Duane Shank was Associate Editor for Sojourners magazine and was on the staff from 1995 to 2014.
Duane has been active as an organizer and administrator in the peace and justice movement for 35 years, beginning as a draft resistance and antiwar organizer during the Vietnam war. He has worked as a community organizer in the rural south, in interfaith coalitions, and in the nuclear weapons freeze and Central America solidarity movements of the 1980s. His positions have included Associate for the National Inter-religious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors; National Coordinator for the Committee Against Registration and the Draft; Deputy Director and Acting Executive Director for SANE/Freeze; and Research Fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies.
Duane attended Eastern Mennonite University. He is a Anabaptist/Mennonite, and currently an active member and serves on the worship leadership team of the Community of Christ ecumenical congregation in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His views on faith and politics have been shaped by (among others), John Howard Yoder, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero.
Duane is married to Ellen Kennel. They have a daughter, Celeste, a graduate of Goshen College, IN, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.
In addition to family, church, and work; his passions are baseball (Washington Nationals), blues (Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan) and bluegrass music (Ralph Stanley), and barbecue.
Posts By This Author
Lament and Hope
AN OLD Buddy Guy song is titled “First Time I Met the Blues.” I don’t remember the first time I met the blues, but I do remember that I was captivated by the music. For many years now, two of my passions have been listening to blues and studying the Bible. Gary W. Burnett, a lecturer in New Testament at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and an amateur blues guitarist, shares those passions. This book, he writes in the introduction, is his attempt “to combine in some ways these two passions and to be able to reflect on Christian theology through the lens of the blues.” He succeeds with a well-crafted synthesis of U.S. history, African-American history, the blues, and New Testament scholarship.
Blues music is one of the great contributions of African-American culture to the U.S. While rooted in the oppression of slavery and post-slavery Jim Crow, it speaks meaningfully to the experience of all people. It’s a music that grabs your soul and won’t let go. And Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is central to his message of life in the coming and present kingdom of God. It can also grab your soul and not let go. By juxtaposing blues lyrics with passages from the Sermon, Burnett shows the common themes that emerge.
Tell Me A Story
PREACHERS, politicians, and other public speakers know that a story is often the best way to get a point across to their listeners. In his itinerant ministry, Jesus was no exception. Some of his most important teaching was contained in stories—parables. Yet often we do not take them seriously enough to seek what he was really saying. Two thousand years of Christian theology has also obscured his original intent, often by considering them to be allegories rather than stories.
In that process, anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices have too often come to dominate the interpretation of the parables. Any villain is seen as representing Judaism, while the hero or victim represents the church—and, of course, in this framing God is on the side of the church. This often-unconscious bias affects how we read and understand the story and obscures Jesus’ message.
Professor Amy-Jill Levine, in Short Stories by Jesus, aims to correct that. As a Jewish New Testament scholar teaching at a Christian divinity school, she is uniquely situated to place Jesus and his teaching in their historical and cultural context. Jesus was a first-century Jew speaking to other first-century Jews. If we do not understand that starting point, we cannot understand Jesus or his stories. In an introduction not to be skipped, she points out that the parables often echo themes that appear elsewhere in Jesus’ teachings: economics, relationships, and, most important, prioritizing life in expectation of the coming kingdom of God. To make his point, he uses common, everyday examples of real-life characters and situations his audience would recognize.
No Short or Easy Struggle
FIFTY YEARS AGO, on Aug. 20, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act into law. It had already been a momentous year. The Civil Rights Act was signed in early July, ending legal segregation. Mississippi Freedom Summer was underway, with hundreds of volunteers joining in voter registration campaigns. The effort to overcome poverty was the next step toward economic empowerment.
The Act created 11 different programs, including the Job Corps, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and both rural and urban Community Action Programs. Collectively referred to as the “War on Poverty,” the programs were coordinated by the Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1965, Medicaid and Medicare were created to provide health insurance for people in poverty and the elderly, and Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provided funding to school districts with students in poverty. It was the most comprehensive package of social legislation since the New Deal.
Results of the programs have been mixed, with the most striking gains for older Americans. According to a special report from U.S. News & World Report, “While the national poverty rate has ultimately fallen by 4 points since 1964, when the War on Poverty began, from 19.0 in 1964 to 15.0 percent in 2012, the poverty rate for people over 65 has plummeted by more than two-thirds, from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 9.1 percent in 2012.” But with the poverty rate still at 15 percent—46.5 million people in the country currently live below the poverty line—where do we go from here?
We are still in a period of high unemployment, and wage growth is stagnant for many of those who are able to find work. Issues of a living wage, child care, and disintegrating communities continue to need attention. Our economy is rapidly becoming more unequal, with a staggering concentration of wealth held by the very few at the top. All of these factors work against a serious effort to overcome poverty.
