In April and then again in June, three anti-drone war organizers in Westchester County, NY – Martha Conte, Debbie Kair and Nick Mottern – took a drone replica to two churches to call on pastors and congregants to opposed drone killing. Their witness follows the same pattern as earlier Westchester church protests against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in which they and others were involved.
These are reports of the June, then the April, visits.
All Are Welcome at St. Matthews Unless You Have a Drone Model
By Martha Conte
Debbie Kair and Martha Conte in front of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in White Plains, NY on June 26, 2016. Photo by Nick Mottern
On Sunday, June 26, 2016, Debbie Kair, Nick Mottern and Martha Conte met at 10 am at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in White Plains, NY, in time for the 10:30 service to do outreach with a replica of a Reaper drone, urging religious support for ending U.S. drone attacks.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning. The location was excellent in front of the church on Mamaroneck Avenue, an always very busy main street in downtown White Plains, and opposite the YMCA.
Rev. Eric Matheson, the church’s pastor, was also the pastor during our January, 2008 visit to that church (see consumersforpeace.org church visits and quotes below).
As we assembled the replica, several people in their seventies entered the church and looked out at us through the closed glass front door. Debbie went up to them and handed flyers through the door, which was opened a crack, because none of the parishioners ventured outside. We also held a beautiful cloth banner with a picture of the earth and the words “Peace on Earth…Good Will to All - Luke 2:14”.
It appeared that the pastor, dressed in his ceremonial robe, came to the door and looked out at us just before the beginning of the service; he made no move to speak with us.
In the next half hour we handed out about 30 flyers, which contained a letter from religious leaders urging a stop for U.S. drone attacks and a letter from four drone whistleblowers saying, among other things, that drone attacks contribute to terror attacks.
Many passersby took the information, including a fair number who crossed Mamaroneck Avenue on their way to the Y.
At one point a man with his about 10-year-old son came across the street to talk to us. He started by saying that he has a friend who will be in charge of training U.S. drone pilots. He said he was from the Philippines where 90% of the population is Catholic and 10% are Muslim. He said that Muslims
believe in using violence to force the adoption of their religion, which Nick disputed.
The man clearly believed that drone attacks are necessary to stop Muslim violence. Nick asked whether he supported U.S. empire in the form of global military bases, and he said he did because as a Filipino he knows that the Philippines needs the U.S. to counter moves by China to control more area of the South China Sea, areas in which the Philippines has a claim.
At about 11 Martha tried to enter the church to pick up the weekly bulletin. An usher in his 70’s blocked the entrance. She was told she wasn’t welcome to enter and didn’t ask for a reason, but she did receive the bulletin from the usher, who opened the door only enough to hand it out to her.
In February 2009 the local Journal News published an article on our group during a several year period in which we visited 30 places of worship in Westchester County, NY, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. In the article, entitled “Anti-war demonstrators take message into Westchester churches”, by Gary Stern, several pastors told of their experiences with us.
In the article, St. Matthew’s Reverend Eric Matheson said: “……protesters have no right to take a political cause into a house of prayer. We were broadsided and my congregation was outraged. This was in the context of the Eucharist. People look forward to the consolation and communion of sacred worship on Sunday morning, and you cannot do this”
A point of correction is due here because we did not then, and have never, interrupted a sermon. We always waited for an appropriate moment during the announcement period, and then we stood up and held up a banner citing statistics of war casualties and asking why churches are silent on war.
In addition, 8 years ago at St. Matthew’s several parishioners expressed support.
Debbie Kair was quoted in the article: “Too many congregations believe they can leave the world behind when they gather for prayer. Jesus went out to the people and listened to them” she said. “How can you have a strong Christian belief if you’re not looking at the war in a Christian context?”
“The people who suffer the consequences of our actions have no choice”, Martha Conte told the reporter.
