President George W. Bush signs into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006. (White House photo by Paul Morse)
Reading the April 26 column by Frank Rich in The New York Times ("The Banality of Bush White House Evil") caused a question to resurface that has been brewing within me for years. Why did the American public, news media (for the most part) and national leaders in Congress permit torture, judicially unauthorized surveillance and assorted other improper actions to happen?
We had no reason to believe that United Nations' weapons inspectors lied or were incompetent when they announced that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. We had no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein's regime had anything to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. We had every reason to be suspicious of claims that the security of the United States was somehow threatened by a landlocked nation led by a brutal dictator whose military we had already defeated and whose neighbors were willing to fight him.
We simply allowed fear-mongering to take the place of reason. We trusted our fears and the people who catered to those fears more than we insisted on facts. Fear of people who looked and worshipped different from others allowed too many of us to blindly believe the worst about them and to turn our eyes from the brutal things that happened to them.
Sadly, too many Christians did not challenge the rush to war, the unmistakable signs that civil liberties of people of South Asian ancestry and Islamic faith were being trampled, and that people were being kidnapped and tortured in the name of "national security." We behaved like the religious officials did concerning the beaten and bruised robbery victim in the story of the Good Samaritan. We passed by on the other side of the road. Just as no one in the Bush White House followed the noble example of Elliott Abrams, who resigned rather than obey orders to fire the special prosecutor involved in the Watergate scandal, few Christians in the U.S. openly challenged what the Bush administration did.
In the New Testament we read that perfect love casts out fear. This is true concerning love for others, justice, truth, peace and love for God. Perhaps we did not resist enough because we did not love enough. Or perhaps, as Stephen Vincent Benet wrote, the loves we had (for others, justice, truth, peace and for God) were much too small.
So the question now is whether we (from President Obama to the average American citizen) love others, justice, truth, peace and God enough to demand justice for the victims of the falsehoods, policies and practices that resulted from fear-mongering. If our professions about loving our neighbor don't prod us to demand that justice, we will be poor representatives of God's love, justice, truth and peace in the world. We will be poor representatives of Jesus.
Do we have the courage to love, or are we still imprisoned by our fears? Fear is never a valid excuse for injustice. Justice is love in action. It always demands faith. Do we have the faith to demand justice?
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.