(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 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.)