Who Profits When Our Pastors of Peace Become Enablers of War?
We feel it is a hallmark of our American democracy that although our religious communities may differ in their beliefs, their leaders can nevertheless reach out to one another across those differences to unite around basic moral principles of truth, honor, justice and non-violence that enrich and ennoble humanity.
And our religious leaders have indeed united around those moral principles–by agreeing to keep silent and look the other way when they are violated.
For example, in response to America’s bloody imperialist wars of regime change and economic exploitation of foreign peoples since 9/11, its religious communities have been unified in their silence.
Few condemned the invasion of Afghanistan that began on October 7, 2001—a date more significant than 9/11 which ushered in two decades of war that has ruined Afghanistan.
When America’s religious leaders have raised their voices in prayer since that time— it has mostly been a call to “Pray for the troops.” The Pentagon and its arms contractors rejoice at this blatant religious enabling of their mayhem.
Historically, many of the most influential U.S. religious leaders have helped beat the drums for war.
During the Cold War, the Catholic Church supported killing the godless communists in Korea, Vietnam and across Latin America. The odious but extremely influential Cardinal Spellman of New York led the way. In one Christmas sermon, he compared the suffering on the cross of Jesus with that of U.S. troops sent to Korea to kill the evil, godless communists.
This speech is not far removed from those given by American religious leaders in the post 9-11 era, with the evil communists replaced by Islamic terrorists.
Halfway through the twenty-year war waged by the U.S. against the people of the Middle East, I was Chair of St James Parish, Johnson City, NY Peace, and Justice Committee. One of our goals was to address the silent response of most Christian clergy to the horror of our wars in the Middle East.
At a Peace and Justice meeting, our pastor was asked why he had never spoken out in opposition to the war in Iraq. He objected strongly and said he had. “Just a few weeks ago during Mass, I saw a young man from the parish who was to shortly deploy to Iraq. I asked the whole congregation to pray for him.”
That sort of disconnect with the reality of what our troops were doing in the Middle East was the common denominator for Christian denominations, Catholic or Protestant. There is little evidence that Catholic or Protestant clergy living near killer drone bases in the United States have spoken to their congregations about the evil of killing anyone.
Yet our U.S. killer drone targets are individuals who have not been charged with crimes, have not been arrested, have not had a hearing, have not been jailed. We do know from multiple sources, including killer drone operators, that few so-called terrorists have been killed by our Hellfire missiles or bombs via drones.
We do know from multiple studies (such as the American Friends report and The Intercept) those killed by U.S. drones were not people who were targeted—many of them children killed by Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles (made in Florida) or 500-pound Paveway bombs, made variously by Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
New York Times reporter, Andrew Sullivan, noted on October 7th, 2001 “The religious dimension of the conflict is central to its meaning.”
Among Protestant leaders, Billy Graham, perhaps the most respected religious authority in the United States in 2002, and his heir apparent Franklin Graham said that George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq presented Christians with a great opportunity to convert the population of Iraq from the “wicked” religion of Islam.
The Washington Post reported in the months leading up to the attack on Iraq that the United States Council of Churches opposed the planned attack on Iraq. There is little evidence that the clear-minded statement of the Council of Churches made it to most pulpits nor to people in the pews.
On November 13, 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in an official document:
This lucid message may have made it to some congregations but apparently, most American Catholic bishops did not take the statement home to oppose the use of military force on their flocks. Even the millions of people around the world shouting “Not In Our Name” on February 13th, 2003 did not move most religious leaders—priests, pastors, rabbis, to urge their people to not cooperate with war promoters.
Earlier, The Washington Post noted in November of 2002 that “Jewish leaders, for the most part, have been quiet on the issue. The executive committee of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents 1.5 million Reform Jews, offered conditional support for the president.”
U.S. religious institutions cannot take back their terrible misjudgment—their mysterious, consistent acceptance that war will bring peace. Unfortunately, U. S. religious leaders easily abdicate their claim of loving one another by accepting big lies and righteous declarations from corporate, political, and military powers.
The world will always remember 9/11 as a day of treachery. The world and especially religious leaders in the U.S. must remember a day of even greater perfidy, 10/7. The horror of 3,000 people killed and two buildings destroyed on 9/11 is far outweighed by our vengeance that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Middle East people killed, nine million made refugees in Iraq alone, countless villages, cities, and buildings destroyed over the twenty years of our death-dealing.
History lessons are so soon forgotten. In the 1930s there was overwhelming silence from Catholic and Lutheran priests and pastors with no small number of religious leaders embracing fascism and war.
A German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—who was imprisoned and then hung by the Nazis—admonished his people when he said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.”
In Austria, a mostly Catholic nation and home of Adolf Hitler, a farmer, Franz Jagerstatter, from the village of Radegund, refused to cooperate with military service and was not supported by his church. Franz said: “If the Church stays silent in face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were (sic) ever open again.”
Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Jagerstatter were killed for their beliefs. Were religious leaders during our 20-year Afghan-Iraq war fearful of being executed by our government or simply living fearful of not being patriotic?
October 7, 2021 presents an opportunity for American religious institutions. Christian ministers, priests, pastors, and Jewish religious leaders are urged to gather at their respective places of worship and admit their twenty-year failure to speak out.
10/7/21 needs to be a day of atonement and a day for clergy to call for an end to planned drone killing via Biden’s Over the Horizon plan. People of faith or no faith need to be at the entranceways of places of worship, to urge religious leaders to oppose killer drone warfare.
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