Speaking Out Against Drone Attacks

drone victim child

Nabila Rehman, injured in a U.S. drone strike that killed her grandmother.

I was moved the other day when my daughter posted to FaceBook and commented on the story of the drone strike in Pakistan that killed a grandmother, Mamana Bibi, and injured several of her grandchildren while they were working in the family garden.  My daughter wrote:  “Imagine a 68 year old woman picking vegetables with her grandchildren… killed by a drone while they watched.”  Imagine!  I knew she was thinking of her children, their cousins, and me.

I’m an involved grandmother, very close to my grandkids.  One thing we love to do is garden together.  The children especially love digging potatoes and making them into French Fries.  Life is so precious.  Family ties are such a blessing.  Perhaps Mamana Bibi was thinking the very same thing before she was blown to bits by a U.S. drone.

There is so much that is hard to face in this story.  First, how can we accept that human beings are so vulnerable, and that disaster can strike at any time?  Here in the United States we don’t have to worry about deadly drone strikes–not yet.  But there’s still the risk of random violence, accident, or “natural disaster,” made more likely and more severe by climate change.  We can come to terms with this reality by facing our human condition, acknowledging our dependence on God and our interdependence with all parts of creation, drawing deep from the wells of Spirit (revealed in so many ways), facing death, and living for the well-being of all.

Second, how can we face our complicity in systems of evil that leave injury, suffering, death, and environmental devastation in their wake?  Our tax dollars bought the drone that killed Mamana Bibi and wounded her grandchildren.  Our silence is complicity.  It implies a “go ahead” to our lawmakers that allows these policies to continue.

Yesterday Mamana Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur Rahman, and two of his children Nabila and Zubair, who were injured in the drone attack, testified on Capitol Hill during a historic Congressional hearing on U.S. drone strikes.  They traveled all the way from Pakistan to give lawmakers a first-hand account of the attack.

Only five members of Congress showed up to listen. Popular Resistance.org, incorporates several accounts of this hearing in its report:  “Congress Disgraces United States– Fails to Show for Drone Hearing.”  This low turnout is a disgrace, and shows the bankruptcy of our current system of government.  What does our lawmakers’ lack of interest and empathy say to the victims of our drone attacks and to rest of the world?

This will change only when “we the people” refuse to be complicit.  We can make clear to our lawmakers and to the world that we do have interest, empathy, and concern for the victims.  We can demand that our lawmakers take action to stop these illegal attacks.  We can engage is sustained actions of nonviolent resistance.  One way to resist is to begin speaking out, standing in solidarity with the victims of our policies, sharing their stories, putting ourselves in their place (Imagine!), and making clear that there has to be a better way, a way of peace.  Keep sharing these stories.

Thank you, my daughter, for speaking out.

Find Sharon’s previous blog postings on drones here.  


Resistance and Contemplation

IMG_1058Contemplative prayer is the practice that grounds my personal relationships and my work.  This grounding in prayer is a means through which the Holy Spirit, when I am open, equips me with clarity, compassion, and courage to resist the Powers that would destroy and diminish life.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

I write about this my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

We are called to resist being taken over by the forces of a culture that would have us believe that comfort and pleasure and ease and looking good are the most important things in life. We are called to refuse to worship our culture’s dominant gods of money and domination, to resist the lure of materialistic values that keep so many enthralled, and instead to value human life and the natural world. By so doing, we plant seeds of hope and honor the Creator.

Prayer is crucial in this process. Prayer is an act of humility, a way to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and our gratitude for the new life we have received in Christ. In prayer, we open ourselves to the clarity, guidance, and empowerment that only the Spirit can bring. Prayers of intercession and petition have immeasurable effects on our lives and on lives around us. Prayer “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth recommended, helps us develop the ability to discern God’s activity in current events. Contemplative prayer and meditation can help us stay grounded in the present moment and give us a sense of freedom from time. Prayer can also enable us to discern the inner effects of the Powers. Regular ongoing prayer can help us resist collective thinking and to understand our own inner dynamics, so that we can know which of our impulses are based in anger or fear, and which are Spirit-led, guiding us in the direction of God’s call and empowering us to move toward creative transformation. The inner journey and the outer journey together constitute the spiritual life. Prayer is essential. So is action. In Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, James Douglass wrote of the inner and outer journeys as two sides of a mountain, as two parts of a whole way of life:

“Contemplation is an encounter on the dark side of the mountain, in the soul. Contemplation, the struggle to experience reality as it is, in the life-giving water of the One, is the acceptance of the upward wind of the Spirit and the disciplined loss of my self-control. I struggle for the power of the powerless, where I would lose myself, where only the Spirit moves. . . .

