Sunday, December 15, 2013

God Still Reigns Supreme, and He Doesn't Need Drones to Enforce His Rule

Send In The Drones

Today I feel compelled to speak out against the drone attack in Yemen earlier this week that killed at least 13 people and probably more – all of whom were, by all accounts, part of a wedding party. The erroneous targeting of innocent civilians by the CIA and the US military causes me to wonder whether the letters CIA stand for Complete Idiots Agency. But all joking aside, I want to write truthfully today about God and what he might do under similar circumstances. After all, I am a Progressive Christian and an antiwar crusader because my conscience compels me to be such – it's in my nature. I cannot hope to transcend that identity, nor do I think that attempting to do so is a worthy goal, especially for the sake of "objectivity". Indeed, being a Christian inevitably means many things — it means being baptized, partaking of the Lord's supper, and belonging to a community marked by the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Likewise, being a Christian means lamenting the violence carried out by those powers and principalities that coercively seek their own lordship over God's good creation – powers and principalities like America – and to stand for social and economic justice and against inequality as Jesus did.

I recently found out, much to my dismay, that Liberty University has been training Christians to pilot armed U.S. drones since 2011 in its School of Aeronautics (SOA). My dismay is over the idea that Liberty graduates can somehow "serve the Lord" by targeting and killing their global neighbors. Here, I would like to outline some of my concerns in detail with the hope that Liberty University might reconsider, or at least restate theologically, its position regarding U.S. drone warfare:

[1.] Drone strikes are imprecise, counterproductive and of questionable legality.

According to a recent study carried out by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, some experts suggested drone strikes hit just 2 percent of "high priority" targets, often killing civilians instead. Indeed, America is responsible for killing more than 3,000 people with drone technology – several hundred of which are children. America also uses egregious strike techniques in order to kill individuals suspected of terrorism. All of this has led to significant opposition from citizens, especially in Pakistan, in what some have called a kind of "recruitment program" for terrorism. And though legality is unclear, terrorism and human rights officials at the United Nations have said that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan violate international law. Has Liberty University considered how these factors might undermine America's interests? More importantly, have you considered how these factors might compromise the integrity of the greater Church?

[2.] Drone strikes necessitate complicity with untruthful media systems.

Reports suggest that the Obama Administration stretches the definition of "militant" to reduce reported civilian death tolls. Just follow the articles – as soon as you get beyond the realm of mainstream American media, “militants” suddenly become “suspects” or even “civilians.” How can the church – any church presenting itself as a truth-telling institution – accept at face value and propagate misleading half-truths or outright lies from the mainstream media, especially when innocent lives are at stake?

[3.] Liberty University assumes drone warfare as an ethical norm for Christians.

Don't get me wrong – I dislike just-war theory just as much as the next Progressive Christian, but don't you think that drone warfare demands some sort of philosophical and theological backing? Short of ambiguous and unhelpful appeals to "justice," how has Liberty managed to reconcile drone strikes with the ethical teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ? How can the church support drone warfare while loving our neighbors and our enemies at the same time? Before Yemen there is or was Afghanistan, and before that there was Iraq, where at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians died, and not all were accidental.

Still another aspect of drone warfare is the insane misdirection and misappropriation of funds for war instead of for peaceful purposes. As I wrote in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, if America took all the money it spends in just one day for the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money in that account to send every American school kid to 4 years of college so they could earn their professional degrees and diplomas without cost. This is the way this is already being done in most of the other developed countries in the world. America is the only exception, and it is undoubtedly a dubious distinction. It is also a fact that America spends more money incarcerating people than it does educating them. For me, this is proof positive that our country has its priorities completely out of whack. This in turn is a reflection on America's leadership, or more accurately the lack thereof. As things are right now, America's voters will have to wait until the 2014 elections to be able to do anything about it. But, if after the 2014 elections are over with and numerous new senators and congressional representatives are elected to replace the old – which is likely – and the state of our country remains unchanged, and especially if it gets worse, there will be serious trouble and much civil unrest, and things could get ugly in a hurry.

Ultimately, I oppose drones because Christ – through his obedience unto death – defeated the principalities and powers of this world. In so doing, he brought his Kingdom, with all its alternative politics, to earth. With expectant hope, the church is called to an ever-patient and Christ-like peace in accordance to Christ's faithfulness that is made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. As such, the church cannot participate in the violence of empire without undermining its calling — we are, as it were, to put faithfulness to Jesus before our attachment to the world. No doubt, many at Liberty University will reject my argument. Nevertheless, I can see no theological reasons for doing so. After all, as the largest evangelical school in the world, I would presume that they know how to talk about God. So the next time you pray, why not ask God, “Heavenly Father, who would Jesus drone?”

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