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Operation Reveille helps military Christians to be, know, and do the character, knowledge, and behavior of Jesus Christ in cross-cultural contexts. Learn More

Materialism Handicaps National Debate on Torture

Enhanced DeprivationA Western culture that separates the relevance of spiritual and material realities as aggressively as it separates church and state handicaps itself at defining torture and interrogating terrorists. Here is how. Our first of four sons was born in 1984, and in 1985 Dr. James Dobson wrote his classic book on raising "strong willed children." His advice on "shaping the will without wounding the spirit" became a common sense guideline that my wife and I used for discipline. It fits with the way that God treats us. He often sends trials and tribulations to break down our rebellion and build up our faith and character. It is part of the way that he loves us. I don't think I was torturing my four boys when discipline sometimes included depriving them of comforts or causing them some physical pain or threatening them with either pain or deprivation. And don't think my Army Ranger instructors were torturing me when they made me hungry and sleepy and uncomfortable in order to prepare me for surviving on the battlefield. However, because many Americans have no category in their thinking for an eternal human spirit, they can't differentiate the human will and the human spirit. As a result, the breaking of one appears no different than the destruction of the other. Ironically, this cultural blindness results in absolutist pronouncements, cookbook procedures, and rigid legalism masquerading as the "higher moral standard." Situationally tailored enhanced interrogation that preserves human dignity requires differentiating the will and spirit. This cultural blindness also results in the double standard that it's moral to "drone" terrorists to death when they are in hiding, but it's immoral to interrogate them in enhanced ways when they are in captivity. Principles of self-defense permit killing enemy combatants who are even in hiding, but killing enemies after they are captured is not self-defense and is not moral. Without the ability to differentiate will and spirit, destroying the will of captured enemies appears to be as immoral as killing them. However, when the will and spirit can be differentiated, deprivation, humiliation, pain, discomfort, and threats of these conditions become neutral tools that can be used for either moral or immoral ends. What makes these tools for interrogation right or wrong isn't what they intrinsically are, but how they are used. Are they used for a good purpose or for an evil one? Are they applied while preserving an attitude of love for the detainee or in an attitude of hate and vengeance? The principles of just warfare, that are used to guide morality in war, can also guide morality for treating and interrogating detainees. Bombs and guns are not inherently evil. What makes them good or bad is how and with what motives they are used. Yes, sometimes the ends really do justify a means. Just as some things like faith and freedom are worth dying for, and other things like self-defense and restoring peace are worth fighting for, so these same things are worth interrogating for. Just like spanking a child should not be done in anger, interrogations should be done in compassion and with self control. They should seek to break down the will without destroying the spirit. And they should situationally follow just war principles rather than rigid cookbook procedures and politically expedient formulas. As in just warfare, the degrees and means of confrontation must be tailored to morally fit each presenting situation. An interrogation that avoids torture will, therefore, be just in its cause (jus ad bellum) and just in its means (jus in bello). In just war tradition, being just in cause implies it will be the following:

  • A response to imminent threat in order to either
    • protect oneself (national self defense)
    • protect innocent life (law enforcement)
  • Chosen and executed by a competent authority (i.e. a legitimate government)
  • Chosen formally with clear intentions that are
    • to restore peace, not destroy the detainee
    • not from vengeance, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, or power
    • in accordance with national consensus
  • Chosen as last resort after all other options ruled out (not necessarily all other options tried)
  • Reasonably able to succeed
  • Preventing more evil than it causes
And in just war tradition being just in means implies the following constraints:
  • Proportionality - using the minimum force necessary to succeed
  • Safeguards uninvolved personnel (i.e. not harming relatives of the detainee)
  • Respects the sanctity of life
    • recognizes interrogator and detainee as morally equal
    • accepts similar treatment for oneself given reversed circumstances
These principles show how in some circumstances even light treatment can become torture, while in other situations very heavy treatment is morally proper. Our western culture, which separates the relevance of spiritual and material realities as aggressively as it separates church and state, handicaps us in defining torture just as it handicaps us in spanking children. Because many Americans cannot differentiate will from spirit, the breaking of one appears no different than destroying the other. Ironically, this materialistic cultural blindness results in absolutist pronouncements, cookbook procedures, and moral ultimatums more typically attributed to legalistic religious fundamentalists than to supposedly sophisticated relativistic and tolerant post-modern progressives. Counter-intuitively, it is religion rather than materialism that undergirds sophistication, tolerance, and relativism when it comes to interrogating terrorists.


Three Reactions to Terrorism and “Islamic State” Resurgence

US Soldiers in IraqBoko Haram, the Islamic State, Hamas, and other fundamentalist Muslim entities calculate their terrorism to inspire fear. Fear clouds judgement. Most people react in one of two ways, but a few people pursue a more productive third option. The three reactions are:

  1. Flight (includes Freeze)
  2. Fight
  3. Spiritual Engagement

1. Flight (& Freeze) – “Islam and Muslims are both good”

The "flight" reaction takes the form of denial. It misses how terrorism transcends politics and economics. It can't see differences between Muslim fundamentalists and other kinds of fundamentalists. Most people in the US State Department, in academia, in the entertainment industry, in the global news media, and in the current American presidential administration are slaves to this emotional reaction. People in "flight" from their fear of terrorism behave according to a conviction that "Islam and Muslims are both equally essentially good." A great blog by Mark Durie on theological illiteracy shows how their proposed political, economic, and sometimes military "solutions" flee from theological realities and end up undermining security. For example, the popular mantra that the Islamic State does not represent a form of Islam energizes the radicals and absolves the moderates of responsibility for defeating them.

