America’s Conscience?

Diana Butler Bass for Beliefnet:

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center released a survey on the views of religious Americans regarding torture. They survey found that white evangelical Protestants were the most supportive of torture–only 16% of evangelicals reject the use of torture. A whopping 62% of white evangelical Protestants think that torture is justified in most or many circumstances. Since the findings became public, numerous columnists, pundits, and bloggers have opined on why evangelicals support torture.

The unaddressed question is, however, why white mainline Protestants–those belonging to the historic “brand name” churches–do not support torture. Indeed, approximately twice as many mainline Protestants (31%) believe that torture is never justified and an additional 22% think it is almost always wrong. Their attitude toward torture is nearly opposite of evangelical Protestant opinion. More than half of mainline Protestants reject the use of torture against other human beings as justifiable means to political ends. They are the religious community most strongly opposed to torture.

Despite the fact that evangelicals garner most media attention, they do not represent the entire Protestant community. Depending upon what survey one believes, mainline Protestant churches–even after many years of numerical decline, internal struggles, and bad press–still comprise somewhere between 15-20% of the American population. The Pew survey on torture makes it startlingly clear why mainline Protestantism remains an important constituency in American political life: Mainline Protestants are the nation’s moral conscience.

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