Professor George Hunsinger and the Courage to Tackle Torture

I met George Hunsinger years ago, when I was a seminary student at Yale and he was a teaching assistant in religious studies there. I confess I was a little intimidated by George back then, but we met again a few years ago and I found we share a passion for justice. George is now a Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and is someone I consider a good friend.

George is also the founder of the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT), a group of religious leaders and organizations “committed to ending torture that is sponsored or enabled by the United States.” I want to share a bit about his group’s work and his inspiring story of persistent courage, holding us all to this truth: that, as NRCAT says, “Torture is a moral issue.”

In our society, and also in the church, many often take a pragmatic view of the use of torture by our military and police when it comes to keeping us safe. Through a purely pragmatic lens people can easily lose sight of the fact that torture doesn’t work and that it ranks with rape and genocide as uniformly outlawed by international laws and treaties.

George never loses sight of this. When he speaks about the use of torture, he reminds us that we’ve lost sight of what Jesus would do. He reminds us of the impossibility of answering “Yes” to the question: “Do you think rape is ever justified?” In the face of pragmatism, public opinion and government policy, George’s stand of saying, “No, torture is never justified,” is a courageous one.

Another thing that inspires me is this: George and NRCAT have worked extremely hard to build a true coalition, building bridges across the divides that plague the church and our country. NRCAT’s public statements include the usual names of liberal church folks, and yet also well-known evangelicals like Ted Haggart and David Gushy. Catholic bishops have signed on. George has inspired many to see that this is not a liberal or conservative concern; that this is a matter of how Jesus suffered from torture – and what Jesus would do.

Further, the group of organizations that are involved in NRCAT show us that torture is a human concern that transcends the divides between world faiths. Jews, Muslims and Sikhs are also involved deeply in NRCAT. George has succeeded in getting people of many faiths to see that torture poisons us all; that it has a corrupting quality that touches us all whether we are aware of it or not.

Finally, it is inspiring to me that while he has worked to inspire regular folk like us in the pews every Sunday to take a strong stand against the horrors of torture, George has also brought these concerns to the highest levels of our government. In his stand against torture he has met with Congressional leaders and even White House staff. He has moved about the church – and beyond – to open our eyes to what is being done and our responsibility to stop it. George is tireless in speaking against torture whenever and wherever he is able. This takes bottomless courage.

In George’s speeches and writings he often cites these words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “A point comes when silence is betrayal.” Our denial of what is being done on our behalf becomes a betrayal that threatens our soul and George has had the courage to call us forth from our silence. His speaking truth to power is inspiring to me. Perhaps it is for you as well.

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