2. Fight  – “Islam and Muslims are both bad”

The "fight" reaction advocates a multi-faceted counter-offensive against Muslims who are trying to "take over the world." Brigitte Gabriel is a spokesperson for this approach. People in "fight" mode behave according to a conviction that "Islam and Muslims are both equally dangerous." They don't just strive to diminish Islam, but many of their proposed "solutions" would end up oppressing Muslims. For example, suspending Muslim immigration or preventing the building of mosques infringes on religious liberties.

3. Spiritual Engagement  – “Islam is bad but not Muslims”

A third reaction is neither "fight" nor "flight" but an engagement based upon an understanding of Islam and compassion for Muslims. This balance of judgement and mercy transcends normal reactions. Evangelical outreaches to Muslims like "Jesus for Muslims," "Act Beyond," "Crescent Project," "COMMA Network," and "Adopt a Terrorist For Prayer" behave according to a conviction that "Islam is bad but not Muslims." They understand how even the "peaceful" moderate Muslim majority is in bondage to an oppressive theology. That theology, even when peacefully expressed, opposes freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom for women at its fundamental core. It is deeply rooted in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that are beyond the reach of either military or civic interventions. Therefore, the lasting solution to acts of terror in the name of Islam is not military, economic, or political, but theological. Spiritual changes precede material ones. Meeting the suicidal zeal for an Islamic state with a comparable Pauline zeal for evangelism among Muslims will facilitate those spiritual changes.

Post Script

These three responses, explained above, are not exclusive or exhaustive, and they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. My recommendation of Spiritual Engagement as “a” pathway to “lasting solution” does not exclude supporting secular (military, political, and economic) engagements that are theologically literate and help to free Muslims from Islam. However, secular engagements without spiritual ones don't address underlying causes and won't likely create lasting change.


The Great Commission during Service and after Separation

Christmas Eve Service in IraqMilitaries of the world have always been at the leading edge of intercultural relations and security remains one of America’s most significant exports. If professional exposure to some of the neediest parts of the world creates ministry opportunities, then no segment of the Church in America is more strategically positioned for advancing the Great Commission than Christians who are in the U.S. military.

But what is the Great Commission?

The imperative command in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is the word for "disciple." It is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission. The word commonly translated into English as "go" is not an imperative command. It is a modifying participle, otherwise known in English as an "-ing" word. The Great Commission has three modifying "-ing" words. These words modify the imperative. They describe how to "disciple." They are the words "going," "teaching," and "baptizing." Jesus tells his followers to "disciple" by "going," "baptizing," and "teaching." The verb "disciple" is transitive. That means it takes a direct object. That object is commonly translated into English as "all nations." So the question becomes, "What does it mean to disciple a nation?" The actual Greek words translated into "nation" are "panta ta ethne" from which the English word "ethnic" comes. So a better translation of the verb with its object is, "Disciple all ethnolinguistic groups!" Curiously, the grammatical object to be discipled is not individuals but entities. And significantly, the subject commanded isn't individuals but the whole group of Jesus' followers. It includes you and me, but not just you and me as individuals but also you and me as members of the entire group – the Church. So how do you and I use our lives and our unique set of talents and enthusiasms to participate in the Church's mission to insure "all peoples" get discipled? I think we pursue what we love to do and what God has uniquely inspired us to do in a way that serves and grows the dominion and prestige of Jesus Christ (the Kingdom of God) into new ethnolinguistic territory. That to me is the essence of obeying the Great Commission.

So how does this practically integrate service and life after service?

  1. First, it means that every endeavor from career to hobby and family life coordinates with deliberate efforts to "disciple" entire "ethnolinguistic groups."
  2. Second, it means we do not act alone. Imperfect as they are (because we are not perfect), we must join with others in organizations or associations that intend to strategically impact entire ethnolinguistic entities.
  3. Third, it means we engage or support those engaging ethnolinguistic groups that do not yet have any discipling happening among them. Cross-cultural testimony has got to happen, and it will, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Jesus said that the "end" will not come until the "gospel of the Kingdom" is "proclaimed" in every ethnolinguistic entity (Matthew 24:14). See my article "Who Are Unreached Peoples" for a definition of this frontier.

Discipling cross culturally takes capacity in at least four areas:

  1. Bible, ecclesiology, and targeted cultural anthropology. "Discipling a nation" requires a robust knowledge of the Bible and a firm understanding of what the Church of Jesus Christ is and what it is not in various cultural contexts. Choosing partners and participating in activities that advance the Kingdom of God in new contexts without cultural baggage take capacity in Bible, ecclesiology, and cultural anthropology.
  2. Language and cultural adjustment. To understand and have a sphere of influence takes fluency and comfort, not just with language but also with different roles and values around which people organize and govern their lives. This requires being a learner before becoming a teacher. Language school, Rosetta Stone or a LAMP immersion program are good tools. An introductory course on the science of linguistics can really help with self directed study.
  3. Marriage and family enrichment. This is the most easily overlooked yet often the most significant preparation for endurance on the gospel's frontier. Cultural and spiritual stress on families is exponentially higher in cross-cultural outreach situations. Organizations like PREPMissionary Training International, and Link Care can facilitate self-directed study in this area.
  4. Secular entry skill. Christians can rarely get among "unreached peoples" (except among refugees and international students) as full-time Christian workers. Working among them requires a valid and respected role. Often it is possible to be in both a secular organization and a mission agency. A secular skill provides a platform for operating among "unreached peoples," and missionary agencies strategically coordinate and assure spiritual capacity.

Here are some agencies that embrace and place secular skill sets: