Detainees in the War on Terror: Three Principles of a Biblical Worldview

Gary A. Haugen, CEO/President of International Justice Mission (IJM), offers these three guiding principles so that Christians can discern a stand on how we as a nation should handle the detainees in our War on Terror.

"I do not know how others would advise the President theologically on these matters, but as a convinced Christian who has tried for 20 years to apply principles of evangelical faith to issues of human rights, here are three principles of a biblical worldview that seem applicable:
  • The state has the authority to protect its citizens by detaining criminals and using force to restrain those who seek to destroy innocent life.
  • All those whom the state detains retain the image of God and are due a standard of care required by God.
  • Because the power of the state over detainees is exercised by fallen human beings, that power must be limited by clear boundaries, and individuals exercising such power must be transparently accountable. "

For the entire editorial, that appeared in Christianity Today October 17, 2005, follow this link.

It seems to me that too many American Christians have forfeited a Christian worldview for the sake of an American worldview. I do not understand how Christians can possibly support the Bush administration's tactics to treat the prisonors of this war as less-than-human (see Bush's continued insistance that he can use torture) and also not worthy of protections under the Geneva Conventions (see the recent rebuke from the Supreme Court).

Maybe these words from Haugen can get us thinking clearly again.

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steve w said...

These are difficult and complex issues indeed. However, the Bush administration spoke in terms of "ticking time bomb" scenarios. If thousands of humans were in danger of losing their lives because of a terrorist, I think I could allow using whatever means necessary to obtain information from that terrorist that would protect those thousands of lives.

Certainly such exceptions, or extenuating circumstances, can be abused. But terrorists have no regard for human life. I can't imagine how it is loving to unleash terrorists, unrestrained, upon their victims.

caucazhin said...

43 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy:
44 but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you;
45 that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
46 For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same?
48 Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. "YE SHALL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS".That means eyes wide shut Shrub Jr also.

Bob Robinson said...

Steve W,

I appreciate your concern. None of us want to "unleash terrorists, unrestrained, upon their victims," anymore than we would want rapists, murderers, or pedophiles unleashed upon their victims.

That is a different issue than whether or not a moral government should treat those accused of these crimes against humanity with fair and ethical treatment, including not torturing them and not stripping them of fair trials accountable to such statutes as the Geneva Conventions.

To infer, as some seem to do (correct me if I'm wrong!), that since terrorists have no regard for human life, we should treat them in the same manner (that is, we should have no regard for their human life) is a far cry from Jesus' command to love our enemies.

Steve, I'm curious if you agree or disagree with the three statements that Haugen suggests.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I found Gary Haugen's guiding principles helpful in this matter, particularly #3. I agree. And your point is well taken: Many of us evangelicals seem more American than Christian in our worldviews.

The vision of the kingdom of God is not the way so many us have been taught to read and see the Story of God in Scripture. So by default the American vision fills the empty space. While Christ refers to our inward life, our church and a couple of moral issues. A shame.

Byron said...

Caucazhin would do well to read and understand Scripture in context...

Bob, I think you dodged Steve's question, though. I'm not sure where I think a line should be drawn, but Steve raises a fair question, which does seem to be the scenario that the administration is most concerned about. Yes, generally speaking, torture (and again, that word, absent definition, is somewhat slippery) is reprehensible and should be shunned by Christians. Of course. Anyone who is torturing detainees to get their jollies---and anyone who authorizes such---should face the music.

That said, Steve's scenario deserves an answer. Steve suggests that there might come an extreme time when one must be weighed against another (the potential loss of hundreds of lives versus the torture of a terrorist with information that could save those lives). It's nice to live in a theoretical world, but in the event that that possibility was more than theoretical, but a clear and present danger, I think that we might have to operate by a different standard. I'm strongly against abortion, but in that rare, rare scenario where it might literally come down to a choice between mother's life and child's life, I opt for abortion. Similarly, in that rare, rare case where the choice comes down to hundreds of innocent lives or the "humanity" of a terrorist detainee, well...

Byron said...

Oh, and Bob, jeepers, dude, if you're going to get an article on Bush's situation vis a vis detainees, for pete's sake, don't get it from the Boston Communist Globe... :)

caucazhin said...

