As an American, I live in a nation where the majority of persons now approve of the use of torture (around 59% according to an ABC/Washington Post poll). A majority of Americans also approve of state sponsored execution (around 63% according to a Gallup Poll) , although the percentage has declined significantly since the mid 1990’s when support for the death penalty peaked around 80%. The polls also show that those who identify as Christian approve of torture and executions at a significantly higher rate than most other groups in our society.
As an Oklahoman, I live in a state where an even larger majority of persons approve of the use of torture and execution. The percentage of persons in Oklahoma who identify as Christian is much higher than the national average. The vast majority of persons in Oklahoma approve of the use of capital punishment, even in the aftermath of the horrifically botched execution in April of 2014 in which an execution became torture and in spite of the fact that no other Western democracy allows capital punishment. Torture and executions are supported and defended by Oklahoma politicians who are elected with large majorities time and time again. Retiring Senator Tom Coburn says, “To me, waterboarding is not torture. That’s just me personally. I’ve seen it. You’re not going to die from it, you just think you are. It’s a psychological tool.” Long-time defender of torture Senator Jim Inhofe said in response to the atrocities at Abu Ghraib that he was “outraged by the outrage” over the torture that occurred there. In response to the Senate Torture Report released earlier this month, Senator Inhofe stated, “This over $40 million report is nothing more than a partisan attempt to discredit vital intelligence gathering techniques that have saved an untold number of lives” (Senator Inhofe’s facebook page, December 9, 2014).
Torture and execution are strongly held Oklahoma values, and self-identified Christians in Oklahoma hold these values more strongly than those who are not Christian. The self-identified Christian politicians who speak openly for and support these Oklahoma values are rewarded.
There are numerous aspects of this reality about Oklahomans’ support for torture and execution that sadden me and make me scared for our future, especially for the future of my Muslim friends and neighbors and also for persons who are in other minority groups who are more likely to be tortured or executed. As a Christian, I am especially saddened that there is such a strong correlation between being a Christian and supporting torture and executions. Perhaps we who say we follow Jesus need to be reminded that the incarnation of love we celebrated on Christmas a few days ago was a Middle Eastern person who was tortured and executed by the governing authorities and who calls us to love our neighbor and to love our enemies and at no time or in any way, shape, or form, calls us to torture or execute them. Perhaps we also need to be reminded that we are bearing false witness when we sign international treaties condemning and outlawing torture in any form but then continue to support torture. Not only are we not following the way of Jesus; we are breaking our promises to the international community. Lying to the international community and not following the way of Jesus who calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies surely cannot be Oklahoma or American values. Christians follow one who was tortured and executed, not one who calls for torture and executions.