Opinion

Faith bodies must affirm opposition to nuclear war

A 23-kiloton tower shot called Badger, fired on April 18, 1953, at the Nevada Test Site as part of the Operation Upshot–Knothole nuclear test series. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved up its “Doomsday Clock.” Nuclear war is a real possibility. Faith bodies must pressure Congress to act.

In the 1980s, as the Cold War raged and the arms race escalated, faith groups in the United States and across the globe made a theological case that a nuclear war cannot ever be won. The arms raced robbed the world of financial resources to combat other pressing moral issues, including poverty and the environment. Now, as the Trump administration flirts with a new arms race  — a leaked draft of the Pentagon’s nuclear review shows a desire for new kinds of weapons — faith groups must raise their voices again against nuclear war.

The United States is considering the possibility of extending the permissible use of nuclear weapons and the president, with his trigger finger on Twitter, threatens nuclear holocaust against North Korea when steady diplomacy is needed to avert a catastrophe that could cost millions of lives on the Korean Peninsula in a matter of hours.

In 1983, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a groundbreaking and influential pastoral letter outlining the bishops’ deep concerns regarding the growing threat of a nuclear war. The aim of the letter, they wrote, was to argue “that the decisions about nuclear weapons are among the most pressing moral questions of our age. While these decisions have obvious military and political aspects, they involve fundamental moral choices. In simple terms, we are saying that good ends (defending one’s country, protecting freedom, etc.) cannot justify immoral means (the use of weapons which kill indiscriminately and threaten whole societies).”

Under consideration today is a new policy that would, by many accounts, increase the likelihood of nuclear war after a long period in which the United States and Russia have sought to minimize the chance such weapons might be used in conflict or by accident. In Hiroshima to mark the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of that city during World War II, President Obama noted in 2016: “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.” That moral revolution is sorely needed now.

The Trump administration is asking for unneeded nuclear weapons and additional military funding that will rob the United States of funding for domestic priorities and international aid that could promote peace. President Trump, as tensions have increased with the erratic leadership of North Korea, has promised, with erratic leadership of his own, “fire and fury” instead of reasoned diplomacy.

In accepting the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Beatrice Fihn said in Norway:

“A moment of panic or carelessness, a misconstrued comment or bruised ego, could easily lead us unavoidably to the destruction of entire cities. A calculated military escalation could lead to the indiscriminate mass murder of civilians.”

This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

This horrific reality is where we are headed.

This past month, emergency management officials in Hawaii accidentally told the people of that state that an intercontinental ballistic missile was 15 minutes away. People ran in terror. Parents hid with their children in bathtubs and basements. The truth, however, is that we cannot run from a nuclear holocaust. We must prevent one before it occurs.

“Holding to our core religious convictions that nuclear weapons are a threat to what God has created, we call on the United States Congress to immediately pass the bill introduced by Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu that would require congressional approval before any president could launch a nuclear first strike,” reads a petition signed to date by nearly 2,000 people of faith.

It should be the policy of the United States never to launch a nuclear first strike. At the very least, Congress should debate the issue, so the people of the United States can consider the moral consequences of such an act. What is needed, in place of nuclear war, is a just peace for the world.

The United Church of Christ first advanced a theological framework for a “Just Peace” in 1985, and the General Synod of the United Church of Christ reaffirmed that theology of peace in 2015:

“The power of the Just Peace movement is that it does not simply respond to violence and sources of conflict like inequality and exclusion, but it works to address these challenges at their roots by changing the structures that give rise to conflict and injustice.”

People of faith — regardless of their particular tradition — and all faith bodies, and the interfaith movement itself, must commit to lifting up a just peace vision for the world. Once again, the faith community must stand up against the possibility of nuclear war. God’s creation is at stake.

(The Rev. Chuck Currie, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, is director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, university chaplain and assistant professor for religious studies at Pacific University in Oregon.)

About the author

Chuck Currie

14 Comments

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  • Why must they affirm their opposition to nuclear war? If there is a nuclear war, won’t that mean that Jesus has come? Or will it mean that he isn’t coming? It’s so hard to know!

    But what about the faith groups than want to see their enemies destroyed? “For he is like a refiner’s fire!” Hot!!!! Hot!!! Won’t this fulfill their agenda nicely?

    Maybe we should all start praying!!! That will surely work, because god loves everyone. But would it do any good, because what about god’s super duper, wonderful, miraculous plan! If there is a nuclear war, that would be a part of it, right? Oh, wait, that would be the fault of sinful man, not gods wonderful plan.

    I got it! Let’s make sure everyone in the wold has their own nuclear bomb. The only way to stop a guy with a nuclear bomb is another guy with a nuclear bomb.

