This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
My extended family holds various political beliefs. I don't know the percentages of Democrats and Republicans. Many, if given a chance, would declare themselves independent. My parents surprised me by their voting history that I learned later, after the fact.
If all our beliefs had been closer to the surface, our gatherings would have been uncomfortable. Our differences would have risen under the dining room table like the Continental Divide. We do not speak of gun control when we're passing the gravy.
At this time in our country, I wonder, too, where to begin to speak of what is happening. How do we speak about the barrage of executive orders without adding to the divide? What issue looms largest? The tens of thousands of immigrants whose visas were revoked? Is there somewhere we could reach consensus?
We need a beloved elder to clear his or her throat and say something that will bring back civility. If that elder were a religious leader such as Rabbi Jesus or the Buddha, I believe that they would ask how we are treating the most vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the refugees at our doorsteps and the prisoners of war. Even during wars, the Geneva Conventions gave guidelines to follow that gave the loved ones of prisoners some comfort. There were lines that "civilized" countries would not cross.
In our rage and fear after 9/11, the United States felt justified in enacting a practice of torture. Through the Senate investigation, we were beginning to awaken as if from a bad dream and look in the mirror and say, "This is not who we are."
Albert Shimkus, the first commander of the detainee hospital at Guantánamo, was shaken into awareness by a visit to Auschwitz. Walking through those halls of photographs and reading the graphic accounts of what went on in the extermination camp, he saw the connection between that cruelty and what was happening on his watch.
In 2003, former president Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, where Nazi Germany had carried out some of its most brutal violations against human rights, put pressure on American officials to end interrogations at a secret CIA prison his country.
Now, after the publication of the Senate report, none of us can plead innocence. We know too much. Sen. John McCain, who experienced torture himself during the Vietnam War, courageously crossed party lines and responded that our not having gleaned useful information is not the worst part. "We cannot do these things to other human beings."
By using and even developing torture methods, our government disregarded our most cherished values and dismissed the belief that every person, regardless of nationality, regardless of innocence or guilt, bears intrinsic worth. As people of faith and conscience we have a fundamental responsibility to protect that worth. These are the values that distinguished us from "cruel" regimes. Let us not turn back the clock.
If you are considering which issues to choose, I encourage you to include torture on your list. Do not allow this practice to return and be practiced out of our sight creating immeasurable suffering. Write to your representatives and tell them: Torture doesn't work and even if it did, it must stop. This is not who we want to be as a country. Risk the peace of the dinner table too and begin conversations. Tell people what is on your mind. To be silent is to be complicit.
Rev. Patty C. Willis is minister of South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society.