The text of my address to the Albany Presbytery on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Introduction Of Unmanned Overture (January 25, 2014)

 The story of Rafiq ur Rehman, whose mother was killed when a drone dropped a missile on her is chilling and should cause every citizen of the United States, and for us especially as people who seek to follow Jesus, to pause and consider whether it is ok for the United States to derive some degree of temporary security on the backs and lives of relatively poor members of the Pakistani society, or of those in Yemen, or Somalia.  Working out in the garden one afternoon, preparing to cook a family meal on a high Islamic day, she was so incinerated that there were few pieces left to bury. In his efforts to garner some answers as to why this had happened to her he came to Washington DC to speak at a congressional hearing but no adequate answers might be given to him because few if any exist. To read accounts of the experience of villagers living in the rural areas of these countries of drone warfare is also deeply troubling. They describe the sheer terror they feel when they hear the sounds of drones passing overhead. The run, they hide, they pray that this will not be the time when a missile from an unmanned aerial vehicle will be dropped on their house, killing themselves, their significant others, their children. In areas of the world already destabilized by violence and terror does it advance the cause of freedom to ratchet up the violence?  What would Jesus have us do?

The use of violence to quell the threat of violence is a strategy as old as time itself. Cycle upon cycle of violence has spun on itself until no part of the world has been free of the rampage of those who would take up arms against one another. However, this new technique of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to gain a measure of separation from the dangers of hand-to-hand combat only serves to make war-making that much easier, sanitized and removed from view.  When violence can be visited upon a people half a world away from the comfort of a control room safely in the confines of our country it only serves to ensure that these tactics will continue to wreak havoc on other nations of God’s children in increasing quantity as evidenced by our current commander-in-chief and the escalations of drone strike and civilian casualties.

What is not seen, hidden from view, but affects the communities that our congregations do ministry in throughout this country, is horrors visited on the souls of those who control these UAV’s from afar who have reported a dramatic increase in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Our men and women in uniform who serve in this field have no way to process the scars that are left from their participation within this form of warfare.  As one drone operator who worked in Nevada said about his experience in 2007:  “The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater.  And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee.”  The drone operator described how his computer screen was set to monitor body heat on the ground and that he literally watched as the heat left the dying man’s body, until he was “the same color of the ground he was lying on.”  This operator said he worked and functioned “as a zombie.”  When he left the Air Force in 2011, four years later he was given a document detailing how many people had died in missions he had participated in.  The number was 1,626.  Since 2011 he has suffered with PTSD, depression and drinking problems.

Violence cycles on violence cycles on violence and only in a world in which we believe that peace can be extracted from war would this make sense.  What would Jesus have us do?

In our own country, the confirmation that the National Security Agency has been, for years, gathering information about countless American citizens. That drones are already being used to spy on American citizens, and that unabated these practices will only continue to become more commonplace until we have been so convinced that living in an increasingly monitored world is just part of the experience of living within the borders of the United States. To do so is to fall into the snare of those who desperately want you to believe that they only way to experience freedom is within the confines of slavery to the state.

In addition, my church overtures the various peacemaking and social witness bodies of the PC(USA) to be about the work of educating the larger church concerning these issues—education that would take the form of theological reflection and ways of seeking to have our congregations be places of refuge and reflection.  We are called to be peacemakers, people who follow Jesus.  What would Jesus have us do?  Who would Jesus have us be?  This overture seeks to invite the General Assembly to wrestle with these questions and open up the opportunity for our denomination to help us all wrestle with these issues, concerns—seeking always to find our voice as followers of the Risen Christ. Making known all the rationale for opposition to the use of these tools of war and  continuous oversight believing that our church and our world only functions well when it has a curious and well-informed membership and citizenry who might engage in the issues in real and lasting ways. To stand in the way of information only affirms the belief that real strength comes from ignorance and apathy.

War Is Peace

Freedom Is Slavery

Ignorance Is Strength-*


“Blessed are the peacemakers,” we are told, “for they will be called children of God.” That’s us, that’s our calling, that’s the chief reason for being on this planet at this time. We are called to be peacemakers. And nothing is more radical, nothing more important, nothing more necessary than for the Church to recommit itself to non-violent action for the life of the planet and for each person that will come after us.

Look around you, there is no one left to pass this responsibility onto. There is not the next generation to put back together those places where we have blown countless holes into the ground and the soul of the planet and try to put the pieces back together again. We are staring into an abyss in which the balance of the human race is at stake. Please call on our denomination to take a stand, right here, right now.  What would Jesus have us do?  Thank you.

*-Obviously this is a line from George Orwell’s 1984.

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