Do you think these human beings matter to God? They certainly don’t matter much to us. About a hundred prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are now engaged in a hunger strike. But don’t worry; the prison guards won’t let them die. They force-feed them through tubes in their noses. Apparently one detainee has been force-fed daily since 2005.
Israel has a similar PR problem that we do. They regularly put Palestinians in administrative detention indefinitely. And the Palestinian prisoners discovered that hunger strikes are an effective tactic for drawing attention to the injustice of their situation. Of course, this only works if your jailer has a conscience or at least a concern with alienating the rest of the world. Our government doesn’t have to care about what the world thinks the way that Israel does.
Our government’s cost/benefit analysis rules in favor of indefinite detention without trial, because our president is a coward and he knows that the talk-show crazies will explode if he lets out the 86 detainees who have been cleared of any possibility of ever having been terrorists. Because they’re Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists (didn’t you see what they did in Boston?!!!). A lot of these guys are farmers that the Afghani Northern Alliance scooped up and handed over to the US military for the cash, not a whole lot different than the slave trade of a different century.
This becomes a theological question when I think about the futility of their protest. Not only does nobody in our country care. The prisoners aren’t even allowed to take their protest all the way and die of starvation rather than languishing for the rest of their lives in an illegal prison. So who is watching who can do something about it? Is God watching? How do you think God feels about what’s going on? Well they’re Muslim so they’re going to hell anyway. Might as well get started with it now. Is that what God would say?
Should we feel confident that we’re not storing up wrath for ourselves with God as a people with this injustice? What if what God is experiencing right now is analogous to what He experienced when the blood of Abel welled up from the ground and when the cries of His enslaved people rose up to Him from Egypt?
But Jesus died for our sins, right? It might be a sin that we don’t care about 166 Muslims who may or may not have been terrorists when they arrived at Guantanamo but might as well be terrorists now because of how they have been treated, but as long as we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and savior, it’s all good because “we know You’ve cast our sin as far as the east is from the west and we stand before You now as though I’ve never sinned.”
I wonder how much this basic ethical nihilism built into the predominant evangelical account of atonement protects our consciences from being troubled by injustice in which we are complicit. Should we feel confident that when we die God will simply see Jesus instead of us when we stand before Him? When Paul says in Romans 14:11 that “we will all give an account of ourselves before God,” is he just saying that in theory (because God has already stamped “not guilty” as the verdict)? Will it be like when your name comes up for a random screening in the TSA line at the airport even though you’re obviously white?
I believe in God’s wrath, and I’m not saying that reluctantly. I need for it to be not okay to God when people are mistreated even if it happens because of large, complicated dysfunctional situations for which no one individual can be blamed. I read a psalm every day as part of the Daily Office scripture readings. At least half of the ones I’ve read involve a demand for God to act upon His wrath against injustice.
The problem with the way that many evangelicals have been taught to think about God’s wrath is that they see it as a response to abstract violations of His rules that has nothing to do with His compassion for the people that get hurt by our sin. I don’t think God gets his undies in a bunch when we say words like shit, except insofar as it helps to cultivate an attitude about His creation in which we treat beautiful things He made like excreted waste, like when we put innocent human beings in a cage on account of their nationality and religion.
I hope that what our country is doing at Guantanamo Bay matters to God eternally and that He will ask us when we stand before Him what we did to respond to the cries of these emaciated prisoners strapped to beds with tubes up their noses. I do believe that God can separate our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) in the sense that we gain the freedom through Christ not to be owned and defined by our sins. But I hope that the Christian pop group Casting Crowns is wrong about the implications of that verse.
I hope that God holds even fully reborn, regenerate Christians accountable for how we have neglected those who languished under our watch as citizens of the country that imprisoned them. Maybe we can send some missionaries to Guantanamo Bay and tell the Muslims there about the Jesus who placates the consciences of the people who imprisoned them unjustly.