Jeremy Waldron

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Our topic for this Symposium panel is "Citizenship and Civility in a Divided Democracy: Political, Religious, and Legal Concerns." It is a topic that can be approached in the abstract or through a case study. I am going to proceed with a case study, involving the work of one of Mercer University's most distinguished scholars and public thinkers, University Professor and Professor of Christian Ethics, David Gushee. But the discussion will become abstract before very long.


In March 2007, an organization called Evangelicals for Human Rights issued a document entitled An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture. The document opened as follows:

The sanctity of human life, a moral status irrevocably bestowed by the Creator upon each person and confirmed in the costly atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, is desecrated each day in many ways around the globe. Because we are Christians who are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves, this mistreatment of human persons comes before us as a source of sorrow and a call to action.
All humans who are mistreated or tormented are ... by Jesus' definition, our neighbors .... [In them and through them we encounter God himself.'

The Declaration went on to say that "[w]hen torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world .. . that human lives are not sacred," and it said that this is a claim "no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept."' The Declaration's conclusion was uncompromising: "We renounce the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government ... even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups."

This document was not just the work of a left-leaning fringe in the white evangelical Christian community. At the time of its release, it was adopted by the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization representing over 45,000 churches with more than 30,000,000 individual members in the United States.' However, there was opposition to it in the evangelical community. A recent Pew survey suggests that 62% of white evangelicals believe torture is sometimes justified, compared with 49% of the general population. Some of the responses to it-and to similar statements by Professor Gushee, a leading figure in the organization that drew up the Declaration-indicate the depth of the antagonism. Here is what one of Professor Gushee's critics said:

In my opinion, the debate and Gushee's committee are wastes of time. I prefer to deal with things that are important like the US torturing to death 1.5 million unborn babies annually. I can't speak for the Lord, but I believe He is more concerned over abortion than He is about dunking murderers/terrorists in water.