“Resistance, on the bright slope, is the struggle to stand against a murderous collective self and to express communally the living unity of all . . . in the One. Resistance is active opposition to the death forces discernible in every modern state. The confrontation of resistance therefore takes place on the bright side of the mountain, in the sunlight of public or collective consciousness, where [people] struggle with the powers of war, racism, exploitation.”

Contemplative prayer and other spiritual practices can equip us for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Such practices repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed. They also constitute resistance in their own right. Douglass sees contemplation itself as a form of resistance:

“The Spirit is received through a painful resistance to, and renunciation of, the claims of the self on the climb into greater darkness. Contemplation receives by resisting. At its center contemplation is receptivity to the wind of the Spirit, but it is conditioned by my active resistance to the fears and claims of the self: claims of comfort, security, self-control.”

If we neglect to nurture our relationship with God through prayer, we lose ourselves in outward activity and we forfeit what peace, freedom, and clarity we have attained.   Open me to your Spirit, O God.  May I practice your presence throughout this day.

Immigration, Solidarity, and People Power

The bumper sticker on my car.

The bumper sticker on my car.

I love my community.  Pascale Fusshoeller, one of our own, was arrested on immigration charges and threatened with immediate deportation.  Our community rallied to her support, somehow pulling together a legal team and raising money for her defense.  Supporters created a FaceBook page within hours, which received over 1200 “likes” within days.  People made so many calls and sent so many emails that Senator Barbara Boxer’s office asked us to stop, assuring us that they had gotten our message and were considering Pascale’s case.  Soon afterward, she was back home with her spouse, Susan.  She still faces charges under a complex, unjust, and broken immigration system, but the legal process has been slowed down and will be highly  visible, as the community continues to organize for her support.  This case shows what community organizing can do.

Pascale received such an outpouring of support because she is an integral part of our community.  She and Susan provide us with YubaNet, the online newsletter that provides general news, in-depth local and regional news, fire updated (the North San Juan Volunteer Fire Department  wrote a letter on her behalf), editorial by local folks, and so much more.  Her case has brought to light, in a personal and highly visible way, the cruelty and injustice of our nation’s immigration policies.

Most immigrants without the proper papers lack such public support.  They are separated from their families and “disappeared” into a vast, complex, and profitable system of immigration courts, detention centers (often for-profit, privately run), and deportation.  Many of us are now expanding our awareness and our circle of concern to include all immigrants, including those people in our community and beyond who have been living in the shadows.

I hope we can come together as a community to educate ourselves and speak out against the injustice of the current immigration system, to work for its reform, to resist automatic incarceration and blanket deportations, to support family unity, and to demonstrate solidarity with  the immigrants in our midst.  As Pascale’s case makes clear, organized “people power” can create a shift.  Faith communities, local government institutions, community organizations, and concerned individuals working together can create this community as a sanctuary, where the immigrants among us can feel at home and at peace.  This process has already begun.

Climate Change: What do we know? What can we do?

climate change cd insert front single

I am happy to announce the release of my new educational CD, “Climate Change:  What do we know?  What can we do?”  The MP3 version is available to listen to or download below.  Contact me to purchase the CD version ($10).  It will be available through online distributors soon.   

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released the first part of its fifth report on the state of the earth’s climate.  The results are alarming.  They point to present and future impacts on the climate system of the greenhouse gas emissions being released by human activity.

At the same time, climate change skeptics are “cherry-picking” data in the report to bolster their claims that the earth is not warming, or that the warming is not due to the release of greenhouse gases, or that the warming will have good effects, or that there is nothing we can (or should) do about it.  Confusing for people who don’t understand the issues, to say the least.

What are scientists telling us about climate change?  If there really is a scientific consensus that the earth is warming, why is there so much controversy about the issue?  And even if  climate change is real, what impact could we possibly have on a problem that big?  What could we possibly do that would help to stabilize earth’s climate and prevent catastrophic climate change?  These are the questions that this CD seeks to answer.

As the earth continues to warm and extreme weather becomes more common, it’s important that as many of us as possible understand the basic facts about climate change.  The challenges before us are great, but the situation is not hopeless.  As I say in the final track of this CD:

Whoever you are, you can become an agent of transformation at this time when the earth needs us most.  Wherever you are, you can join together with people in your community and with millions of people on every continent who are calling for climate justice and are working to create the new world that is possible.  Whatever your situation, you can do your small part in the struggle to reign in fossil fuel emissions, avoid catastrophic climate change, and build up the foundations for a livable future.  In this way, we help create a sustainable future for everyone and everything that we hold dear.

