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Torture at 'Justice': Better Not to Ask

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Referring to the effect of the sanctions against Iraq, Stahl noted: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Horoshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright: "The price, we think the price is worth it."

In an address eight years later at the Yale Divinity School, Albright elaborated on her Realpolitik approach to matters of state. She asked what would have happened if after 9/11 the President had said, "Resist not evil. Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Albright's exegesis: "I suspect most of us would think it a preposterous prescription in a time of national crisis."

She went on to speak of the dilemma that "we each face in trying to reconcile religious beliefs with professional duties," and came down squarely on the side of "professional duties." She then went on to misquote Scripture, claiming that President George W. Bush, in vowing to rid the world of evil, echoed the words of Jesus, "You are either with us or against us."

In a gratuitous reflection of her empire-centric approach, the former secretary of state went on to endorse Vice President Dick Cheney's "sincere" religious beliefs. She singled out as a "good thing" his controversy-provoking Christmas card the year before (2003), which bore the inscription: "If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"

Stanley Hauerwas, a Yale alumnus now professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, was moved to comment on Albright's speech in a Yale Divinity School publication. He noted pointedly that much of what she said was designed to "underwrite the assumption that we cannot follow Jesus and pursue the limited justice possible in foreign affairs."

But wait. Was not "His" message a direct challenge to empire -- in his day the Roman Empire and religious and civil collaborators in the Roman occupation? Isn't that why the religious and civil authorities put their heads together and ended up torturing and executing him?

Had Jesus allowed himself to be co-opted by the empire and its Quislings; had he chosen to divorce his nonviolent but challenging vision of justice from the politics of the day, he could have died peacefully in his bed -- as did the leaders of the institutional church in Nazi Germany.

And we can too. All that is required is a mind-trick to convince ourselves that Jesus did not really mean to say what he said, that he did not really mean to do what he did in exposing the evils of empire.

Sadly, help is at hand. It is easy to find a pastor preaching a domesticated Jesus -- an ahistorical Jesus far more interested in "piety" than justice. I still find myself wondering how the Cheneys' pastor reacted to their Christmas card.

Letting Our Institutions Do Our Sinning for Us

Often it takes a compassionate but truth-telling outsider to throw light on our country, its leaders, its policies. Methodist Bishop Peter Storey of South Africa, who walked the walk in his courageous, outspoken resistance to the apartheid regime (and was chaplain to Nelson Mandela), provides this prophetic word:

"I have often suggested to American Christians that the only way to understand their mission is to ask what it might have meant to witness faithfully to Jesus in the heart of the Roman Empire. Certainly, when I preach in the United States I feel, as I imagine the Apostle Paul did when he first passed through the gates of Rome -- admiration for its people, awe at its manifest virtues, and resentment of its careless power.

"America's preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa's apartheid, or by Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white, and blue myth.

"You have to expose and confront the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion, and caring of most American people and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the earth. You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them.

"This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good. But it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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The "prosecutorial discretion" Perez cites is just... by Paul Sedkowski on Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011 at 11:18:54 AM
This is Machiavelli all over again: "The ends just... by Arthur M. Howard-(Scotoni) on Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011 at 4:26:44 AM
How about "the means justify the ends" (if you do ... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011 at 6:35:16 AM
This is another excellent article by Ray McGovern.... by Richard Pietrasz on Thursday, Jan 27, 2011 at 6:42:14 PM