SBC’s Richard Land condemns ‘waterboarding’ and torture

By Jill Waggoner
May 6, 2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—There is no room for torture as part of the United States’ intelligence-gathering process, Richard Land said today. He also said he believes the practice known as “waterboarding” is torture and, as such, is unethical.

Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said there is no circumstance in which torture should be permissible in interrogations by U.S. officials, even if the authorities believe a prisoner has information that might involve national security.

“I don’t agree with the belief that we should use any means necessary to extract information,” said Land. “I believe there are absolutes. There are things we must never do under any circumstances.

“For me the ultimate test is: Could I, in good conscience, do whatever I am authorizing or condoning others to do? If not, then I must oppose the action. If I could not waterboard someone—and I couldn’t—then I must oppose its practice.”

Land said he considers waterboarding to be torture because the definition of torture includes the determination of whether a procedure causes permanent physical harm, noting he is unable to “separate physical from psychological harm” in this instance. The practice contravenes an individual’s personhood and their humanity, he said.

“It violates everything we believe in as a country,” Land said, reflecting on the words in the Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

“There are some things you should never do to another human being, no matter how horrific the things they have done. If you do so, you demean yourself to their level,” he said.

“Civilized countries should err on the side of caution. It does cost us something to play by different rules than our enemies, but it would cost us far more if we played by their rules,” Land concluded.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 16.2 million members in over 44,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

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1 On May 7, 2009, at 2:22pm, Ben Vos wrote:

In light of the fact that a large percentage of white Evangelical men believe torture is sometimes acceptable, this is a bold and courageous statement of the truth.  We can never compromise on our first principles - governments should never engage in coercive techniques.  Once we allow coercion to occur, we also allow ourselves to be victims of coercion if we are on the wrong side of the government hegemony.  Thank you, Dr. Land, for finally speaking out.  I regret that this statement has come about 8 years too late.

2 On May 7, 2009, at 7:15pm, Robert Lockhart wrote:

Have you ever read the letters from the Danbury Church to Ben Franklin and his response to the Danbury Church? Christians do not want the government to interfere in Church affairs but they want to tell the government how to run government affairs. I completely agree with the founding fathers about separation of church and state in the concept in which it was written but let’s keep it there. Christians do not make the laws but they should obey them. Jesus did not tell the people how to run the government, that will come in and after the millimum.

3 On May 7, 2009, at 7:32pm, jack waldrep wrote:

recently I saw where numbers are declining in SBC…this is why….separation between church and state…I probably agree with not using this form…however, as in the Disney situation a few years ago, SBC should stick with religion…jack

4 On May 7, 2009, at 8:11pm, Matt wrote:

RE: Robert and Jack:

Robert said, “Christians do not make the laws but they should obey them.”

and Jack said, “separation between church and state…SBC should stick with religion”

Logically then, I take it you both would have told Martin Luther King Jr. (a Baptist minister) to not get involved with “politics”.

The “separation of church and state” does not mean that citizens of a democracy cannot/should not voice their opinion on public policy, even if that opinion happens to be religiously informed.

5 On May 7, 2009, at 8:44pm, John wrote:

The SBC think that by banning torture by the United States will stop the practice.  Laws can be written, hearings held, tax payer monies wasted, congressional representatives grandstanding for the public to get re-elected, all bringing about no real results.  Torture will occur by another sovereign entity and the information passed on to the United States.
The SBC should be protecting the sanctity of marriage.  People can not choose to be born black, red, yellow or white.  People who are born with various defects were not given the choice to have a birth defect or not.  The issue comes down to the basic fact that human behavior is learned. 
The SBC should spend more time doing the works of the church, taking care of the needy.  The Mormon Church takes care of its members who are in financial despair.  The apostles used the money given to the Early Church and aided the widows and the poor.  They did not spend all this money building monuments to man.

6 On May 7, 2009, at 9:59pm, darrel wrote:

Shame on you, and our convention if they support you.  You are simply wrong, and waterboarding has saved thousands of American Lives.  One saved life is worth it.  It is a shame you have been sucked into the Obama brainwash!

7 On May 7, 2009, at 10:02pm, Brenda Dunn wrote:

Having grown up southern Baptist and wondering for years why the church has become obsessed with abortion and gay marriage, it is relieving to know that someone is finally speaking up about torture.  Now can someone apply the Bible to capital punishment, occupying and murdering innocent people in a country that did not attack us?  Can we apply a little “Judge not lest ye be judged” or the hundreds of passages about helping the poor.  I hope you will continue to make statements that will protect our soldiers from the opposite of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

8 On May 8, 2009, at 12:02am, Robert Lockhart wrote:

I did not say that. Religion and politics have always been a part of this Nation and a part of government of this Nation. Have you even read the constitution and the Danbury letters? how about the Federalist Papers and the Articals of Confereration? The first amendment to the Constitution gives him the right of free speech, but it also gives me the right of free speech even tho I don’t agree with Him or you. Just because you don’t agree with what I have to say does not mean that you are the only who can talk.

9 On May 8, 2009, at 1:55am, Michael John in Arkansas wrote:

Truly surprised my thankful praise of this news was not allowed publication in comments.

10 On May 8, 2009, at 5:29am, Diane wrote:

This article makes it sound like a SBC mandate.  Another similar article on this topic Land is quoted saying:

“I am speaking to Southern Baptists on this issue, not for them,” he said. “I am speaking only for this Southern Baptist.”

I think it is important for us to keep the perspective… this is HIS opinion.

This article also includes his quote:
“The line will be drawn differently for different people,” Land said, acknowledging he is not an expert on exactly what constitutes torture.”

I think we might better focus on this remark… he is not an expert.

11 On May 9, 2009, at 12:51am, Jeff McConnell wrote:

Does Mr. Land not understand that we are dealing with pure evil straight from the depths of hell that is clothed in human skin?  Why do I care if Satan’s own minion (aka your garden variety terrorist) has a problem with being tortured? Our responsibility to ourselves is far greater than whatever feelings of decency we have towards pure, unadulterated evil.
Let’s pretend: Mr. Land, we have a crystal ball and know that if we push the right buttons on this guy we can find out that not only is the Brooklyn Bridge going to be blown up but the charges are going to be timed to coincide with a caravan of day care buses that are heading into the city for a museum field trip.  The number of children alone that will either die from the explosion or drown to death will be 300.  Add another 700 adults for your total of 1,000 lives.  You would not use every conceivable means to extract that information when you could?  I simply don’t believe you.

12 On May 9, 2009, at 3:05am, Robert Lockhart wrote:

I should clarify myself here. The Sixth commandment of the Lord tells us that we shall not kill. I do not believe in wanton killing of animals and certainly not the killing of fellow human beings but God does give us the authority to defend and protect our loved ones. If a certain ammount of humane torture is nessary to obtain information that will save hundreds or even thousands of lives then I believe it will be forgiven by God.

13 On May 9, 2009, at 6:55pm, Staff wrote:

Thank you all for your feedback on this issue. Please direct future comments on this particular issue to the comment section of this article:

Land: ‘Waterboarding’ never ethical it is a more in-depth article on this subject.

In an effort to consolidate future comments to that article, comments for this page will now be closed.

Thank you,

ERLC Staff

The comment thread for this article is now closed. Please use our contact form.

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