That was 2008. Fast forward to June 2016: we still feel the same now. Our message is in the context: “Thou shalt not kill!” Our predator drones have killed at least 7,180 people without due process in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The figure supplied by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism does not include those killed by drones in Afghanistan before 2015 or those killed in Iraq, Syria, Libya and the Philippines. We will never know which of these people was guilty of anything because, contrary to international law, none of them thought of themselves as collateral damage. They shouldn’t and neither should we.
We strongly feel that the churches represent our last hope for change, especially since the rest of society, the general population, the government and the media think of the killings as justified.
The Disappearing Invitation
By Nick Mottern and Martha Conte
It was a beautiful, sunny, slightly cool spring morning on Sunday, April 17, 2016 when Martha Conte, Debbie Kair and Nick Mottern began assembling a replica of the MQ-9 Reaper drone on the sidewalk in front of the White Plains (NY) Presbyterian Church.
Almost immediately, one of the ushers, a man in his late sixties or early seventies, came out to greet us and said “welcome” and that he was glad to see us.
It was a good beginning to what my colleagues, Martha Conte, Debbie Kair and I thought was a very successful morning in the first of your drone war church visits in 2016.
This new series of church visits follows by five years a chain of Iraq and Afghanistan war visits that took us to 30 churches in Westchester County, New York between October 2007 and June 2011 calling upon congregations and pastors to speak out against U.S. military occupations and killing. Reports of most of these visits appear at http://www.consumersforpeace.org/index49ec.html
As we began to hand out leaflets to people entering the church, Noelle D’Amico, a United Church of Christ minister and the wife of the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary the pastor of the White Plains church, came out to talk with us, accompanied by her son, August, who appeared to be 11 or 12 years old.
Ms. D’Amico was very friendly, but she was also upset by our visit. She was quick to assure us that her husband’s church was extremely supportive of and participating in progressive programs. In fact, that morning she said, the church was presenting a program on Madagascar, a country that had had a coup and was struggling to meet human needs.
Ms. D’Amico’s upset seemed to hinge around her concern that what we were doing would appear to be a protest, hence giving the impression to parishioners that the church leadership might not be supportive of our message against drone killing. She said our showing up would need to be explained to the congregation.
As we talked, Martha and Debbie handed out flyers to people entering the church, all of whom seemed interested and willing to take them.
Ms. D’Amico told us she was confident that we would be invited to speak at the church, and we finished our witness with feelings of accomplishment.
Weeks passed with no word from the church, and on June 22 Martha called and spoke with Reverend Geary. Here is her report:
(Reverend Geary) was very pleasant, he remembered us. He did mention that on that day there was a member who had just lost her 30-year old daughter so the attention of the congregation was on that and on the Madagascar talk. He did mention also that our visits were unannounced (not too happy about that) and I explained why. Also, he asked me how I got involved. Also, I mentioned we were outside and therefore not very intrusive.
He did mention that the church often prays for victims, innocent or not, of drone killing and he mentioned the killing of the Doctors without Borders members in a hospital in Afghanistan. He mentioned their church is very supportive of Doctors etc. I wanted to say that the victims are not very helped by prayers and that action (stopping the drone killings) would be far better, but didn't say that.
At the national level the Presbyterian church came to a resolution to divest from fossil fuel because the demand for oil leads to wars.
He also suggested going to the clergy meetings or contacting them (the monthly ones) and I told him we had done that 8 years ago and that it hadn't been a big success. He joined this church about 6 years ago so wasn't part of the group at that time.
He said that he is now working on the fall calendar. They have a peace work committee.
I did mention the consumesrforpeace website and the church visits we started years ago because we felt the wars and now the drone killings is a moral issue and that the clergy played an important role in ending the Vietnam War. He seemed to think we were picking on his congregation, who, according to him, is well aware of the damage drones do. I told him we were not going to a particular church because we think they don't know or care.
I gave him my phone number but somehow I don't think he was very interested in us coming back to talk about drones. I doubt we will get a call.
As of this writing on August 1, 2016, we have received no call.