an intercessor for the innocent, and judgment will be turned away backward, and justice will stand far off, and truth shall have fallen in the street.)
The God of the Bible hates injustice. Moreover, He is not the least impressed by people's own conviction that they are just or righteous:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18 10-14)
This is one of the things I have always found most perplexing about people who claim to be Christians, and are also self-righteous: the Bible is quite clear that what matters is not how firmly you think that you are righteous, or how well you go through the motions. What matters is what an omniscient God who can see your innermost heart makes of what you do. This, to me, was always a terrifying thought. The Bible also suggests that insofar as your own view of yourself bears any relation at all to what God makes of you, the relation is inverse: God does not think much of those who are "puffed up" or proud, nor does he seem particularly well-disposed to those who make a big deal of their religiosity.
It's so easy to be wrong about how good you are. Everyone does it. And as the first passage I cited -- the one about the sheep and the goats -- makes clear, what turns on whether or not you actually are a decent person who feeds the hungry, takes in the stranger, clothes the naked, and visits those who are sick or in prison is enormous: whether you receive "everlasting punishment" or "life eternal." That's not a mistake you want to make.
Offhand, I would have thought that a Christian who was mindful of this would want to be especially careful before aligning him- or herself with those who refuse comfort to those who are despised and afflicted. I can't see any scriptural support at all for the idea that what God really wants of us is, instead, to do our very best to deprive them of any way of finding justice in this world, or of making their voices heard to anyone other than God. I would have thought one should cite this passage instead:
"If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:
Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit (...)
My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:
For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood." (Proverbs 1:11-16)
Note: While I was writing this, I came upon a passage I used to love, but had since forgotten: "For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes." (Psalm 119:83) "I am become like a bottle in the smoke" -- isn't it wonderful? What on earth does it mean?