Category: Faith

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Lydia here.

Conservative Christian blogger, Rod Dreher, alerted me to this Christian conversation about torture.  In her RNC speech, Sarah Palin attacked Obama for worrying about such niceties.  I’m glad more Christians are challenging Palin’s comments–shouldn’t Christians be the first ones to oppose torture?  That’s not the message of the cross.  Or maybe I’m misreading the New Testament–I’m forgetting that part when Jesus rises from the grave and says, “Ha–now it’s my turn to torture Y’ALL!”

Then again, there’s my favorite Bible verse: “Greater love hath no man, than he that tortures the living daylights out of his enemies to make Americans feel safer.”

Or that chapter when Jesus tells his disciples, “Torture your enemies, and hunt down those that persecute you.  Lo, I send you out like wolves among sheep.  Truly truly, I say unto you, bomb their village into the stone age, so that all the nations may know that the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Yes, that’s right, those godless liberals can’t pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow.  Clearly, Jesus wants us to torture our enemies.  That’s why I’m wearing a band around my wrist that says “Who Would Jesus Torture?”  When someone asks me what it means, it gives me a chance to share the gospel with them…and then subject them to a good waterboarding!

Alright, enough of my sarcasm.  Seriously, parodying the gospel takes me to a very, very bad place…because it’s so close to what some politicians are actually saying.  Here’s Rod Dreher:

If you’re not reading Culture 11 daily, you’re really missing out. One of today’s best offerings there is Joe Carter’s “Open Letter to the Religious Right.” The whole thing is great, but this passage really caught my eye:

We religious conservatives must take a firm stand against the practice of torture. Yes, there is a legitimate debate to be had about what exactly is meant by that term. Let’s have that debate. Let’s define the term in a way that consistent with our belief in human dignity. And then let’s hold every politician in the country to that standard. As John Mark Reynolds notes, “Like slavery, it debases two people and one culture: the tortured loses his soul liberty, the torturer claims to be a god, and the culture condones an ugly and wicked act.” Our silence on this issue has become embarrassing; our apologies for such practices has become disgraceful.

Palin really should be pressed hard on this. In her convention speech, she had this line:

Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … [Obama’s] worried that someone won’t read them their rights?

What did she mean by that? Does this indicate that she cares nothing for legal principles designed to protect individuals from the state? Does this mean that she supports waterboarding? What is her thinking on this matter? More importantly, what’s John McCain’s thinking these days? I thought he was against torture once. This is an issue that Christian voters can’t afford to be unconcerned about.

Anyway, please do read all of the letter from Joe, a religious conservative of the Evangelical persuasion, and a Marine Corps veteran. There’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re a religious conservative, tell me in the comboxes which parts of Joe’s letter you found resonates most.

“Can We Talk?”: This Saturday in Austin, TX

Here’s a great event coming up this Saturday in Austin, Texas:

BridgeBuilders “Can We Talk?” Guided Conversation on Race in America

Please join us on Saturday, May 31 in a guided conversation on Race in America inspired by the issues raised in Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia.  Participants will enjoy dessert and coffee while focusing on specific questions in small table groups, followed by sharing and discussion by the whole group.  Mr. Bill Adams, former Rector at St. James Episcopal Church in Austin, and Jennifer and Ashton Cumberbatch, long-time friends of the BridgeBuilders ministry, will be our facilitators for the evening.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for meet and greet and refreshments.  The formal program will start at 7:00 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m.  Location: Wesley UMC at 1160 San Bernard.  For directions to the church, contact the Wesley church office at 478-7007 or visit the church website (  BridgeBuilders member churches include Berkeley, St. Luke, St. Peter’s, University, and Wesley UMC.

L.A. Times on Mychal Bell’s release on bail

This L.A. Times article gives us a rare sympathetic image of a young black defendant, Mychal Bell, smiling bashfully for the cameras as he goes home to his relieved parents. Yes, jail is a bad place to raise a teenager, whether they’re black or white, rich or poor. It also quotes Reed Walter’s bizarre statement that only intervention by the Lord Jesus Christ prevented the protesters from erupting into violence.

