You may already know that Pew Forum research published last week suggests that white U.S. evangelicals are more likely to support the use of torture on at least some occasions than the population in general. It's worth noting that 49% of the general population agree; and 52% of white evangelicals (or 54% of weekly church attenders) versus 49% of the general population says as much about America as it does about Christians. The country is divided in two. (And the sample size for the research is regrettably too small for wider analysis of different populations.) The surprise that some are expressing at the statistics reminds me of the scene in 'Casablanca' when Captain Renard pronounces himself 'shocked, shocked' at the prevalance of gambling at Rick's Cafe - for the dominant forms of U.S. evangelicalism over the past three decades would never have claimed to denounce torture - indeed, long-standing authority figures such as Hal Lindsey have often called for violent action to be taken against their perceived enemies. (Right now, Lindsey is advocating a pre-emptive, and possibly nuclear, strike against Iran.) A relevant question going forward might focus on how the civil religion of the United States vaccilates between the maintenance of 'Fortress America' on the one hand (even President Obama used the rhetoric of threatening enemies in his inaugural address) and the tradition of open-handed support for the vulnerable, and a mature public conversation about how to be engaged in an interdependent relationship with the rest of the world on the other (to quote the President again: 'It's time to put away childish things'). Just how can that conversation become the country's settled mind rather than vulnerable to the whims of whatever anger management issues talk radio hosts aren't dealing with on any given day?
The language of challenging Christian support for violence and empire has made a recent comeback in the work of Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Rita Brock and others, building on the immense contribution of thinkers like Rene Girard and Walter Wink. Writers like these, and many like-minded communities, are offering a different kind of U.S. American Christian practice. The paradox is that non-violent subversion of Empire doesn't lend itself easily to Huffington Post headlines. But instead of the hand-wringing about how much of the Christian church is no different from the culture at large, perhaps the following might be worth some reflection:
There's a better story hidden within the statistics published last week - the 48% of white U.S. evangelicals who don't support the use of torture perhaps need to find better ways to tell it.
Some good further analysis over at Get Religion.