The Price of Conscience
AS THE U.S. mobilized for World War I, a wave of patriotic fervor and xenophobia swept the country. Anything German was suspect, and those who were German-speaking and refused to fight against Germany were doubly suspect. Resentment and anger were directed at Anabaptist groups; several churches were burned and pastors beaten.
Inevitably, the demands of the state conflicted with the rights of conscience. Christian pacifists who only desired to be true to their beliefs by not serving in the military faced a militarized state that saw them as disloyal and disobedient. There was no legally recognized right to conscientious objection—if drafted, the only alternative for objectors was to go into the military and then refuse to participate.
Hutterite leaders had agreed that their young men would register, but if drafted and required to report for military service, their cooperation would end. They would refuse any orders making them complicit in war. Pacifists in Chains is the story of four young men—David, Michael, and Joseph Hofer, and Jacob Wipf—from the Hutterite colony in Alexandria, S.D., who faced that choice. Duane C.S. Stoltzfus, a professor at Goshen College in Indiana, was given access to previously unpublished letters from these men to their wives and families; the book is built around those letters.
Upon being drafted, the four reported in May 1918 and were sent to Fort Lewis, Wash. When they arrived, they immediately faced the test. Ordered to sign an “enlistment and assignment card” and line up as soldiers, they refused and were taken to the guardhouse. Following a brief court-martial, they were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years. Two weeks later, they were in chains and with armed guards on a train headed south to Alcatraz prison in the San Francisco Bay, then a military “disciplinary barracks.” Once there, they again refused to put on the uniform—in this case a military prison one—and were placed in solitary confinement in “the hole,” a basement dungeon. The cells seeped water and were infested with rats; the men were given bread and water to eat and subjected to beatings.
Fields of Faith and Doubt
IN MY MEMORY from nearly 50 years ago, the great pitcher Sandy Koufax is going against my Phillies in the old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. The records show that such a game occurred on June 4, 1964, the right year for my memory, so it is possibly correct. But I cannot prove I was there that day, nor can anyone prove I wasn’t. For me, it has entered the realm of myth—I may not actually have been there, but in my memory I believe I was. In a similar manner in religious experience, historical events originally recorded as perhaps inexact memories come to be believed as literal truths.
In Baseball as a Road to God, John Sexton uses the categories of the study of religion to explore the meaning of baseball. Sexton, president of New York University, has taught a popular seminar on this topic for more than 10 years, and in this book collects the essence of those classes.
For a baseball fan, the well-told stories of historic players, games, and seasons are by themselves worth reading and will evoke many memories. But rather than a random collection of stories, Sexton groups them in topics—sacred place and time, faith and doubt, conversion and miracles, blessings and curses, saints and sinners—illustrating each with fitting examples. Underlying it all, he proposes, are two words and concepts that link baseball and religion. Both illustrate the significance of the ineffable, “that which we know through experience rather than through study, that which ultimately is indescribable in words yet is palpable and real.” And both have moments of hierophany—a term devised by religious historian Mircea Eliade to signify “a moment of spiritual epiphany and connection to a transcendent plane,” a “manifestation of the sacred in ordinary life.”
A Revolution of Rising Expectations
THE PHRASE “a revolution of rising expectations” is now part of the social science literature. When people who are not oppressed have a belief that life is getting better as economies improve, their expectations often outstrip the pace of actual change. Those rising expectations lead to unrest as demands for improvement continue to grow.
This summer we have seen that play out in several countries. As living standards increase, people are less likely to tolerate corrupt and inefficient governments. Washington Post reporters Anthony Faiola and Paula Moura recently wrote, “One small incident has ignited the fuse in societies that, linked by social media and years of improved living standards across the developing world, are now demanding more from their democracies and governments.”
In Turkey, it was the government’s plans to destroy the only public green space in the heart of Istanbul, a park that was to be replaced with a shopping mall. Protests against the plan soon grew into broader concerns about what is seen as increasingly authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They turned violent when peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police, and ultimately an Istanbul court ruled against the plan, although it is not finally settled.
In Brazil, protests that began over a proposed rise in bus fares brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. The protests soon escalated into opposition to the large amounts of money the government is investing in facilities for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, while neglecting basic health care and education. President Dilma Rousseff has promised political reforms and increased spending on public transportation and other social needs.