It’s interesting that Walters fails to notice that most of the protesters were devoted Christians, who felt the Lord Jesus Christ was the one who compelled them to be there in the first place. Maybe he should watch that video we posted last week, filmed by a Jena protester, who declared that God was with them, and that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Or shoot, Reed Walters could read what the Bible has to say to government leaders about upholding justice for the poor and marginalized. Friends of Justice is quoted at the end of this article:,1,5340911.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true

Christian Broadcasting Network takes on race, inequality and power

Christian Broadcasting Network filmed this interview with Friends of Justice’s Executive Director, Alan Bean. (You may know CBN as the network built by Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.) Notice that the Christian Broadcasting Network gave us the space to talk honestly about the problem of race, inequality, and power in America today. Contrast this with the lukewarm coverage of the allegedly “liberal” New York Times, which ignored the Jena story entirely and then let D.A. Reed Walters write an Op-Ed.

So we’ve got the conservative Christian media letting us talk openly about race, inequality, and power, while the New York Times sticks their fingers in their ears and focuses on “important” news (like, uh, the buzz around Guiliani’s effort to rebrand himself since 9/11.) Congratulations to CBN for stepping up to the plate–shame on the New York Times.

Clarence Page takes a few determined steps toward a new civil rights strategy in this probing column. We need to get the churches and college students into the fight while minimizing the role of self aggrandizing shock jocks and polarizing prima donnas. The release of Mychal Bell will be a Pyrrhic victory if we can’t swing the support of Middle America behind the Jena 6. Question: can we organize an effective civil rights movement void of celebrities? Could we win justice for the Jena 6 without the support of folks like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Yes, but only if we create a new advocacy model from the ground up. As Clarence Page suggests, we need to stress the principle of equal justice and we need to be racially inclusive. Morally, this is the right approach. Pragmatically, it is the only strategy capable of producing a profound cultural shift.,0,2383627.story

Last week, Friends of Justice spoke at a conference in Washington D.C. on the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund:

The closest thing to being there…

This Youtube video does a great job of capturing what it was like to be in Jena, Louisiana for the protest this Sept. 20th. The video also conveys the deep faith that motivated so many people there to stand up for justice. The film ends with the words, “9-20-07. Today we made history and God was there…Victory has been declared…We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” Thank you to ManofGod Productions for making this film: ( and thanks to Glittering Generalities for alerting me to this video.

In other news, I guest-blogged on Jena for tpmcafe this afternoon: “A new Civil Rights movement is born in Jena, LA?”  Which means I have to eat crow now, because just this morning I posted on Foresight to complain that so many progressive blogs missed the boat on the Jena story.


Lydia Bean

United Methodist Women’s Division makes statement on Jena

 United Methodist Women Division just released this statement, joining call for justice in Jena, La.

The Women*s Division urges Louisiana and U.S. officials to intervene inracially charged criminal prosecution of six black students in Jena, La.


Sept. 20, 2007, New York City * The  Women*s Division joined
nationwide calls for equal justice for six black students facing
criminal prosecution in the wake of racially charged events at their
high school in Jena, La.

Three ‘Beans’ for the Stew


Leon Wynter is a journalist, writer and occasional NPR commentator. Friends of Justice ran into him at the recent Sojourners conference in Washington DC. You will probably want to click the link on this one because the “player” he refers to doesn’t transfer with the old cut-and-paste technique. Thanks so much, Leon, for the thumbs up.
Alan Bean
Friends of Justice
(806) 729-7889
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Three ‘Beans’ For The Stew
Perhaps the only lasting contribution from Rev. Al Sharpton’s largely
symbolic 2004 presidential run is this quip (my paraphrase):
It’s not about the Christian Right, it’s about lifting up right Christians.
With that injunction in mind, please meet The Beans, and their most vital mission and ministry, Friends of Justice
<> . It’s a little outfit that ought to restore pride to the term ‘Mom & Pop’ operation.
This seemingly unlikely trio-dad Alan, mom Nancy and daughter Lydia-has made it their business to get in the way of the most blatantly racist part of the criminal injustice system: cops and county courthouses in the small-town South. They tend to get involved and have an impact on the ground way before national media or recognized civil rights groups.