Byron it would do you well to take your head out of you a_ _!!

Bob Robinson said...


Naughty, naughty!!

Please be nice...

Bob Robinson said...


I understand where you and Steve W are coming from. But I don't think I dodged the question.

I come right at the question with Jesus' command to love our enemies. This is not some wimpy, blow-off answer...it is the very command of our Lord.

I cannot possibly rationalize torture under ANY circumstances while seeking to obey that command.

Haugen's point that, "Because the power of the state over detainees is exercised by fallen human beings, that power must be limited by clear boundaries, and individuals exercising such power must be transparently accountable," stresses that we should not trust fallen human beings to discern the line you suggest may exist without some form of "transparant accountability." I do not trust those in power in our government (whether Republican-controlled or Democratic-controlled) to make these decisions without proper accountability. The very scenario that you give: that there might come an extreme time when we may have to weigh "the potential loss of hundreds of lives versus the torture of a terrorist with information that could save those lives" is itself a "theoretical world" scenario. Who decides what is a "clear and present danger"? Who decides when we should "operate by a different standard"? This White House seems to have tried to be that "decider." But the Supreme Court has reprimanded them for such a presumption. Thank God that another branch of our government has stood up to hold our executive branch to accountability.

Bob Robinson said...


BTW - glad to have you back from Colorado. I trust that the experience was as good as you said it was on your blog.

I missed your interaction here in the vanguard.

Bob Robinson said...

The reason I come right at the question with Jesus' command to "love our enemies" is that I believe Jesus' revolutionary idea on how to overcome evil needs to be radically implemented if we are to overcome the current threat of terrorism.

What if we tried to follow the mandate of the earliest Jesus-followers instead of the mandate of power and might?

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)

Byron said...

Hey, nice comeback, Caucazhin...thanks for heeding Jesus' words. Then again, when we yank words out of context, we sure can make them say what we want them to say, can't we?

Bob, I'm not sure Jesus' words to "love our enemies" is directed at civil governments who "bear the sword" (after all, one could take "love your enemies" to forbid, not only the torture with which you are rightly concerned, but any armed action at all in any context). Jesus words about resisting evil are directed at individuals/His community of followers; certainly they can be instructive for nations, but they cannot be read, it seems to me, as some absolute formula for statecraft, unless one takes a full pacifist position (which I don't think you'd advocate, and which I don't believe is supported Biblically unless/until we yank words out of context). You say that you can't condone torture, and neither can I save, possibly, an extreme circumstance such as Steve suggests. But by the standard of those words, can you condone any military action? Do you condemn our snuffing out of al-Zarqawi's life because it didn't constitute "loving our enemies"?

I think that we largely (90%) agree on the question, Bob, but I wonder if the limb you're out on will support your position...

Bob Robinson said...


As I see it, "Love your enemy" is not simply an individualistic command. It is a command that is a major part of the holistic Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. I think that it is "yanking words out of context" to suggest that Jesus did not envision a radical society in which his command to "love God and love others" rules everything.

Christ's Kingdom seeks to overcome evil with good. It subverts evil by overcoming it with love.

Therefore, if the U.S. government is a representative government, and I hope it represents me as a Christian (though I will allow a plurality of voices in the marketplace of ideas), then I want my government to punish evil appropriately, but I also want the ultimate Christian principle of "loving others" to top all of it. This gives foundation to the reason punishment (justice) is needed. Because we want a society of love.

So, the concept of "loving our enemies" applies to our war on terror in very practical ways:
Instead of seeing this as simply a military battle where "might makes right," we see this as a complex issue: This war has do to with spiritual issues, economic issues, oppression issues, and may other issues.

If we Christians, instead of supporting a simple military policy against terror, were to advance policies that sought to subvert the motivations for terror, then we would be "loving our enemies."

So, I still maintain that when Christians support our government's policies that do not consistently show our enemies what love looks like (unaccountable imprisonment, torture, and unjust trials), we are embracing an "American Worldview" and not a "Christian Worldview."

