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Faith and Torture among Southern White Evangelicals

A new article by the Oregonian profiles a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on the issue of torture among southern white evangelicals.

Torture and Evangelicals: Faith takes a back seat
By Tom Krattenmaker

The new findings about evangelicals and torture certainly won’t help in that regard. Commissioned by Mercer University and the Washington-based Faith in Public Life, and conducted by Public Religion Research, the survey finds that 57 percent of white evangelicals in the South believe torture can be justified. By comparison, an earlier poll by the Pew Research Center finds just 48 percent of the general public in support of torture.

Even more illuminating is this finding from the new poll: The evangelicals surveyed are far more likely to turn to life experience and common sense (44 percent) than Christian teaching (28 percent) in forming their opinion on torture. In other words, the segment of the population presumably most serious about their Christian faith is disinclined to be guided by the Bible on one of the central moral questions we face.

It comes as some relief to know that a different result emerged when the pollsters tweaked the question and challenged those surveyed to re-approach the issue with the Bible in mind, particularly its “do-unto others as you would have them do unto you” precept. Then, a majority agreed that torture should never be used.

Religion scholar Robert P. Jones, whose polling firm conducted the survey, believes evangelicals’ support for torture probably stems from two major impulses: Fear, and the understandable but unrealistic yearning for absolute safety from terrorists.

“When you reach for ultimate security and find it ever more elusive, you then begin to rationalize your principles in the way you treat people,” says Jones, author of the new book “Progressive and Religious.” “It extends all the way down to doing things that [before 9/11] would have been unthinkable, like rationalizing away the Geneva Conventions, and talking about how in these times we’re living in, the old morals don’t apply.”

You can read the full article from the Oregonian here.