An old episode of the MI5 series Spooks was on TV last week.
A missile attack is planned on a building in central London.
MI5 are interrogating a man they have good reason to believe
knows where and how the missile is to be launched.
He will not tell. Lives are in danger.
So MI5 deny him sleep, inject him with various chemicals,
keep him standing up etc - and when he won’t give way,
they take his young daughter to the building to be blown up
and say they will leave her there unless he tells.
Meanwhile in a subplot, the Section Head is up for a promotion board -
He is asked if there is a line beyond which you would not go -
things you would not do, however grave the situation.
Yes, he says, there is a line….
Spooks is just fiction, albeit thought provoking fiction.
The issue seem very real this week:
are about David Milliband and Alan Johnson
denying that the UK is involved in any way with torture -
in particular with aiding the extraordinary rendition
of prisoners to other countries where torture is practised,
and very specifically not turning a blind eye, or even aiding and abetting
the alleged Pakistani ISI torture of Binyam Mohamed.
don’t at this stage know the truth of these allegations and counter
but we can take a view on the issues.
Simplifying terribly, there are I guess three basic positions.
position put forward by some commentators
in the aftermath of revelations of torture by US troops in Abu Ghraib -
the argument was that this was just a bit of high spirits,
and what was all the fuss about?
That is an argument so crass that I hope we do not need to
spend time reflecting too much on it.
2nd, advocated by people like Alan Dershowitz in the
does not seek to might light of torture,
but says that we are in a new situation -
the so called “war on terror” is a new kind of war, the argument goes,
and in it there are sadly occasions when torture is acceptable -
precisely the sort of case in the Spooks scenario,
where the clock is ticking and many lives are at stake.
3rd position stands on the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948
and the Geneva Convention of 1949
and says simply that torture is absolutely unacceptable in all cases.
is our response as Christians,
and which Scriptures do we turn to for guidance?
Let me suggest a few -
1. Gen1.28 - All human being are made in the
image of God,
and even when that image is defiled by human sin,
they are still beloved children of God.
If we torture, it is one in the image of God we harm.
2. 1 Cor 6.19 Our bodies - every
is a temple of the Holy Spirit
If we torture, it is God’s temple we defile.
3. Mt 25, the Sheep and the Goats -
“When did I see you in prison?” say the wicked - and the Lord replies
“Inasmuch as you did it to one these my brothers, you did it to me”.
If we torture, it is Christ we attack.
4. Ps 22 includes a long account of being
and if someone is thinking of asking why I am talking about politics in the pulpit,
then I remind you that large chunks of the Bible are about politics,
and theology is about love, life, peace and justice -
and you can’t deal with those without getting embroiled in politics.
on the cross quoted the first verse of Ps 22 -
“My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
Reminding us of his take on torture -
his place was on the cross,
not alongside the torturers but alongside the tortured.
5. Which leads me to a final Scripture -
and a sense that we too must line up with the tortured not the torturers -
Mk 8:31-38 reminds us “Take up your cross and follow me” -
Christ calls us to the side of the suffering,
identifying with those who suffer not with those who inflict suffering.
eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth -
descending to the level of those whose political agenda we seek to oppose -
merely continues the cycle of violence.
The way of the cross, conversely, refuses to add evil to evil,
but seeks to soak up the others’ evil in redemptive suffering.
the speed of that Bible Study -
but it says to me that Biblically,
not only must we reject casual Abu Ghraib style torture
just for the hell of it (I hope that goes without saying) -
but also, as I read it,
we must reject any complicity in any torture whatever the results.
a final coda -
As always, if we as individuals or Churches
tell our political leaders how to behave,
we have to live out what we ask of them.
Maybe we need as individual Christians to review how we deal with
¨ people we don’t like,
¨ people we mistrust,
¨ people we fear,
¨ people who have things which
we would like
to appropriate for our own use,
¨ and people who are just plain unimportant to us.
If we are to stand on the moral high ground against torture in every case-
or even if only in most cases, we need to look to our own lives..
¨ Am I ever guilty denying
someone else respect,
human rights and human dignity?
¨ Do I ever, in the casual
tittle-tattle of conversation
demean, belittle or denigrate someone?
¨ Do I exclude people from my
friendship circle -
either as a calculated act or as a thoughtless oversight -
so that they feel marginalized or shunned?
¨ Do I seek to manipulate and
so that I get what I want from the relationship?
we do that, then we in our small petty way
are going down the road which leads surely to intolerance,
to the treating of God’s children as expendable pawns in the game of life.
a road that finally leads us to join the Roman soldiers
placing Christ on the Cross.
politics and in everyday life
we are called not to erect crosses but carry them.
That is what Christ did for us
Let us do the same for him.
Order of Service
Sunday 9th August 2009
6.30 p.m. Evening Worship led by Rev Andrew Sails
Hymn 13 Praise my soul
Hymn 295 Spirit of the Living God
Psalm 22:1-2, 12-21
Hymn 216 And can it be
Beauty for brokenness
Prayer and LP
778 O God our Father