FoJ blogs on God’s Politics

FoJ’s own Lydia Bean posted a guest piece on Sojourner’s blog, God’s Politics today.

“The Hebrew prophets warn us that when we don’t hold our laws to God’s standard of peace and justice, powerful people will use the law as a weapon to crush the poor and advance their own interests. I work with a faith-based organization called Friends of Justice, which organizes in poor communities across Texas and Louisiana to hold our criminal justice system accountable to our nation’s highest values. This week, we brought international media attention to a dramatic trial in Jena, Louisiana, to show what happens when our criminal justice system becomes a weapon in the hands of the powerful.”

Read the rest of the post at:

How to Create an Insurgency (in America or Iraq)

In the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time on airplanes and sitting around in airports. During these interminable hours, Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco has been my constant companion. As a devoted military man, Ricks is far more sanguine about the U.S. military than I am, but his basic thesis is sound: America fought the war it knew how to fight (blowing away a hapless enemy with overwhelming firepower and the weapons of intimidation)-not the war for hearts and minds the situation required. Faced with a rapidly evolving insurgency and mounting casualties, the American army panicked. In its pell-mell pursuit of “actionable intelligence” American soldiers burst into private dwellings, sticking their automatic weapons into the faces of Iraqi men, women and children, and hauling off entire neighborhoods of young men to detention facilities like the notorious (and soon grossly overcrowded) Abu Graib.

“In the spring and summer of 2003,” Ricks writes, “few U.S. soldiers seemed to understand the centrality of Iraqi pride, and the humiliation Iraqi men felt to be occupied by this Western army. Foot patrols in Baghdad were greeted during this time with solemn waves from old men and cheers from children, but with baleful stares from many young Iraqi men.” (Fiasco, p.192)

In the course of two long chapters Ricks calls “How to Create an Insurgency,” he discusses directives from senior command calling for “the gloves to come off” so that the insurgency could be “broken”. One young commander with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment responded with enthusiasm.

“I firmly agree that the gloves need to come off.” With clinical precision, he recommended permitting “open-handed facial slaps from a distance of no more than about two feet and back-handed blows to the midsection from a distance of about 18 inches . . . I also believe that this should be a minimum baseline.” He also reported that “fear of dogs and snakes appear to work nicely.”

America is confronted with poor, drug infested neighborhoods marked by high crime rates and a growing disrespect for the rule of law. We have responded with policies predicated on threats and intimidation. Doors are kicked in. Scores of officers flashing firearms sweep into an apartment. Babies scream for their mothers and elderly women are brusquely pushed aside. The f-word abounds. The young men are thrown to the floor and handcuffed while the apartment is ransacked. Maybe the police find illegal drugs; maybe they don’t. Maybe they got the right apartment; frequently they don’t. But it doesn’t matter. “The only language the bad guys understand is fear,” police officers tell one another.

The residents of poor neighborhoods tell me they are tired of being humiliated and disrespected by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. They are tired of being called “mother f&%*#@s”. They are tired of the sneers and the dismissive glances. They are tired of being suspects.

Like American soldiers in Iraq, police officers working poor neighborhoods have a hard time distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys”. In both cases, the solution is the same: treat everyone like bad guys. If a few innocent people wind up doing long stretches in prison, that’s just the price we have to pay. No one in a poor neighborhood is ever innocent. Not really. They are suspect because they are poor. If residents are poor and black, the suspicion deepens.

But Thomas Ricks notes that not all military officers embraced the policy of intimidation and humiliation. An officer with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion responded quite differently to the new call for neighborhood sweeps and brutal interrogation.

“It comes down to standards of right and wrong-something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient, any more than we can declare that we will ‘take no prisoners’ and therefore shoot those who surrender to us simply because we find prisoners inconvenient.” This officer also took issue with the reference to rising U.S. casualties. “We have taken casualties in every war we have ever fought-that is part of the very nature of war . . . That in no way justifies letting go of our standards . . . The BOTTOM LINE,” he wrote emphatically in conclusion, was, “We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.” (more…)