BTW, I agree that the government "bears the sword" but (at least not in the context of Romans 13) this does not refer to war. The "sword" there in Rom 13:4 is not a war-sword but a machaira, a tool for civil police enforcement. "Bearing the sword" refers to the right of a government to exercise dominion over wrong-doers in its nation. "Paul uses this phrase to refer generally to the right of the government to punish those who violate its laws...Paul assumes that the laws of the state embody those general moral principles that are taught in the word of God. The 'evil' that the civil authorities punish, therefore, is evil in the absolute sense: those acts that God himself condemns as evil." (Doug Moo, Romans, NICNT, p. 802)

caucazhin said...

And of coarse a few hundred years of colonialism and destroying other peoples cultures is justified in the name of progress using the"entrepreneurial spirit" Shrubman talks about so much.
And of coarse we must also proselytize and tame the savages with our democratic christian ideals that we don't live up to ourselves.Theres nothing new under the sun.
"Many will come to me in that day and say,Lord,Lord"

Byron said...


I can buy the "radical society" concept, sure; I agree with it. But my point is that any use of force pretty much comes up against a literal reading of "love your enemies", whether it is extreme, unwarranted force (generally, torture) or just-war actions (obliterating al-Zarqawi). Yes, I can go for "consistently showing our enemies what love looks like", but that must be qualified---heck, you'd qualify it, and you know it---by the fact that there is a place for the use of force, and getting rid of the Taliban by force probably won't come off as "loving" to the Taliban, but it is the right thing to do.

As to "bearing the sword", you're undoubtedly right as to the technical point, but it strikes me as a distinction without a difference. After all, a justly-fought (I don't really mean to argue one way or the other vis a vis the current conflict, but only to make the principle/point here) war, one that seeks to punish evildoers and prevent harm to innocent life, etc., is only a police action writ large. When you boil it down, is there a difference between the police "bearing the sword" to apprehend---or if necessary, to kill---evildoers, and the U.S. Army going halfway around the world to punish/apprehend the evildoers that committed terrorism? Methinks not...

Bob Robinson said...

You're the one castigating caucazhin for not reading his Bible in context. And the simple fact is that Romans 13 says nothing about war. And no, war is NOT a "police action writ large." I challenge you to find that in the text. The distinction makes all the difference; I am not ready to interpret the Bible beyond the original intention of the author.

About "loving your enemies:" The main point of Romans 12:17-21 is the renunciation of vengence for the sake of the gospel. To love is to not take revenge but to instead figure out ways to undermine the evil with love. Vengence simply brings about more violence. Watch what happens in war: you hit me, I hit you harder, you hit me even harder.

The point is this: In state diplomacy as well as getting along with the jerk at work the truth of Christ's gospel of peace is always true: Seek first to be a peacemaker and do the loving thing; do not first seek to take the enemy out. This is an instance of general truth that covers all circumstances.

Bob Robinson said...

And then back to Steve's scenario:

An ethic of "the End justifies the Means" is not a Christian ethic. When I was teaching ethics at Malone College, this was one of the first challenges I gave the students. I gave them case studies and they found that they cannot even presume to even know what the END will be (the future is always unknown).

Christians need to do the righteous thing AT ALL TIMES. If not, who decides what MEANS we should take to get to an END that we are not sure will happen until we get there? This is basic Christian ethics. So, to torture somebody to get info that you think will save thousands, in fact may NOT save thousands. And all you've accomplished is a sinful act for an end that never occured.

Byron said...

I'll concede your last point, Bob; I'd place limits on "torture" (again, the word that seems to defy definition) even in the service of averting catastrophe---but they probably wouldn't be the same limits I might place on it under ordinary circumstances. Yeah, perhaps that sounds like situation ethics...

I understand, Bob, and agree that Romans 13 isn't talking about war; we're on page there. But I do see, at least in many cases, that acts of war are, in fact, police actions writ large. A bad guy perpetrates a crime (stealing a purse, blowing up the WTC); we go after those bad guys (capturing if possible; killing if need be). I'll concede Romans 13's intent involves police actions, if you will, but I do see a clear parallel between the justified used of force in apprehending bad guys on our own soil, and the justified use of force in apprehending them elsewhere. Unless you want to take a consistent pacifist position, there are times when force is justified.

