Drone Strikes: the New Crucifixion

Drone Strikes: the New Crucifixion February 4, 2013

[Yesterday and Today on Pangea, I’m highlighting an important issue: Drone Strikes. Our nation increasingly uses unmanned drones to “hit” targets in the so-called war on terror. In the process, many innocent women, men, and children have been unjustly killed. An unfortunate side-effect of this (beyond death itself) is the reputation these unjust attacks bring to the Islamic world’s perception of Christianity. Many in the Arab world consider the US a “Christian Nation” and because of this, associate Jesus with violence. This is an issues we ought to care about, not as Left or Right-Wingers, but as Kingdom citizens. In this post, my friend Lawrence looks at this issue through the lens of crucifixion  In another post, I share about one of my close friend’s amazing film project: From the Sky.]

It was the case that early Christians had to learn to view the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (what was essentially a politically sanctioned execution) with a new set of paradoxical-theological lenses—God’s defeat of evil, sin, and the grave. Of course, the concrete historical fact that the empire had crucified an Enemy of the State on the hill of Golgotha was never quite out of sight once this soteriological truth was grasped; the two halves of the cross—the historical/theological—were merely kept in constant juxtaposition. However, the church is at a point where we need to re-grasp the political-historical side of Jesus’ capital punishment (due to our modern emphasis in Jesus’ death “for sins”); namely, that it was the imperial execution of One in whom the state viewed as a terrorist threat. Martin Hengel in his Crucifixion writes:

Josephus gives numerous instances from Judea that it was used excessively to ‘pacify’ rebellious provincials; the same thing may also happened in of the unruly provinces… According to Roman law, rebellious subjects were not ‘enemies’ (hostes), but common ‘bandits’ (latrones, or as Josephus tends to call the Jewish rebels after the capture of Jerusalem, lēstai). For them the characteristic death penalty was either crucifixion or being thrown to wild beasts.

Rome’s latrones are the equivalent to our modern day “terrorists.” Crucifixion was the way of dealing with its “rebellious” provincials who refused to go along with the imperial status quo; and as the Gospels well illustrate, often innocent people got hurt. You see, from Rome’s perspective, Jesus the prophet was a potential menace to the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace; and innocent or no it would be politically expedient to do away with him. And do you think the citizens of Rome let out a public outcry against this blatant act of injustice? Of course not!—they were, after all, spared from this provincial practice; no crucifixes could be seen on the Palatine Hill that’s for sure.

The climactic clash between the great military-machine of Rome and the freedom craving Judea would reach its bloody crescendo in the great revolt of 66-70 C.E. And as is well known, when Rome had to pacify a rebellious province they acted with utter and total brutality, slaughtering all—men, women, elderly, and children—despite their innocence or lack of involvement with the latrones. The Jewish historian Josephus records:

The majority [of those who issued from the encircled city in search of food] were citizens of the poor class, who were deterred from deserting by fear for their families… When caught, they were… scourged and subjected to torture of every description, before being killed, and then crucified opposite the walls… five hundred or sometimes more being captured daily…

It is the stuff of empire to slaughter the innocent with the guilty, even if it’s the Lord of Glory himself.

It is therefore not difficult to draw a historical congruence between Rome’s logic of provincial crucifixion and the modern logic of America’s drone strikes: slay the innocent with the guilty. No doubt if Jesus had lived in Pakistan today he and his disciples would have been the target of a drone strike, during the wedding at Cana no less. Of course, our method is less publically gruesome and perhaps quicker, but it is no less unjust and barbaric. Moreover, we should resist being unconcerned simply because American citizens aren’t subject to such attacks, for the ancient Romans likewise displayed no such compassion for the slaying of our Lord under the iron boot of their own empire.

We, as the followers of the unjustly-crucified Terrorist, should, of all people, be vocally against this inhumane use of military might. After all, our King was also the victim of such imperial tactics and realpolitik, and he calls his disciples to sympathize with his fellow sufferers-under-empire. Remember, the cross is not only where sin was dealt with and where Satan was defeated, but also where empire revealed itself for what it truly was,  dispenser of injustice; no matter how much Pilate continues to wash his hands of the matter.


Lawrence Garcia (The Plow Boy) is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.


Support a Great Cause Against Drone Strikes!

Ian Ebright’s “From the Sky.” Here’s the video about the project:

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  • I share you guys’ moral outrage and opposition to the drone strikes. However I think you may make a bit of a false equivalence here, which will not further your cause with those who need to be convinced (as opposed to those of us already opposed). The Roman behavior you describe during the 67-70 rebellion deliberately targeted civilians as an act of imperial terror. In contrast, the drone strikes at least purport to target supposed “bad guys” with what we all would agree is an unconscionable degree of indifference toward “collateral damage.”

    Both are immoral–don’t get me wrong–but they are materially different. There is a strong Biblical case to be made that we should never tolerate the slaughter of innocents, even as collateral for “justified” killings (as if there is such a thing). It’s better to make that case, than to conflate it with deliberate attacks on the innocent.

    • Dan, I think you make a valid distinction here. I wonder what Lawrence would say in response since he spent time studying this issue…

  • lawrence Garcia

    Dan, no doubt there
    are significant differences. I certainly concede this much, but this does not
    (In my opinion) thereby mean there are not analogous correspondences from what
    I would term the “objective” side, that is, the imperial one. The ‘broad’
    analogy is that the drone strikes are how the empire (read here America) deals
    with its modern day latrones, or the “terrorist.” Moreover, the 66-70 A.D.
    event was one of many instances where innocents were slaughtered with the
    bandits, a sort of guilt-by-association tact; something that is plainly at work
    with the drone attacks. Perhaps, they are not strict equivalents, but I would
    still say that there are analogous components. And who says, that drone strikes
    aren’t also meant to create “terror” amid its victims, surely it does, and
    surely there is a psychological aspect to these attacks.

    • And I think your part about the tool of the empire toward “ladrones” is an interesting one, Larry. Where I disagree is simply that I think deliberate infliction of terror on innocents, and callous disregard for innocents taken out along with “justified” targets, though both are evil, are still materially different things.

      And it’s not so much what I think, as what rhetorical devices we ought to use when advocating a position to those who don’t already agree with us. Hyperbole that smacks of injustice rarely gets people to reexamine their own positions. This is a case where, I believe, the more effective argument would be one that steers away from accusations against which the “others” can defend themselves without trying very hard.

  • The indiscriminate violence perpetuated by the American empire did not suddenly start with drones

  • “if you live by the sword, bomber, tank, or drone, you will die by them”

    the truth that needs to be proclaimed to the ‘ekklesia’ is we are not to mingle our allegiance. regardless of this worlds political slant, it comes back to one ruler, darkness.

    ‘come out of her my people’

  • Great post. It’s good to see you addressing this atrocity. I think everybody should be talking about it.

    I wish more people had raised this issue before the election. I think it could have had a lot of impact then, when power was at stake. Now, I doubt the powers of this world (Obama, specifically) will care much what we have to say. Maybe I’m just discouraged because I felt like I was the only person who cared about this issue back in the fall.

    At any rate, good post and keep it up. You’ve got a much larger audience and more influence than I do, and maybe if enough people talk about this, something will change. Change doesn’t have to happen in an election year, after all.

  • BTW, trivial nit, but your picture is not of a drone, which kills a few to dozens. It’s the launch of a cruise missile, which can kill hundreds or thousands. Another wonderful bit of American “progress” in lethal technology…