Listen here or download the full MP3 version of  “Climate Change:  What do we know?  What can we do?  https://soundcloud.com/revsher/sets/climate-change-what-do-we-know

Contact me to purchase the CD version ($10).  It will be available through online distributors soon.


Aren’t Drones Better than All-Out War?

PRISM article

I wrote the following article, which was published Monday by Prism Magazine:


Posted by  on Monday, September 30, 2013

by Sharon Delgado

Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, Calif., is the home of Global Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets for armed drone attacks.  Drones are remote-control, pilotless, aerial vehicles that are controlled by “pilots” who sit at computer terminals in the United States and launch attacks in countries half a world away.

I was arrested last October for crossing the line onto federal property during an anti-drone demonstration at Beale.  During this act of civil disobedience, I was wearing my clergy collar as a symbol of the authority of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Prince of Peace.  I was arraigned with four others for misdemeanor trespass, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

At a party I attended a few weeks later, a woman approached me and brought up the topic of drones.  She said, “I believe in peace.  I’ve gone to anti-war demonstrations.  But isn’t it better to use drones to take out a few bad guys than to have an all-out war?”

She was struggling with whether the use of drones in targeted killings could be justified.  Her question reminded me of the argument of Caiphus before the Sanhedrin so long ago:  “It is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50).  The case against Jesus was built upon the claim that he was a threat to national security.   The argument that it is expedient to use drones for the sake of national security is a big part of the conversation today.


How can Christians sort through the moral complexities reflected in public perceptions and attitudes about drone warfare?   The teaching and example of Jesus can provide a compass with which to navigate our way to clarity and solid ground.

Jesus didn’t talk about expediency but about loving God and neighbor.  He even said that we should love our enemies, a radical idea both at the time and today in the age of international terrorism.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker that states: “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them.”  In reality, however, Christians differ in their beliefs about whether or not war or execution by the state can be considered just.  If we could target and use surgical strikes to assassinate terrorists who are planning to attack the United States, wouldn’t that prevent an even greater harm?  Wouldn’t that be morally justified?

This question is debatable, but the idea that US drones are simply “taking out a few bad guys” is erroneous. Only 2 percent of drone victims are so-called high-level targets.  Our nation’s “signature strikes” target groups that fit a particular profile.  In some regions of Western Pakistan all military-age men are considered militants and therefore legitimate targets, which makes accurate accounting of civilian deaths impossible.

US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, including children, with many more injured.  These people are our neighbors, precious souls for whom Christ died.  These “extrajudicial” killings take place without trial, judge, or jury, often in countries where we are not at war.  Although the Obama administration justifies the legality of such attacks, many claim that drone attacks violate international law.

Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), but friends who have traveled to rural Pakistan tell about whole communities being terrorized by drones, where people are afraid to gather for weddings or funerals, afraid to send their terrified children to school.  Our drones have engaged in secondary strikes, attacking the same target twice.  This makes it difficult for emergency response teams and would-be good Samaritans to rescue victims or alleviate their suffering.

Drone attacks foster anti-American sentiment and create future terrorists.  Violence begets violence.  Our policies are creating enemies that may last for generations.

Furthermore, over 70 countries now have drones.  If the United States acts with impunity, other countries will follow our example.  This could lead to a drone arms race and a complete breakdown of international law.  What we do to others, they may in the future do to us.

Who is responsible for the use of drones in targeted killings and signature strikes?  We can’t blame just the drone operators, some of whom suffer from PTSD.  Those responsible include religious leaders who, like Caiaphas, provide moral justification for the preservation of empire at any cost; public officials like Pilate, who wash their hands of culpability; corporate lobbyists who promote increased military funding for high-tech weaponry; an out-of-control military industrial complex that has taken on a life of its own; a corporate media that both interprets and shapes reality; and a public that suffers from moral confusion, the failure of critical thinking, and resignation to the powers of this world.

Jesus ushered in a new way of being, not based on domination and violence but on love of God and neighbor.  May those of us who follow Jesus live and love accordingly, for the well-being of the world and for the glory of God.

Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist minister, the executive director of Earth Justice Ministries, and author of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2007).

See the article at Prism Magazine. 

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