Want to take a consistent pacifist position, Bob? If not, then when is war justified, and even more germane to our discussion, how do you reconcile "love your enemies" with dropping bombs on the heads of known terrorists? Was the U.S. justified in taking out al-Zarqawi, or were we not? If so, would that constitute the consistent display of love that you are promoting, and if so, how?

War is never, never, never a good outcome. Those who are trigger-happy would seem to be acting in a sub-Christian way. Going the extra mile---and I'm not certain that GWB did in Iraq, by the way---to achieve the right ends is always right. But a reluctance to restrain evil on the part of the state seems wrong as well. "Then conquer we must, when our cause, it is just". Then...but only then...can force be justified domestically or internationally.

By the way, glad to see you're back to such vigorous blogging...for awhile, it wasn't certain that we'd be having these discussions, at least not on this earth, and of course in Heaven, when we had them, by then you'd have perfect knowledge and realize your many, many grievous errors... ;)

Bob Robinson said...


To be honest in answering your questions about war--

I don't know yet.

I'm working through these issues as we speak. My "Just War" stand as we entered into this Iraq War has been challenged deep inside my soul and found wanting.

I'm reading John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus and finding some very good things there. I feel that I am indeed moving toward pacifism, but where I end up on the spectrum between the war-mongers of neo-conservative politics and absolute pacifism remains to be seen.

I DO know that Christ is the Prince of Peace, and that we are called to be peacemakers. I DO know that God's purpose for this world is the Hebrew concept of Shalom. And I DO know that the Kingdom of God is ushered in through nonviolent means.

Bob Robinson said...

I'm in the middle of two series right now here in the vanguard: Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn and Emerging Christian Interaction with Political Ideologies.

After I finish these, I see the next series already looming: An Emerging Christian Ethic on War and Peacemaking. I will need lots of input from commenters to work through this difficult topic!

Byron said...

That's fair; that's honest; that's fine. I'll be looking forward to your next series. Read Yoder, but also maybe find time to read someone who defines and defends just war theory. An observation: it looks like---as judged from your comments---that your reading material these days is mainly (exclusively?) left-of-center stuff. I could probably stand to read more of that myself---although Rodney Clapp, who wrote A Peculiar People, my latest addition to the you-must-read-this-book list, is himself a pacifist. Anyhoo, I think that there is a tendency---heck, I feel it myself, and display it from time to time if you read my stuff---on the part of us conservatives to want to pendulum swing, broadening our minds through reading stuff that rebuffs what we've always believed. I think it's great to open our minds; at the same time, I also think that it's easy to swing too far on the pendulum, to be so influenced by the "recent" that we almost want to toss out our past beliefs wholesale.

Brian McLaren comes to mind as an example of this; one reads McLaren and almost can conclude that the trendiness of questioning everything has gotten him to the point where he's just not particularly sure about anything anymore. I'm rambling, but I guess I'm just saying a.) grain of salt with everything we read; no uncritical acceptance of anybody's ideas, and b.) strike a blow for balance by picking up a good, balanced treatment of just-war theory to test Yoder's position by. That, I suggest, would really make for some interesting reading/debating...

So I think I'm pretty much done with this thread, and will wait on the impending one.

Bob Robinson said...

With my background, I'm pretty familiar with Just War Theory (See my message from the old church days, when I was preaching each week, A Christian View of War, where I thoroughly interacted with the Just War Theory. This message was given when we entered his current Iraq War).

Once one has held a specific view, it is good then to look beyond that view and hear other voices, thus my desire to read Yoder. I am going to re-read Clouse's WAR: Four Christian Views, Glen Stasson's essay in Toward an Evangelical Public Policy, and the four views presented in Clark and Rakestraw's Readings in Christian Ethics.

Byron said...

Good idea! I'll look forward to your conclusions.

caucazhin said...

HAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ! ! !
Theyve been using that one for centuries.
What a crock made up by a man who worshipped the SWORD of god not the WORD of GOD and brought in the dark ages.
Constantinianism, Augustinianism, Puritanism, Calvinism and MANIFEST DESTINY are not Christian in any true sense of word they are lies straight from the bottomless pit.