Delegates oppose drone warfare, table Israel divestment

Jul 2, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mennonite Church USA delegates on July 1 overwhelmingly approved a resolution opposing drone warfare and tabled a resolution to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

A model of a drone at the front of the delegates symbolized the “Faithful Witness Against Endless War” resolution. — Lowell Brown for MWR

A model of a drone at the front of the delegates symbolized the “Faithful Witness Against Endless War” resolution. — Lowell Brown for MWR

A replica of a U.S. military drone beside the stage of the delegate hall offered a visual reminder of one of the issues at hand.

The resolution on “Faithful Witness Amid Endless War” confesses that MC USA congregations “have paid little attention to [the] thousands of victims” of U.S. drone strikes.

After a couple of delegates criticized the resolution as weak, delegates approved an amendment from the floor calling for a ban on drone warfare.

The amendment urges “an immediate ban on research, development, production and deployment of robotic and autonomous weapons, including military drones and associated artificial intelligence technologies, placing them in the same category as chemical and biological weapons.”

The amended resolution passed with about 20 dissenting votes among the 830 delegates.

Drone warfare “is a cheap way to conduct war and avoids loss of American life,” the resolution states. “This changes the calculus of war, making it painless for the vast majority of people living in the U.S.”

The resolution confesses that “our moral sensitivities have become calloused and that we are adapting to the morality of continuous war.”

It calls congregations to “a renewed emphasis on trusting God and way of Jesus, not violence for our security.” It advises congregations to address “our often secret sympathies with so-called security operations.”

It calls MC USA agencies, educational institutions and conferences to “ministries of healing and renewal in response to the moral injuries experienced by those who feel the guilt for having killed in the name of security.”

It directs MC USA staff to “implement forms of public ecumenical witness to our confession” that we trust in God, not the weapons of war.

Israel divestment

After a poll revealed a deeply divided delegate body, delegates tabled the resolution on Israel-Palestine by a vote of 418 to 336, a 55 percent majority, asking that it be revised and brought back in two years.

In addition to divestment from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine, the resolution urges members not to buy “products that enable the military occupation to continue, including items produced in the Israeli settlements.”

It says “Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is sinful, based on injustice and must come to an end.” It adds that “as U.S. citizens we are complicit in this sin” due to the U.S. government’s support for Israel.

Several delegates wondered if the church was asking members who work for companies that profit from the occupation to quit their jobs.

Randall Koehler of Metamora, Ill., said some people in his congregation work for Caterpillar, a machinery manufacturer often cited as profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“There are people who are making their living from these companies,” he said. “Do we tell them you need to quit Caterpillar because you are enmeshed in the conflict?”

John Leaman of Bird-in-Hand, Pa., warned that other denominations that have passed divestment resolutions have been unable to maintain dialogue with Israel.

“If we pass this, we will cut ourselves off from Israel,” he said.

Gwen Gustafson-Zook of Goshen, Ind., urged delegates not to table the resolution and instead to speak a word of hope to Palestinians who are suffering.

“My concern if that if we table, there will be many more people who are killed before we look at it again,” she said. “We are not talking about theory here. We are talking about people’s lives, families torn apart, people killed.”

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