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Poll shows support for torture among Southern evangelicals

September 16, 2008, 10:40 pm | Posted by Kristin Ford
Religion News Service
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A new poll finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll released Thursday, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57% of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52%.

“Presenting people with this argument and identifying with the golden rule really does engage a different part of people’s psyche and a part of their heart, their soul, and really does shift their views on torture,” said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, which was commissioned to conduct the poll.

The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48% of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44% of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28%, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

The poll was released on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and comes after several religious groups have joined a public campaign to oppose the use of torture in interrogating suspected terrorists.

Results were unveiled during the National Summit on Torture at Mercer in Atlanta, which was co-sponsored by Evangelicals for Human Rights.

David Gushee, a Christian ethics professor at Mercer and the president of the evangelical group, said the poll numbers should tell leaders, including presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain, who oppose torture that people can change their minds about this issue if it is discussed from a moral standpoint.

“Opinion on this question is movable,” he said.

Pollsters also found that 53% of white Southern evangelicals believe the government uses torture in its anti-terrorism campaign, despite claims by government officials to the contrary. About one-third, or 32%, said the government does not use torture as a matter of policy.

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