By David Waters
Ever since President Harry Truman, a Baptist, thanked God in 1945 for giving the atomic bomb to the U.S. and not Germany, the church’s attention to nuclear weapons has alternately flared and flagged — as David E. Anderson of Religion News Service explained in a fascinating summary last week.
With the Obama administration’s growing emphasis on the issue of nuclear proliferation, the faith-based nuclear abolition movement seems to be flaring again. Can a new generation of church leaders restart a movement that has flagged since the “No Nukes” 1980s, when the U.S. Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the National Association of Evangelicals issued bold statements against nuclear weapons.
“As a follower of Christ I have long believed that nuclear weapons are one of the most atrocious exercises of human creativity ever devised,” Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, said Thursday as Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to reduce the stockpile of deployed, strategic nuclear weapons in both countries.
Gushee is one of a growing number of evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders who are expressing renewed concerns about nuclear proliferation and speaking up for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“The moral end is clear: a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons,” Catholic Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore told the Global Zero Summit in Paris in February. “This goal should guide our efforts. Every nuclear weapons system and every nuclear weapons policy should be judged by the ultimate goal of protecting human life and dignity and the related goal of ridding the world of these weapons in a mutually verifiable way.”
Catholic bishops have been speaking out against nuclear proliferation for decades, but the latest anti-nuke movement among Christians got a boost in 2008, at a conference co-sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals.
The call was heard by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, an ordained Baptist minister in Nashville who started the Two Futures Project, which is calling for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. “Who do we think we are to claim authority over life itself and the welfare of future generations?” he said. “That power belongs to God alone.”
The project has its critics, but also has earned the praise of a number of religious and political figures, including former secretary of state George Shultz, who calls it a “vital new movement to build popular support” for nuclear abolition “from a rising generation of American Christians.”
Attention on the issue likely will increase in the next few weeks.
Next week, more than 40 heads of state will attend a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center will host a conference on “God and the Bomb: Deterrence, Disarmament, and Human Security.” And next month, the United States will host a conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations.
They all might want to review Harry Truman’s 1945 radio address, made a few days after the United States became the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons:
“It is an awful responsibility which has come to us,” Truman said. “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”
Blessed are the peacemakers who control nuclear weapons? Or blessed are the peacemakers who abolish them?