The New York Times reported Oct. 1 that Anwar al-Awlaki, a man believed to have been a leading spokesperson for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and who was born in the United States, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Yemen’s official news agency also confirmed that another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, was killed in the attack on the vehicle occupied by Awlaki.

President Barack Obama said Awlaki had taken “a lead role in planning and directing the efforts to murder innocent Americans.”

The Times article described Awlaki as the “inspirational or operational force” behind plots such as the attack on soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, by an Army psychiatrist.

Khan was allegedly an editor for Inspire, an al-Qaida-affiliated Internet magazine.

According to the U.S. Constitution, treason against the United States requires trial by jury. Awlaki and Khan were U.S. citizens who had never been charged with treason in any U.S. court.

Awlaki and Khan had no opportunity to confront their accusers and the evidence against them.

They were not provided trials by judges independent of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

Awlaki and Khan weren’t found guilty of anything, let alone treason. They had no opportunity to appeal their “convictions” before they were “executed.”

What moral and constitutional standards authorized the Obama administration to sanction killing two American citizens in Yemen who held and promoted violent anti-American views?

Has the Central Intelligence Agency become the moral authority for the U.S. government? Has the Obama administration licensed the CIA to kill people it considers dangerous?

Do religious leaders care?

I’ve read no comments by political and religious leaders that questioned the drone attack that killed Awlaki and Khan. Why would religious leaders, of all people, be silent about the idea that civilians can be murdered abroad by their own government?

Could it be that we don’t care about murder? Or is that we don’t care about what happens to people associated with al-Qaida, including U.S. citizens?

Perhaps we’re afraid to question the notion of killing civilians with whom a government disagrees. That would be odd, to put it mildly.

After all, every religion condemns taking human life without just cause.

According to the Christian Gospels, Jesus was crucified by the Roman government and John the Baptist was beheaded by a Hebrew ruler because their religious teachings offended powerful people.

Religious people in the United States (including Baptists) profess belief in freedom of speech. It’s odd (again putting it mildly) that religious leaders in the United States are speechless after Obama admitted that his administration killed Awlaki and Khan.

Maybe we’re afraid to speak up. If that’s the case, who do we fear and why? Should anyone who holds objectionable views in the eyes of whatever political regime is in power be considered a “target” for government-sanctioned murder?

There is another possible explanation for the silence of religious leaders. Perhaps we support or condone killing people who hold beliefs we consider offensive.

But that explanation presents first-class ethical problems.

What makes people eligible for execution based on their beliefs? What moral, religious or civil standard makes it right to take life from people with whom we strongly disagree based on the sheer ability to do so?

According to the Bible, God condemns the unjustified taking of life.

According to the Bible, murder violates the mandate to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

According to the Bible, rulers are divinely obligated to protect and provide for people, including those with whom they disagree.

According to the Bible, government officials don’t outrank God.

At Matthew 5:43-45, we have these words from Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Awlaki and Khan were assassinated. Their deaths were planned and approved at the highest level of the U.S. government.

Religious leaders have been silent about their deaths. We should be outraged. We should denounce what happened as scandalous.

But as my father would say, that would be too much like right.

Wendell L. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church and a circuit judge in Little Rock, Ark. His sermon manuscripts appear on

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