DRONE WATCH: U.S. Reduces Strikes in Pakistan
In response to criticism, the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and is limiting them to “high-value targets.” The Associated Press reports:
The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called "signature strikes" - hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program. …
Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Courts and Drones
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have sued former Pentagon officials over the drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen. At a hearing in federal court on Friday, an Obama administration lawyer argued that courts should stay out of national security decision making. McClatchy News reports Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wasn’t so sure:
A Republican-appointed judge sounded dubious about the expansive claim, saying she was “really troubled” by assertions that courts are completely shut out of the drone strike debate. But for other legal reasons, the judge also sounded hesitant about a lawsuit targeted at top military and intelligence officials for violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens blown up in foreign lands.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Spies in the Sky
In the past few months, drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have dwindled to only a few. But the use of drones for unarmed surveillance has dramatically grown, giving the U.S. military unprecedented capabilities to track activities around the world. The Washington Post reports:
Over the past decade, the Pentagon has amassed more than 400 Predators, Reapers, Hunters, Gray Eagles and other high-altitude drones that have revolutionized counterterrorism operations. Some of the unmanned aircraft will return home with U.S. troops when they leave Afghanistan. But many of the drones will redeploy to fresh frontiers, where they will spy on a melange of armed groups, drug runners, pirates and other targets that worry U.S. officials.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Attack in Pakistan Kills 17
Early Wednesday morning, at least 17 people were killed in the first U.S. drone attack in Pakistan since May 28.
According to NBC News:
“PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- At least 17 people were killed in a U.S drone attack in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region in northwest Pakistan early Wednesday, officials said.
"Local residents and security officials said the aircraft fired four missiles and struck a house at Sara-e-Darpakhel area of Miranshah, which is located near the Afghan border.
"'I never heard such a huge drone strike before,' local resident Nasrullah Khan said. 'They simultaneously fired four huge missiles and jolted the entire town.'"
Al Jazeera reported that the Pakistan foreign ministry condemned the attack:
“In a press release on Wednesday, the Pakistan foreign ministry said the strikes were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The statement described the attacks as 'counterproductive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications.'"
DRONE WATCH: Revenge of the Taliban
Nine foreign climbers in the Himalayas in a remote part of northern Pakistan were killed Saturday night by a unit of the Pakistani Taliban. A Taliban spokesman claimed the killings were by a new unit set up to send a message against drone strikes by attacking foreigners. Al Jazeera reported:
“Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan telephoned the AFP news agency to say that the killings were intended to avenge the death of the second in command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in a US drone strike late last month.
"We did it and we claim responsibility for this attack," Ehsan said in the call from an undisclosed location.
"One of our factions, Junood ul-Hifsa, did it. It is to avenge the killing of Maulvi Wali ur-Rehman," he said.
"We want to convey to the world that this is our reply to US drone attacks," he added.”
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Protest March Arrives in Des Moines
Dozens of peace activists walked into Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, following a nearly 200-mile march from Rock Island, Ill. The march ended with a rally at the gate of the Iowa Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing, where drone pilots will soon be trained. The Des Moines Register reported:
“Dozens of protesters walked during each leg of the march, which was organized by the Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence. The group covered about 15 miles a day, camping and staying in host houses along the way.
“Organizers said the march was also to protest the development of drone technology at the Quad Cities Manufacturing Lab in Rock Island. According to a company brochure, the lab manufactures UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, engine components.”
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Killing of 10-year-old Angers Yemenis
The most recent reported drone strike in Yemen, said to be five missiles fired at an SUV, killed at least six people. Reports from local tribal leaders in Yemen say that five were suspected Al Qaeda members, including a local leader. But one of those killed was a 10-year-old boy, brother of the AQ leader. Adam Baron of McClatchy News reports from Yemen:
“If an apparent U.S. drone strike this month in the village of Mahashama had killed only its intended targets – an al Qaida chief and some of his men – locals might’ve grumbled about a violation of Yemen’s national sovereignty and gone on with their lives.
“But the strike also killed a 10-year-old named Abdulaziz, the younger brother of the targeted militant, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, according to local tribal leaders and Yemenis with close ties to the al Qaida branch here. And that set off a firestorm of complaints that underscores how American airstrikes can so outrage a community that even though al Qaida loses some foot soldiers, it gains dozens of sympathizers.
“Killing al Qaida is one thing, but the death of an innocent person is a crime that we cannot accept,” said a sheikh from the area…”
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Drone Surveillance in the U.S.
In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that drones are used for some law enforcement missions in the U.S. Today, the Washington Post reported that there have been at least four such operations since 2010. According to the Post:
“The FBI has received clearance from federal aviation officials to conduct drone surveillance operations in the United States on at least four occasions since 2010, according to public records and U.S. officials.
“The FBI began seeking permission in 2009 from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones domestically and received authorization for its first operations a year later, according to documents released Thursday by the FAA. The documents provide virtually no detail on where the FBI has operated drones in U.S. airspace, for what purpose or how long the missions lasted.”
