Coinciding with renewed publicity about Guantanamo Bay, twenty-seven American religious leaders - including prominent evangelicals - have signed a public statement calling for the elimination of torture as a part of US policy.
The document, 'Torture is a Moral Issue,' is to be published tomorrow (13 June 2006) as an advertisement in The New York Times. It proclaims that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.
What is particularly significant about the initiative is that it has the endorsement of leading evangelicals who some believe are more likely to catch the ear of President Bush and his advisers than ecumenical, mainstream and inter-religious voices.
The Rev Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rick Warren, pastor and author of the runaway bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, and Dr Glen Stassen, Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, are among the prominent evangelicals to have endorsed the advert.
Organised by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), the signatories include: Nobel laureates ex-President Jimmy Carter and Elie Wiesel; Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, DC; the Rev Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (associated with Martin Luther King, Jr); Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism; Dr Frank Thomas, pastor and editor of The African-American Pulpit; and Dr Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.
NRCAT bridges theological and political divides by uniting mainstream Protestants and Evangelical Christians; Muslims with Reform and Conservative Jews; Orthodox and Roman Catholics; Sikhs and members of the peace churches (Mennonites, Brethren in Christ and Quakers).
Fuller seminary's Glen Stassen, a leading ethicist, declared: "Evangelicals are Christ-centred. Not that nobody else is, but we are; and the cross was humiliation and torture. This is an important reason why we are against torture."
From an Islamic perspective, Dr Sayyid Syeed added: "The Qurían clearly emphasizes the dignity of all human beings that must be maintained at all costs."
And Jewish Rabbi Saperstein said: "All of humanity is created in the image of God. Torture is a profound violation of this principle."
"There is a special dignity in every human being that comes from the fact that we are brothers and sisters in God's one human family," commented Cardinal McCarrick, a senior American Roman Catholic leader.
He went on: "Torture is a dehumanizing and terrible attack against human nature and the respect we owe for each other."
The ecumenical movement is also centrally involved. ì"here are few other issues on which the NCCís 35 member communions are more united," said National Council of Churches USA general secretary, the Rev Dr Bob Edgar.
He explained: "The use of torture or other dehumanizing measures is diametrically contrary to the love of God and the gospel of Jesus. One of the ideals of the United States is to stand in the world as a bastion against torture."
Country-wide, regional and local religious organizations and congregations have already joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
NRCAT will continue the "Torture is a Moral Issue" campaign by encouraging people of faith across the United States to endorse the statement. It can be found on the organisationís website.
[Also on Ekklesia: US Christians urged to speak out against torture; Christians face jail after President's call to visit Guant·namo; Christian peacemakers say abuse photos show 'moral bankruptcy'; Report finds detainees tortured to death by US military; Report documents continuing abuse of Iraq detainees; Churches turn fire on interrogation techniques of US and others; Christians welcome UN report on Guantanamo; Government minister joins Christians in calling for Guantanamo; US Christians urge opposition to proposed Attorney General; Tutu says more apartheid crimes should have gone to court; Christian peacemakers highlight prisoner abuse in Iraq; Catholic Worker plans Guantanamo protests over Lent; Victims of Chile terror identified; Pope seeks forgiveness for Spanish Inquisition]