Occasionally I encounter Christian conservatives who insist that a Christian should not support a pro-choice political candidate. As a pro-life Christian, I agree with those Christian conservatives that Christians ought to be pro-life. But I don’t agree that a politician’s position on abortion can serve as a litmus test for a Christian’s support or opposition. In Canada’s most recent national election I voted for the NDP despite the party’s staunch pro-choice position. I did so because on balance I believed that the NDP platform was most fully in line with my Christian convictions, that pro-choice position notwithstanding.
At the same time, I understand why other Christians would vote against the NDP out of their Christian convictions. The reality is that these judgments are morally complex, and informed individuals of good will can differ in their support of various political parties.
With that I turn my gaze back to the tumultuous election season south of the border. There are several reasons why a Christian might be unwilling to vote for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. One of those reasons is the support these candidates have given for torturing enemy combatants. I have already written about this in the article “Republican presidential candidates on torture: Ted Cruz really is a liar and Donald Trump is a brute.”
Keeping that in mind, I want to draw your attention to a new book by Eric Fair titled Consequence: A Memoir. In 2004 Fair traveled to Iraq to work as a contract interrogator. The horrors he would inflict on others under the sanitized euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques” would haunt him to this day. Fair writes:
We pass by the interrogation room where Tyner has been working on Raad Hussein. We haven’t heard Tyner scream or throw anything today. The door to the room, a flimsy sheet of plywood, has blown open in the hot desert wind. Inside, Raad Hussein is bound to the Palestinian chair. His hands are tied to his ankles. The chair forces him to lean forward in a crouch, forcing all of his weight onto his thighs. It’s as if he’s been trapped in the act of kneeling down to pray, his knees frozen just above the floor, his arms pinned below his legs. He is blindfolded. His head has collapsed into his chest. He wheezes and gasps for air. There is a pool of urine at his feet. He moans: too tired to cry, but in too much pain to remain silent.
Henson comes out into the hallway and walks past the room. He covers the side of his face as he walks by and says, ‘I don’t even want to know.’
I am silent. This is a sin. I know it as soon as I see it. There will be no atonement for it. In the coming years, I won’t have the audacity to seek it. Witnessing a man being tortured in the Palestinian chair requires the witness to either seek justice or cover his face. Like Henson in Fallujah, I’ll spend the rest of my life covering my face.” (p. 122)
So where does this leave us as regards the current Republican front runners? Donald Trump relishes torture and promises to inflict much worse on alleged enemies of the state than is described in this passage. Meanwhile Ted Cruz dishonestly invokes a spurious definition of torture as inflicting “excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing—losing organs and systems.” This definition would not only allow Cruz to approve water boarding: it would also allow him to approve the torture of the Palestinian chair.
And that brings me back to Eric Fair. He judges the torture of the Palestinian chair to constitute a sin. I agree with him. And that provides one good reason why a Christian would conclude they cannot support either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
Of course, matters are not so simple, because one might believe Cruz has other positions favorable to a Christian worldview which, on balance, are sufficient to justify voting for him. (Trump is different: I believe he has no redeeming qualities and that he is very possibly a clinical psychopath. He certainly is a protean fascist and no Christian should vote for him.)
Setting aside Trump, the lesson is simply this: political life often involves moral compromise and the settling for the least bad of several options. Thus, just as one might choose Cruz over another candidate despite his support for torture, so one might choose a pro-choice candidate over Cruz despite their support for the right to choose.
I first became aware of Fair’s book based on his excellent interview at Democracy Now. You can watch it here.