Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom, Conference Minister
The “targeted killing” of perceived enemies by nation-states is not new. Throughout human history, this method of execution has been utilized, by most if not all empire oriented nation-states. For many decades now Israeli defense forces have been using “targeted killing” in the name of national security. The practice was frowned upon by the United States until 9/11. It was at that time we began embracing the method also in the name of national security. President Obama significantly increased the utilization of this method and even authorized the targeted killing of an American citizen in Somalia. Under the Trump administration, we have now killed the leading Iranian general.
Let me emphasize my recognition the most recent presidents of both parties have embraced this strategic method. My questions here are not about partisan politics but the morality of this behavior and the strategic value of this practice.
It is my profound conviction that Christian ethics must be based on the life narrative of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived in an occupied country where Rome enforced her law and order by the threat and utilization of lethal force. One could argue that Jesus would have been fully justified in leading a violent revolution against Rome and he was offered that alternative. When a crown was offered to Jesus he refused. The Sermon on the Mount speaks clearly to the issue. “If a man strikes you turn the other cheek.” Let me acknowledge that I find it extremely difficult to live up to the ideals of this Jesus ethic but it remains the plumb line and foundation of Christian discipleship.
War, in general, is problematic for Christians, but what of targeted killing? Recognizing that it is not yet passion week, I would nevertheless note that even Jesus experienced what passed for “due process” in that day and age. When President Obama authorized a “Hellfire” strike on Anwar al-Awlaki, he killed an American citizen without due process. If a President can authorize the extra-judicial killing of an American overseas, what stops such action within our own country?
There are at least two foundational ideas that form my basis for life. The first is that Jesus’ way is the best and second is that good fences make good neighbors. No single individual, he or she, should be allowed the personal autonomy to execute another human being whatever the location. We need to re-build our fences.
Some reading this article will vehemently disagree and will believe that America (God’s chosen/exceptional nation) acts in such a manner only because it must for there is no alternative approach likely to be effective. Let me simply reply that Roman leaders and the High Priest, at the time of Jesus, made the same exact argument and then executed Jesus.
We come now to the question of value or effectiveness. When “standoff” weapons are used to kill, the innocent are frequently killed along with the alleged “bad actors.” As a father, I cannot imagine anything that would radicalize me more quickly than the “sanctioned” killing of one or all of my children. This also happens in ground combat as well. I am pretty sure Mr. Jesus, much as I love him, would be unable to keep me non-violent. Since Cain killed Abel violence has only begotten more violence. Do we really believe anything has changed?
It is also important to remember that “drones” can pretty much be obtained by anyone anywhere in the world today. It occurs to me that “drone warfare” has brought the ability to practice “asymmetric warfare” home to the masses. My fear is that we are, by our actions, moving the world into a more dangerous place.
Presidents of all parties and preachers of all denominations have proclaimed the US as a “light to the nations.” The idea is that America because she is blessed, has a responsibility to be a blessing and a light to other nations. While affirming the goal of moral leadership it nevertheless seems to me that we are corrupting our light and leading the world in devastating directions.
We can and must do better. Stand up, speak up and be the light.