More than 225 religious leaders have signed a letter calling on U.S. Attorney General Nominee Alberto Gonzales to denounce all uses of torture.
The leaders, from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communties across the United States, cite opinions in memos written by Gonzales as White House counsel that the signers view with "grave concern."
Those opinions include justification for the use of torture, suspending the legal rights of suspected enemy combatants and reference to the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete."
"We fear that your legal judgments have paved the way to torture and abuse," the Jan. 4 letter reads.
Appealing to Gonzales as a "self-professed evangelical Christian," the writers describe torture as "a grave sin" and call on him to denounce torture under any circumstance, to affirm it is unconstitutional to imprison those designated as "enemy combatants" for months without access to lawyers, to affirm the binding legality of laws of war and to reject the practice of "extraordinary rendition," by which terrorism suspects are sent to countries that practice torture for interrogation.
"All people are created in the image of God," George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary, who organized the group called Church Folks for a Better America, said in a press release. "Torture—physical, psychological, sexual or religious sins against God and degrades human dignity."
The letter says the United States should set an example for moral leadership in the world community, but events at Abu Ghraib "have gravely compromised America's moral authority."
The letter concludes by asking Gonzales as attorney general to commit to "repairing that damage by articulating and enforcing legal policies that reject the use of torture, embrace and advance standards of international law and honor the dignity of all of God's creation."
"No less than the soul of the nation we love is at stake in the torture scandal," Hunsinger said at a Jan. 4 press conference.
Original endorsers of the letter include Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; Tony Campolo of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education; and Glenn Stassen, a Baptist who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Other Baptists endorsing the letter include Glenn Hinson, professor emeritus at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, and Richard Pierard, Stephen Phillips Professor of History at Gordon College.
One Baptist commentator noticed an absence of signatures from the religious right.
"There aren't any shades of gray for Christians about the use of torture," Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists wrote in a Weblog. "There's no doubt that Jesus stands with the victims of torture, not with the bystanders or the perpetrators."
"Why have Richard Land, Al Mohler, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and D. James Kennedy been so silent about this issue?" Prescott wondered.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Moral Values and Torture column by Miguel De La Torre