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By Mark Tooley @markdtooley

Jim Wallis’ Sojourners magazine has a cover story on “Drones for Christ:  How the world’s largest Christian university became an evangelist for drone warfare.” It targets Liberty University in Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell, so it offers Sojo’s liberal readers lots of opportunity to relish how Christian “fundamentalists” are stereotypically militarizing the Gospel.  Liberty’s School of Aeronautics has 600 students, training “Christ-centered aviators,” including future drone pilots, for which a concentration was added in 2011.

Incredibly, Liberty has 12,000 on campus students and another 60,000 online, making it the fourth largest online university anywhere.  More than 23,000 online students are in the military, Sojo reports.

The article mentions the “vast percentage” of drone pilots are training for war.  But there is also increasing law enforcement use of drones, as well as use by farmers, private businesses, and even environmentalist groups, including animal rights advocates wanting to monitor abuse.

Liberty’s dean of aviation, himself a retired U.S. Air Force general, told Sojo that there is no moral distinction between manned and unmanned aircraft.  Drone students told Sojo that government is instituted by God and sometimes ordained to kill when justice demands.  The quotes are not very theologically precise and no doubt disturbing to many Sojo readers inclined towards Sojo’s pacifism.  But the quotes are still largely articulating what is historic Christian teaching.

The article’s author is a former “Occupy” organizer, ACORN employee, and press secretary for liberal Congressman Dennis Kucinich who has written several anti-war books, the latest of which touts the 1928 international treaty that aspired to abolish war.  As events a few years later evinced, that treaty was not successful.  Clearly the author is pretty hard left and disapproves of any military force, drone or not.

Accompanying the Liberty article is a column by a “senior policy adviser” for Sojo, who explains:  “What’s Wrong with Drones?”  Acknowledging both pacifism and Just War, the article insists drones are immoral because they are “targeted assassinations outside of legally declared wars,” violate national sovereignty, offer little transparency, set a “dangerous precedent,” “foster a perpetual state of war, “kill innocents,” “promote the concept of a global battlefield,” and “undermine U.S. security” by creating enemies.

These arguments fail to admit that drones are deployed in areas typically outside the control of legitimate governments, often with the tacit consent of the local regime.  Drones for all their errors are also more precise and less likely to harm innocents than most alternatives.    Their very precision also contains rather than limits the spread of warfare, in contrast with conventional bombing for example, or an armed incursion of ground troops.

Jim Wallis and nearly all Sojo writers and activists are pacifists who disapprove any lethal military force in any situation. So the ostensible arguments targeting drones as immoral are really just more of the same arguments against all force and advocating instead for “peaceful” alternatives.  It’s almost never specified what the “peaceful” means are for neutralizing murderous terrorists hiding with impunity beyond the reach of legitimate authority.  And even if a sheriff could deliver a subpoena in the kind of legal process that pacifists advocate, they would still disapprove the sheriff relying on any weapon, instead insisting on reliance upon moral persuasion only, presumably.

These sorts of legalistic arguments by religious pacifists who aren’t fully showing their hand are disingenuous.  They advocate as public policy a vision of utopian lalaland that has no roots in historic Christian teaching, which is always profoundly interested in the real world.   There may be thoughtful Christian-based arguments against some aspects of drone warfare, but they are not found in Sojo.