  • About that – “This past month, emergency management officials in Hawaii accidentally told the people of that state that an intercontinental ballistic missile was 15 minutes away. People ran in terror. Parents hid with their children in bathtubs and basements.”

    Obviously none of these “people … parents” were atheists.

    Here, this will make more sense to you, dear “Rev. Chuck Currie, an ordained United Church of Christ minister”. I LOVE IT. I dedicate this to my friend, Ben in Oakland:

    From carolyntclark from comments on Bruce Gerencser, “Evangelicals on Death and Dying”, Rational Doubt, January 11, 2018:

    “To HpO….this timely post. Today, an Atheist org. contacted members living in Hawaii to ask about their reaction when they thought a nuclear missile was headed their way. None of the reports included a religious revival. One added this anecdote. ‘Maybe 10 years ago, I was choking on a large pill (I have MS and it got caught crosswise and I couldn’t get it to move). I call 911, but was unable to talk to them. I heard the ambulance coming down the street just before I blacked out. The last thing I thought was, “Oh good. Now my husband won’t be the one to come in and find my body,” and, “Oh no, I hope they don’t step on the dog!” (Small, ancient, deaf dog–same color as the carpet.) Of course, I did not die, and the medics did not step on my old, tiny dog. Never crossed my mind to think of any imaginary beings in those couple of minutes I had.'”

  • Thanks for the compliment.

    There probably were some atheists there. Actually, I know there were. Two of my friends were there with their two children. R told me that he and his husband called the kids to them— one of them is my godson— from the beach, and told them “we’re going to sit very quietly together for a little while.”

    After about 20 minutes, the kids were asleep. R said, “some goddam idiot.”

  • “Of course”, she did not die. Why?

    Because, “of course”, the Imaginary Being that she doesn’t wanna think about, graciously spared her life that day, even though she herself was very certain (and rationally so) that only her lifeless remains would be found.

  • What they are affirming is, not simply opposition to nuclear war, but rather their support for the Markey-Lieu Bill, which would forbid any President from launching a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

    But what is really needed is an enforcement of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives Congress alone the power to declare war. We have had, and still have, far too many undeclared wars/military adventures, which Congress has simply acquiesced in. It is truly disgraceful.

  • I share your concerns about the erratic dictator who threatens the world with nuclear war. And I worry about Kim Jong-un too. [rimshot!}
    It has long been alleged that the Soviet Union infiltrated left-leaning Christian organizations like the World Council of Churches. The great FXX show “The Americans” is doing a great job of covering this btw. I hope any current activism will be Putin-free.

  • Works for guns right? Oh wait…
    I just kinda figured it was all part of the rapture. I mean look at all of the persecuted white Christians in America. And president pence with his overly provocative announcement about an embassy. All of the signs are there. Repent and give up your sinful ways! That way you can share the lonely misery of heaven with the self righteous hypocrites.
    For me? I’m going to pop some popcorn and catch the light show. At least when the bomb goes off over my head I’ll be in good company.

  • I just got back from a trip. I always write a travelopgue for my friends. This is a paragraph from it.

    Unfortunately, the price of the music was sitting in a pew designed by Torquemada through an hour-and-a-half of monotone bible readings and uninspired preaching. It didn’t even sound like he was wagging a reproving finger at anyone. Even if I had understood every word, that wouldn’t have changed. We managed to escape before the never-ending end of it. As Mark Twain said about singing hymns in Heaven for eternity: “If that isn’t hell, I don’t know what is!”

  • Aw come on, my brother in Christ, floydlee. I read that bit about “imaginary beings” and I cried, feeling so sad about people because we’ve failed to evangelize them properly. We’ve politicized them, instead, so much so that not even a nuclear bombardment could change their minds about God & Jesus & Their people like you & me. That’s why I love that woman’s story. Because I fell in love with the human race yet again. Not giving up. Gotta find that key to the hearts of atheists. Just got to. Don’t know what that is yet. Atheists prove to be much harder to reach heart to heart than Buddhists. My experience, at least, for what it’s worth: as pricey as nothing-burger.

  • Ha ha.

    (5) Democrats melt down over Nunes memo and enter the Upside Down
    Chicago Tribune 16h ago

    (4) Six key takeaways from the GOP memo alleging FBI bias in the Russia investigation
    The Denver Post 12h ago

    (3) View: Nunes memo release leaves FBI Director Christopher Wray no choice: He must resign
    euronews 10h ago

    (2) The Russia Investigations: 5 Takeaways About The Inescapable Nunes Memo
    WUNC 7h ago

    (1) Inside the FBI: Anger, worry, work — and fears of lasting damage
    Washington Post 2h ago

    Ha ha.

  • yes, the FBI is concerned that the president, the GOP, and useful idiots everywhere are trying to destroy our democratic institutions. You really should send Putin a bill.

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