The Common Good

White Evangelicals for Torture

Too many white evangelicals stand for torture, according to a recent Pew Forum study reported by

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White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

These are disturbing statistics, and I hope they engender some dialogue among white evangelicals. These figures reminded me of something I wrote last year for Christian Century:

Consider this question: Is it ever justifiable to intentionally target innocent civilians in order to achieve other political or military ends? 86, 81, and 80% of American, Canadian, and British citizens say never. But only 46% of Iranians say never. A striking 24% say attacks on civilians are often or sometimes justified, and 6% say such attacks are completely justified.

The previous sentences are lies, dangerous lies. The fact that these lies nestle so easily into our presumed knowledge suggests why we need to rethink what many of us think we know about Islam -- and ourselves. An important new book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup Press, 2007) would be a great place to begin such a rethinking.

The truth is that the scary figures attributed above to Iranians actually apply to Americans, and the more civilized figures attributed to Americans, Canadians, and British citizens apply to the people of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran (Who Speaks? p. 95). In contrast to the 6% of Americans who say civilian attacks are completely justified, only 2% of Iranians or Lebanese would agree, and only 4% of Saudis.

What do these statistics say about Americans in general and white American evangelicals in particular? Why would white evangelicals be most likely to support torture? Could some conventional theological assumptions of evangelicals have anything to do with it?

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren ( is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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