Torture is Growing Concern Among Churches
by MaryBeth Coudal
"Torture is wrong," read the sign that hung from the Rev. Steven Clunn's window at First United Methodist Church in Schenectady, NY. One parishioner had a problem with the sign, telling Rev. Clunn that he was uncomfortable because the sign condemned practices of the U.S. government. Rev. Clunn encouraged that parishioner and all churchgoers to talk about a difficult topic -- allegation of state-sponsored torture.
To continue the conversation, this week churches across the U.S., like the congregation in Schenectady, will show the movie, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," an HBO documentary by Rory Kennedy. Abu Ghraib is the correctional facility near Baghdad, Iraq, where U.S. soldiers abused, tortured, and raped detainees.
Several Protestant denominations have endorsed and participated in the campaign, including the American Baptist Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ. United Methodists have taken part through local congregations and the General Boards of Church and Society and Global Ministries.
John Humphries, director for program coordination at NRCAT, expects the film to be shown to as many as 1,000 congregations from October 21-29, 2007. Out of the 450 first congregations to confirm the showing of the film, 54 are United Methodist. Humphries praised the United Methodist denomination for being on the forefront of showing, discussing, and, perhaps, taking action on the harsh realities of the film.
Film reviewer Alessandra Stanley, writing of “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” said that the film “will appall and sadden viewers worried about human rights and international law. But it will be just as discouraging for those who believe that the danger posed by Al Qaeda trumps even those humanitarian concerns." (New York Times, February 22, 2007)
Since the allegations of the abuse of Iraqi detainees hit the news three years ago, Rev. Lee Schott from Polk City United Methodist Church in Polk City, IA, has been concerned about the issue of torture.
"This has really troubled me -- what I see as the easy acceptance of torture -- as if that's an available tactic for our international relations,” she said. “People think, 'Am I safe?' And not really about the human rights and the people involved. People think, 'That's the government and that's not the church.' And they're not so easily separated."
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church strongly oppose any form of torture by governments. The Principles state:
"Mistreatment or torture of persons by government for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs." (The Book of Discipline, Par.164.)
Congregations wishing to show "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" can find information online at http://www.nrcat.org/spotlight.aspx, or contact John Humphries, NRCAT’s contact person for the Spotlight on Torture project, at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-216-7972.