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Undermining Forgiveness by “Turning the Page” on Torture

By Heather Rice - Posted on 26 November 2010

In his new memoir, "Decision Points," President Bush states that he responded, “Damn right,” when CIA director George Tenet asked for permission to waterboard alleged al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in early 2003.

In a sermon entitled, “Repentance, Forgiveness and the Gift of the Spirit,” Pastor John Piper of Desiring God ministries in Minneapolis, described forgiveness as letting go of real offenses. Piper explained, however, that if there is no standard to offend against or no expectation to violate, then there can be no forgiveness. Thus, “What looked like grace turns out to be the undermining of grace by the undermining of forgiveness.”

Shortly after President Obama assumed office, he stated he wanted to “look forward, not back,” on the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. He asked Americans to “turn the page” on this painful chapter of our history. Unfortunately, most Americans, including Christian Americans, have readily accepted this proposal. The consequences have been tremendous. Now, President Bush may freely state that he used tactics unquestionably categorized as torture. Now, in my own conversations with other young Evangelicals, I find that our “standard” of what constitutes torture has become relative and driven by fear. We are tempted to “let go” of very real offenses (including waterboarding, shackling and stripping) committed in our name, not because we have asked for forgiveness for these acts, but rather because we have blurred the standard so far that our history has become “justified.” What looked like an extension of grace to the previous administration has turned out to be the undermining of grace by the undermining of forgiveness.

How can we truly “turn the page” if we have not reconciled our history? How can we move forward without understanding and naming our past transgressions? As Evangelicals, we know that brokenness can be healed – both in individual lives and in the life of the nation. Learning the truth can set us on a path toward national healing and renewal. “[R]epentance is more than feeling sorry. It means following through on that conviction and turning around—changing your mind and your heart so that you are no longer at odds with God but in sync with God.” -John Piper.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture continues to call for an impartial, nonpartisan, and independent Commission of Inquiry. Its purpose should be to gather all the facts and make recommendations. It should ascertain the extent to which our interrogation practices have constituted torture and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Understanding the causes, nature and scope of U.S.-sponsored torture is essential for preventing it in the future and eliminating it from our system without loopholes. Please be a part of changing the hearts and minds of Americans on our past use of torture, by endorsing the call for a Commission of Inquiry.

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