Almost daily it seems that the American public and wider world learn more about how people were tortured and subjected to other inhumane treatment during the Bush administration. Most recently, President Obama reversed his previous position favoring disclosure of information about what has been done.
At the urging of his military commanders, Obama now has ordered his administration to continue the policy of the Bush administration, which concealed photos about that mistreatment, despite a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that ordered the photos released. Sadly, religious leaders have not publicly urged Obama to obey the court decision, release the photos and condemn the policies and practices that produced the inhumane treatment depicted by them in the spirit of repentance.
Meanwhile, a recent poll of regular church-goers that was taken by the Pew Research Center revealed that 54 percent of the respondents consider torture “often” or “sometimes” justified. As the world ponders that finding and Obama’s decision to continue a deliberate policy of concealing proof about the torture that the Bush administration denied while committing it, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s statement that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
Jack Bauer is the protagonist in “24,” the American television series produced by Real Time Productions and Imagine Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television. In the series, Bauer is an anti-hero who disregards human rights, due process and anything else in the name of U.S. national security. “24,” which concluded its seventh season, has been nominated for 57 Emmy awards. By commercial television standards, “24” and Jack Bauer have achieved iconic status. Judging from the Pew Research Center poll results, Jack Bauer has replaced Jesus Christ as high priest and savior for many Americans who profess to be Christians.
If 54 percent of regular church-goers consider torture often or sometimes justified, then half the people who regularly attend Christian religious services either do not understand or care that the values of Jesus Christ are not respected by or reflected in Jack Bauer’s actions and motives. After all, the gospel of Christ calls on us to pray for those who persecute us and do and say evil things to us (Matthew 5:9-12). Jesus Christ calls on us to love our enemies.
As the Message puts it, “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true best selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best … to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:44-48).
I do not expect Fox Television to affirm and cherish Christian ethics of love, mercy and justice. I do not expect Imagine Television to offer programming that extols Christian generosity toward strangers and enemies. It would be admirable for that to happen, but I am not surprised that it is not the case. Fox Television is part of the commercial broadcasting industry that has long defined excellence and virtue by commercial profit-making, not justice, truth and mercy. So I do not expect Fox Television to create a Jack Bauer who lives according to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
But I do expect worshippers who answer to the name of Christ to recognize that Jack Bauer is not Jesus. I expect people who fuss about biblical inerrancy to respect the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enough to know that torture violates the essence of Christianity. I expect people who claim allegiance to the Great Commission (spreading the gospel of Christ throughout the world) to first honor the Great Commandment (love God and love neighbors, including enemy neighbors). I expect Christians to grow up in Christ when faced with terrorism, not become disciples of Jack Bauer.
Jesus described religious people who neglect justice, mercy and faith with one word: hypocrites (Matthew 23:23). Rather than celebrating and concealing Jack Bauer-like conduct, followers of Jesus should condemn, expose and repent about it. If we won’t, we either pervert the gospel of Christ or have allowed the forces of empire to hijack it. We have no excuse when the world questions whether we truly know and believe the love and truth of God revealed in Jesus that we preach and sing about.
Wendell L. Griffen is a Baptist minister and law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law. He is also owner/CEO of a consulting firm and parliamentarian of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. He lives with his wife in Little Rock, Ark.