So That No One Would Laugh at the Church Pt. 2


Messianism, Drones and San Salvador

Nationalism and messianic violence are two sides of the same coin. Stated differently, the belief in one’s nation as “chosen” or “set apart” encourages a violent posture towards people who reject the politics and mores of a dominant social order. Therefore, to characterize one’s nation as the ultimate paragon when it comes to dolling out justice promotes a messianic complex. Inevitably, the nation-state and its citizens exist above reproach at the expense of the “guilty” party.[1]

As noted earlier, the United States has been especially prone to using theological language in an effort to justify its primacy as the leader of the “free world.” Yet this sort of theologizing is not simply nostalgic primitivism, reserved for the early days of America, but is instead weaved into the very fabric of our current discourse.[2] A recent example of the Messianic complex and the inveterate sense of moral superiority that precedes this mentality, can be drawn from Sarah Palin’s most recent comments concerning torture and baptism. Palin grotesquely suggested at an NRA rally that, if she were in charge, “terrorists” would be baptized via waterboarding.[3]

Tantamount to understanding the parasitic relationship between Christian-symbolism and nationalistic-violence lies in the belief that the U.S. acts on God’s behalf, exacting retributive justice not simply for the sake of U.S. citizens but ultimately for “liberty and justice for all.”[4] Yet this “liberty and justice” comes at a high price. Luckily for the U.S. military industrial complex, Christians have insisted that the U.S. is on “God’s side” and should therefore not be subjugated to the same criteria of accountability as other nations. Perhaps the most repulsive example of Christians baptizing violence in the name of U.S. hegemony can be found in Liberty University’s training students to pilot Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, aka drones).

Sojourners recently examined Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics (SOA) where students can be trained to pilot drones. John Marselus the associate dean of Liberty’s SOA program, says that the university hopes “to have graduates serving the Lord in this area of aviation.”[5] The popular opinion in the U.S., ironically promulgated by both Liberty University and President Obama, is that drones are a cost effective, precise and a safe way to eliminate America’s nemeses. This sort of rationale is patriotism a la carte. For the sake of God and country, drones have been baptized in a loose “just war”[6] tradition where Augustine’s tenets either evolve or dissolve completely.[7]

Christian in the U.S. have shown little outrage concerning the mendacity that has often accompanied drone strikes around the world. Liberty’s SOA program and President Obama would have us believe that drone strikes minimize unnecessary casualties but, in actuality, these machines of death have wreaked havoc on the most vulnerable of society. It has been estimated that covert drone strikes are responsible for more than 1,000 civilian casualties since 2004.[8] It is no small matter that more than 200 of these casualties have been children.[9] What must also be acknowledged is that these drone strikes have consistently laid waste to some of the poorer countries in the world; namely Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.[10] American Christian’s cooperation and promotion of drones reveals a belief in messianic violence that understands the lives of the innocent-poor to be minor sacrifices for the American way of life.

Sacrificing the poor at the behest of the rich and powerful of society was a practice that Archbishop Oscar Romero boldly condemned during his three-year archbishopric of El Salvador (1977-1980). However, during the early stages of Romero’s ministry, he rarely decried the perpetual violence enforced by the junta.[11] It was only after his close friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ,[12] was assassinated for his encouraging the campesinos[13]to embody the social aspects of the gospel that scales fell from Romero’s eyes.[14] Grande’s martyrdom made Romero realize that he could no longer be a silent bystander in the face of the Salvadoran governments violent rule.

Romero, during his archbishopric, made a conscious decision to forgo participating in government-sanctioned events as an act of solidarity with the Salvadoran poor.[15] Romero’s refusal to baptize the Salvadoran governments repression of the campesinos was both a dangerous and a prophetic move. The oligarchs and aristocrats of El Salvador had little sympathy for those who spoke out against kidnapping, torture and murder. During his homilies, Romero would read the list of murders and disappearances carried out by the junta the previous week as an act of defiance.[16] This move was not exclusively a negative one, as it is critical to highlight that Romero’s weekly condemnation of violence against the campesinos positively demonstrated his solidarity with those who had been disappeared, tortured or murdered.[17]

It was during one of Romero’s homilies on February 17th, 1980 where he overstepped his bounds when he openly criticized U.S. President Jimmy Carter for sending military aid to El Salvador for “security” purposes.[18] Adding to the fire, Romero commanded “in the name of God” for the Army, National Guard, police and the garrisons of El Salvador to “Stop the repression!”[19] On March 24th, 1980, Oscar Romero was gunned down in San Salvador’s chapel of Divine Providence while celebrating the Eucharist.[20] Romero vigorously scorned the seductive temptation to rest easy in the face of his government’s exploitation of the poor. Romero’s sacrificing of his life epitomizes the radical response Christ’s disciples are called to make when the machines of death make war at the expense of the poor and audaciously call it peace.

Josiah R. Daniels 


[1] William T. Cavanaugh, Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, 88-109.

[2] For a fuller discussion of this subject, see Mark A. Noll’s, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. First Printing edition. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1992) esp. ch. 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 11 and 15. Also see Noll’s essay in George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee’s, Christian Political Witness. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2014), 56-74.

[3] Gabe LaMonica, “Palin: ‘Waterboarding Is How We Baptize Terrorists.’” Accessed June 4, 2014.

[4] For a more complete discussion on nationalism as a religious phenomenon that celebrates violence see, Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle, “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion,Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64 no. 4 (Winter 1996): 767-780.

[5]“Drones for Christ.” Sojourners 42 | No. 7 (2013): 18.

[6] I am compelled to note here that I take issue with the entire “just war” tradition. While it is not the purpose of these posts to overtly encourage Christians to embody a nonviolent ethic, I wish to recognize the veracity of this position. There is a plethora of literature pertaining to Christian nonviolence. For a historical overview, see George Kalantzis’ Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service. (Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2012). John Howard Yoder in his Nonviolence, a Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures. (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2010) makes a compelling theological argument for Christian nonviolence. For a more accessible treatment of the aforementioned issues, see Preston Sprinkle’s Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013).

[7]”Drones for Christ.” 20-23.

[8]Ibid., 20.

[9]Ibid., 23.

[10] Ibid. See also Bedell, Author: Valentina Pasquali Project Coordinator: Denise. “Global Finance Magazine – The Poorest Countries in the World.” Global Finance Magazine. Accessed June 5, 2014.

[11] A “junta” is a military group that rules a country.

[12] “SJ” or “Society of Jesus” commonly known as the Jesuits.

[13] Campesino is the Spanish word common for peasant or rural farmer.

[14] Scot Wright, Oscar Romero and the Communion of the Saints: A Biography, 42-45.

[15] Ibid., 46.

[16] Ibid., 112.

[17] Ibid., 120.

[18] James R. Brockman,Romero: a life. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989), 228-229, 231.

[19] Scot Wright, Oscar Romero and the Communion of the Saints: A Biography, 130.

[20] Ibid., 131-134.

[21] Photo courtesy of

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