Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Academy Awards and the Culture of Violence, and the Golden Dove Awards for 2012

At tonight's Oscars, one of the contenders for best picture will be a film condoning torture--which is, I believe, a first in the annals of the film industry. My friend and colleague Rev Frank Wulf wrote a powerful op ed piece denouncing this film and the culture of violence in our country (see below). I wish that other pastors throughout the US would follow his example, and join in the Religious Campaign Against Torture (

In addition to censuring films that promote violence, I would like to lift up films and books that promote peace and justice--my "Golden Dove" award.

This year's "Golden Dove" award goes to "Argo," a thriller in which no shots were fired, no one was killed, and the CIA agent rescues people using creativity and courage rather than force.

A second "Golden Dove" goes to "Life of Pi," for being an imaginative and intriguing film about the quest for God. In this film, the hero learns to coexist with rather than kill the man-eating tiger--a step in the right direction towards becoming fully human.

The "Golden Dove" award for best non-fiction book goes to "Interfaith Just Peacemaking," edited by Susan Thisthewaite. This is a fascinating collection of essays by leading Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars/activists exploring the ten practices of "just peacemaking" from a theological and practical perspective.

Other books on peace and justice I recommend:

  • "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" by Medea Benjamin.
  • "Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice" by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell.
  • "Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st Century Peace Ambassador" by James O'Dea.
  • "Subversive Wisdom: Sociopolitical Dimensions of John's Gospel" by Bert Newton
  • "Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models" by Jill Shook
  • "On God's Side" by Jim Wallis

I am open to your suggestions about other books, films and documentaries you feel promote justice and peace.

Here is the opinion piece about "Zero Dark Thirty" and torture written by Rev Frank Wulf.

 Opinion: Fact and fiction and "Zero Dark Thirty"
By Rev. Frank Wulf

 I have not seen "Zero Dark Thirty," and I do not intend to do so.

It belongs to a genre of entertainment that glorifies torture as an effective means to bring perpetrators to justice. It does this in an untruthful way that neglects the complex moral, legal and pragmatic issues that motivated our government to implement torture to achieve its military and diplomatic goals. This film deceives the audience by alleging that inhumane torture methods coerced critical information that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden's capture. As a country that cherishes and strives to uphold individual freedoms and inherent human dignity and worth, how can we justify torture as a defense of democracy?

 We must puncture these myths and dispel the false and deceptive narrative "Zero Dark Thirty" has disseminated. Though the film is pulse-quickening and leaves us feeling victorious and proud to represent the nation that defeated the world's most hated terrorist, we cannot let that cloud our judgment on the use of torture. The fiction that the film conveys inevitably sacrifices the complications of truth for the "higher" goal of entertainment. Real work has been done to explore the effects of torture, but it is currently shrouded by the government's failure to share the information with the public.

Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted a report of more than 6,000 pages detailing the CIA's use of post-9/11 torture. This report is the result of an extensive, three-year investigation examining more than a million pages of documents detailing interrogations of detainees in CIA custody. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been an outspoken opponent of the film, which she asserts is "grossly inaccurate and misleading." Other officials have reiterated her claims, including Sen. John McCain - himself a survivor of torture - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell.

It is time for the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report to the public, which will shed light on the misconceptions about torture that fester in an atmosphere of secrecy. The half-truths and outright lies advanced by works of fiction such as "Zero Dark Thirty" only gain traction because the truth is kept hidden, and those with little knowledge of intelligence operations will take the film at face value. People have the right to know if their government is or has tortured people on their behalf.

Intelligence experts have repeatedly stated that torture is counterproductive. It doesn't produce reliable or unique information and only serves to enrage people who are already looking for reasons to attack us. Interrogators have themselves admitted that non-coercive, traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence. Torture is also illegal under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994. And finally, torture is immoral. It runs contrary to the teachings of every major religion, and violates our deepest sense about the dignity of every person.

As a Christian pastor, I cannot condone torture under any circumstance. Jesus, who was himself tortured, serves as my guide. With the Academy Awards approaching, we must ensure that the deception of "Zero Dark Thirty" is demystified. We must work for transparency on this issue, and so I join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in calling on our government to share with us its findings of our nation's dark legacy of torture activities. As the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Feinstein has a critical role to play in pushing for the public release of her committee's report.

 Though the truth may be painful, we must illuminate it. A film cannot be the final arbiter of the truth, and we must hold our government accountable for its actions.

 The Rev. Frank Wulf is a United Methodist minister in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. He currently serves as the pastor of United University Church in Los Angeles, a union congregation of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA).
This op apppeared in the following sources:


LA Daily News










1 comment:

  1. Torture also violates the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which our country put forward in 1948 as the standard for all nations of earth to follow. Indefinite detention without charges or trial also violates the Rights of the detained. One could go on and on with examples of activities that we have condoned in our government, but which violate this recognized standard of Human Rights. It is time we set an example for the world of upholding the Human Rights that we promulgated to the world.