Christians & Torture: Making Us Uncomfortable


In light of the Senate’s recent report on the CIA’s use of torture, pastor and author, Brian Zahnd, offered some reflections in an article he entitled, You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture.

I don’t expect the post to go down well with many evangelicals, but I do believe it presents pointed challenges to the idea of Christ-follwers supporting the practice of torturing prisoners. In other words, I expect it to make many uncomfortable.

Do read the whole article yourself. But I highlight a few of his thoughts below:

Zahnd states:

Those who call themselves Christian are followers of one who was tortured and killed by a superpower supremely committed to its own security. The Roman governor Pilate condemned Jesus to torture and execution by acting in the interests of the Pax Romana. The Roman Empire could not tolerate a Galilean preacher claiming to be the King of the Jews. Rome called it insurrection and the penalty was crucifixion. So Jesus was tortured to death. But when God raised him on the third day, Jesus and his message of enemy-love and radical forgiveness were vindicated. The cross of Christ forever shames torture as a means for achieving “freedom” and “security.” Torture does not lead to freedom and security. Torture is demonic and it leads to hell.

He continues:

The constant rival to the kingdom of Christ is empire, and the supreme obsession of empire is security. Empires always justify their violence in the name of security. Christians on the other hand make no claim to security. We are not safe. We have willingly embarked upon the risk of following Jesus, knowing full well that such a venture may lead to suffering and death.

The question is: How can we support an act which was used to put our own Lord to death? And the cross was not just about putting him to death, but even more about imposing the highest measure of suffering and agony upon Christ as a criminal.

Christ and the cross show torture for what it is – ungodly.

One theologian and author I greatly respect is Scot McKnight. He offers some feedback as well in light of Brian Zahnd’s post:

McKnightBrian brings up the commandment to love, which some no doubt will turn around to say “to love my family or nation I must protect by use of torture,” but I would go as well to the cross. It was an expression of the hideousness of Rome’s violent powerful rulers to use force and torture in the use of crucifixion as a deterrent, as a punishment, and — what’s more — an extravagant display of its arrogant power.

Torture is the arrogance of the mighty.

What Christians can do in responding to American torture is a theme I develop briefly in Kingdom Conspiracy — show to the world its worldliness for naming it as torture and by showing that the way to respond to enemies is love, grace, and forgiveness. A cycle of violence met by a cycle of love create a culture of grace and justice and peace.

The cross of Christ reveals what God thinks of torture: it is not the way of God. God turned torture into new life by resurrection and overcoming torture.

The way of Christ-community is that of the cross, no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. However, this is not in the sense of forcing the suffering of “the cross” to others. Let us chew on these words.

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