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Pizza Delivery Drone
The pace of U.S. drone strikes is dramatically slowing. During the month of May, there was one strike in Pakistan and one in Yemen. The new restrictions announced by President Obama in his May 23 speech may be having an effect.
So on a Friday afternoon, here’s some good news on the drone front. In the U.K., Domino’s Pizza released a video of an experimental "DomiCopter" remote-controlled drone delivering two pizzas. Huffington Post reports:
We're crossing our fingers that Domino's new "DomiCopter" -- a drone that delivers pizzas -- is real. In a recent test video, the contraption traveled about four miles in 10 minutes on a two-pizza delivery in the U.K.
Domino's hired creative agency T + Biscuits to develop and test out the contraption. Founder Tom Hatton told NBC that so far, the DomiCopter has been a success. "If anything it went quicker than a pizza boy," he said, pointing out that the DomiCopter doesn't need to stop at red lights. "We were amazed at how easy it was going to be."
What's Wrong with Drones?
SOME CHRISTIANS seeking moral guidance about drone warfare find enough clear teaching in Jesus’ command to love our enemies and respond to conflict with principled, active nonviolence. Other Christian traditions, seeking to restrict and limit warfare, have developed principles of “just war,” which deem certain acts of war immoral and illegitimate. Targeted killings by drones, which have become key elements of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, fail the test of morality on a number of grounds:
1. Targeted assassinations outside of legally declared wars violate international law, which prohibits a country from carrying out military attacks in or against the territory of countries with which it is not at war. Drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia violate this prohibition.
2. They violate the sovereignty of other countries. The government of Pakistan has repeatedly objected to drone strikes on its territory, calling them a “clear violation of our sovereignty and a violation of international law,” but its concerns have been repeatedly ignored.
3. There is little transparency or accountability. CIA drones are remotely controlled, primarily from Air Force bases in the United States, with no clear accountability, and with the targeting sometimes based on dubious intelligence.
DRONE WATCH: British Anti-drone Activists Arrested
Six British Christian peace activists were arrested and detained for 24 hours for protesting at the RAF base from which British drones in Afghanistan are controlled. It is the first anti-drone protest in the U.K. to result in arrests. Ekklesia reports:
Six peace activists, representing the group Disarm the Drones, have become the first in Britain to be arrested and charged for anti-drones related offences. The nonviolent peace activists managed to breach security at Britain’s top security drone control base in Lincoln.
The six, who are Christian peace campaigners, planted a peace garden in RAF Waddington yesterday morning (3 June 2013). They also displayed images of the victims of drone attacks and may have located the precise place where UK attacks are programmed.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Sharif Calls for End to Drone Attacks
In what was largely a formality following last month’s popular elections, Pakistan’s parliament yesterday elected Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. In Mr. Sharif’s first speech, he said that he wanted better relations with the U.S., but included among his priorities an end to drone strikes. According to the Associated Press:
"This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed," Sharif said to widespread applause in the parliament hall. "We do respect others' sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty."
But he gave few details on how he might end the strikes. Many in Pakistan say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians — something the U.S. denies — and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution with the U.S.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Tribal Societies Under Siege
Akbar Ahmed, Islamic Studies chair at American University, writes in the New York Times this morning about the effect of both violent extremist groups and U.S. drone strikes on traditional tribal societies.
Drone strikes like Wednesday’s, in Waziristan, are destroying already weak tribal structures and throwing communities into disarray throughout Pakistan’s tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. The chaos and rage they produce endangers the Pakistani government and fuels anti-Americanism. And the damage isn’t limited to Pakistan. Similar destruction is occurring in other traditional tribal societies like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The tribes on the periphery of these nations have long struggled for more autonomy from the central government, first under colonial rule and later against the modern state. The global war on terror has intensified that conflict.
In recent decades, these societies have undergone huge disruptions as the traditional leadership has come under attack by violent groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s Al Shabab, not to mention full-scale military invasions. America has deployed drones into these power vacuums, causing ferocious backlashes against central governments while destroying any positive image of the United States that may have once existed.
Read more here.
DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack Kills Peace Talks
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban confirmed that Waliur Rehman, the group’s second-in-command, was killed in yesterday’s drone strike. Ahsanullah Ahsan also announced that an offer to begin peace talks with the new Pakistani government was being withdrawn.The Associated Press reports:
The militant group had said earlier that it was open to peace talks. But Ahsan said Thursday that the Taliban believe the government approves of the drone strikes so they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks.
"We had made the offer for peace talks with the government with good intention but we think that these drone attacks are carried out with the approval of the government so we announce the end of the talks process," he said.
The incoming government, headed by Nawaz Sharif, promised in the campaign that it would work to bring about peace after years of violence. A U.S. drone has now called that into doubt.
Read more here.