DETROIT — The General Assembly urged the U.S. government to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and it called on all countries to halt the use of drones as weapons of war or for surveillance.
Both measures were recommended by the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee.
The U.S. includes four countries on its list of state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
On the assembly floor, references were made to statements the committee moderator Jesus Sanchez Reyes, made earlier in the week regarding murders taking place in Cuba at the hands of Cuban soldiers. Christian Iosso of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy staff mentioned Sanchez Reyes’ statements in addition to concerns about connections with Venezuela.
“The question of whether those concerns were terrorism was the concern,” Iosso said. “We looked at specific laws and I believe the committee debated it fairly.”
James Acquaah, ruling elder commissioner from Chicago Presbytery and a committee member, spoke against the overture, calling it unfair because “Cuba today is not Cuba of 1958.” Nate Nichols-Flemming, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate, became tearful as he spoke of his faith and said Cuba’s deplorable actions took place in the past.
After debate, the overture to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism was approved by a vote of 481-63.
The sensitivity regarding the debate on drones was evident from one commissioner’s request that votes on the issue be conducted by clicker.
After much discussion, a resolution on drones, war and surveillance was approved 436–132. The resolution criticizes the secret nature of drones and expresses opposition to the “deaths these weapons facilitate.” It calls for legislation governing military drones and urges the U.S. government to publicize its rules for their use.
Scripture addresses drones, claimed Bonnie Holcomb, a ruling elder from National Capital Presbytery, in Luke 9. “Do you want us to send killer drones from heaven to destroy them?” she paraphrased.
Other commissioners rose and identified themselves as pastors who were unfamiliar with military strategy and called for help and resources. Iosso acknowledged that drones “cannot be put back in the bottle” but require regulation. Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the 216th General Assembly and current co-director of Stony Point Center, spoke in agreement calling for leadership that guides toward genuine security for all.
John Marshall, ruling elder commissioner, also spoke against use of drones noting that “all warfare needs to be condemned.”
Ed Fedor, teaching elder commissioner from Sacramento Presbytery and a former member of the Air Force, advised the assembly that releasing a statement declaring “no drones” is naïve at best. When asked about his statement, he noted that drones are very inexpensive when compared with planes and pilots; therefore it is presumable that in the future there will be no manned fighters or bombers. “For the church to say ‘no’ to drones shows that civilians don’t understand how the military works,” he said.
The recommendations against drones as weapons and surveillance were all approved by the assembly.
The assembly passed an overture calling for recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide and designated April 26, 2015, as the 100th anniversary commemoration day in Presbyterian churches.
Three YAAD members of the committee introduced and supported a resolution on sexual violence in the U.S. Military Services, supporting military chaplains who work with servicemen and women who have suffered military sexual trauma and work toward reformation of the system.