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Torture is unacceptable, NCC assembly says

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Courtesy of the Dept. of Defense

This file photo shows a 48-person detention block at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Nov. 15, 2005


By United Methodist News Service*

Any use of torture is “unacceptable and contrary to U.S. and international legal norms,” according to religious leaders.

The condemnation of torture came when the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches USA and Church World Service met Nov. 9-11 near Baltimore.

Assembly delegates, including United Methodists, commended the U.S. Senate’s “anti-torture provisions” in the 2006 Defense Appropriations bill, which is before the House of Representatives for action. The resolution also criticized those in government who would fail to approve such legislation.

“Torture, regardless of circumstance, humiliates and debases torturer and tortured alike,” the General Assembly declared by unanimous vote. “Torture turns its face against the biblical truth that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). It denies the preciousness of human life and the dignity of every human being by reducing its victims to the status of despised objects, no matter how noble the cause for which it is employed.

“We believe that any reluctance of this nation to publicly disavow torture under any circumstance not only erodes the peace of the world but even the possibility of peace, since it destroys the trust required for diplomacy and other nonviolent means to seek peace,” the resolution said.

At its fall meeting, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society also applauded the Senate bill and called upon Congress to create an independent, bipartisan commission to report on the detention and interrogation practices of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and to hold all those involved accountable for the atrocities.

In another resolution, the NCC expressed concern about threats to civil and religious liberties in the United States. Assembly delegates pledged to educate member communions “on the importance of upholding civil and religious liberties, even and most critically in times of national distress.”

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Bishop Melvin G. Talbert
Threats to liberties include indefinite detention and the withholding of due process; extraordinary rendition and torture; arbitrary designation of enemy combatants; the suspicion of immigrants and those applying for immigrant status; the invasion of private medical records, library borrowing and other personal documents; “and a creeping reliance on selective religious fundamentalism as the lens for shaping public policy, especially at the expense of religious communities.”

Assembly delegates endorsed the Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, established by urgent action of the NCC Governing Board in September. United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert of Nashville, Tenn., a former NCC president, is chairperson of the special commission.

According to the motion, the assembly urges the special commission to “strive for the greatest degree of coherence and comprehensive efforts in our rebuilding (of) the Gulf Coast communities and in addressing the human inequities which exacerbated a natural disaster into wholesale calamity.”

The commission also will address issues of race, class and gender that came to light in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Talbert and the 16 commissioners will meet Nov. 17-18 in the New Orleans area to tour the area, confer with pastors and other religious and community leaders, and develop a timeline and plan of action for their work.

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Photo courtesy of GCCUIC

Clare Chapman poses with the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC chief executive, in this file photo.
A policy on human biotechnologies, “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” received a first reading by the assembly. Delegates will share the policy with member communions for study and comment, for possible adoption at the November 2006 assembly in Orlando, Fla.

Clare Chapman, a United Methodist and chairperson of the policy development committee, said the proposed policy would supplement a 1986 biotechnologies policy that will be retained because it has useful language, including bioethics in the fields of agriculture.

The Rev. Michael E. Livingston was installed Nov. 10 as the council’s new president, succeeding Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr. Currently executive director of the International Council of Community Churches, Livingston has been a pastor, educator and church administrator for most of his adult life, and involved in all levels of the ecumenical movement.

Bishop Vicken Aykazian, a Turkish-born priest who represents the eastern prelacy of the Armenian Church of America in Washington, was elected for a two-year term as the NCC’s president-elect.

In other business, the assembly:
  • Received a welcome from Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore to his archdiocese. Keller reassured delegates that the Roman Catholic Church and the pope are firmly ecumenical.
     
  • Discussed the unexpected withdrawal of the Antiochian Orthodox Church from the NCC last summer.
     
  • Pledged more than $32,000 to Church World Service for worldwide relief efforts.

*The National Council of Churches supplied information for this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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