by Joe Schwartz
CHAPEL HILL — The congregants at Chapel Hill’s Church of Reconciliation gathered in the parking lot Sunday afternoon to dedicate a banner denouncing torture for the third time. Two previous signs were cut down and pilfered during the past two years, most recently in December. The new one hangs between two trees and is reinforced with wire cables instead of string. It’s also a few feet higher, now about 20, than the previous signs.
“It’s closer to God,” organizer Barry Freeman said fittingly.
“Apparently someone feels very strongly that we should not be protesting the use of torture,” Pastor Mark Davidson told the group of 50 who gathered for the dedication. “This is a crucially important witness, and we will continue to make it. Actually, I think the third time is the charm. This banner is the best of the lot.”
The Church of Reconciliation, located at 110 N. Elliott Road, is one of 350 congregations nationwide to fly the banner, which was designed by Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, but the only one in Chapel Hill.
Davidson, joined by the Rev. Robert Seymour, pastor emeritus at Binkley Baptist Church, and Steve Edelstein of N.C. Stop Torture Now, called torture a “grave sin and a violation of Christian conscience.” It degrades and endangers everyone involved, he said, adding that the practice isn’t effective, anyway.
Seymour used words such as “immoral,” “unthinkable” and “unchristian” when discussing torture, and cautioned that the American public can be considered complicit through inaction if they don’t demand accountability for the images coming out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
“I’m hoping that you have started the movement,” said Seymour, a longtime social justice advocate perhaps best known for pushing for racial integration during the 1960s.
“Maybe others will see what you’ve done, and maybe we can have similar signs in front of churches not only here but across this great country. Otherwise we become powerlessly close not only to losing our great reputation in the world, but we’ve come close to losing our souls.”
Edelstein questioned why existing laws, both international and domestic, aren’t followed.
“One would think that it’s against the law to torture, but we’re wrong,” he said. “Our president has stated, ‘Let’s look forward.’ That means that if you tortured, forget about it. Does that do anything to stop torture in the future? No. It also ignores all the laws that were passed.”
They’re confident thought, that the reinforced banner won’t be ignored.
“The fact that it rattles people shows that at least they are looking at it,” Davidson said.