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By Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
founder and director, Two Futures Project
When most people think of abolishing nuclear weapons, they think of long-haired hippies holding “Ban the Bomb” signs. So it’s understandable that some who encounter the Two Futures Project–a movement of Christians for the elimination of nuclear weapons–would initially assume that we are all pacifists, or that our work is typical lefty politics dressed up in Christian costume.
But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, though our movement is non-partisan and we have drawn support from both the right and the left, the motivation for our work is fundamentally conservative–both politically and theologically.
Politically, we take our policy cues from a group of former Cold Warriors like George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and Henry Kissinger, who argue that the security dynamic of the post-Cold War, post-9/11 era requires a whole new way of thinking about nuclear weapons. These hard-headed statesmen (and the two-thirds of all living former Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisers who agree with them) argue that our national security hangs in the balance unless we take immediate nuclear threat-reduction steps, while working toward a world without any nuclear weapons.
Theologically, we begin with the church’s ancient and unapologetic confession, Christos Kyrios: that Jesus Christ, revealed in the Holy Scriptures that are the written word of God, is Lord over all creation. We view the Bible as wholly authoritative for any theological claims we make, and consequentially conduct our analysis primarily from a perspective of Just War thinking, a biblically-grounded theological framework that has guided Christian moral discernment regarding the use of force for centuries.
So, if we’re as conservative as I say we are, why have we been vocal in our support of the recent actions taken by the Obama administration–including a Nuclear Posture Review, the New START Treaty with the Russians, and this week’s nuclear security summit?
In sum, we believe that nuclear security should be evaluated on its merits and substance, rather than the party identification of those making the decisions. And because the President’s recent action steps are in accord with the sound recommendations made by the likes of Shultz, Nunn, and Co., we support them–as we would if they were taken by a Republican administration.
Moreover, the Nuclear Posture Review is a document produced by the Defense Department, with the full support of our top security experts, including the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This doesn’t make the NPR infallible. But ill-informed, ad hominem attacks about “weakening America” don’t just ring false–they border on slanderous allegations against the reputations of men and women who have dedicated their lives to American security.
A lack of public understanding about the post-Cold War nuclear security paradigm has led many to critique the President’s recent actions, especially his assurance that we will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers that are obeying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NTP). Why, the flabbergasted questioning goes, would we take options off the table?
Well, we take options off the table all the time, because values matter. If we were attacked with chemical or biological weapons, would we slaughter civilians in an enemy’s capital city in response? I think that the American public would balk at vengeance involving the intentional mass murder of civilians. Do we wage war against other nations’ children, both in the womb and at their parents’ sides? Is that who we are? God help us if this is so.
Moreover, we don’t need the nuclear threat to deter such an attack. Instead, our new Nuclear Posture Review says that we would hold our attacker’s civilian and military leadership personally responsible, and guarantees that our non-nuclear response would be overwhelming–an option readily available to a nation that spends as much on our military as almost every other country on earth combined.
Such critiques also ignore the huge benefits that we have gained through these “negative security assurances.” First, they occur in a relatively hawkish context: the terms of the guarantee left out North Korea and Iran, who are not complying with the NPT, thus giving teeth to the notion that compliance with international bargains matters. Second, our doing so helps build our moral authority in delegitimizing nuclear weapons as tools of statecraft, which in turn strengthens our hand in the fight against global terrorism.
But all of this is policy consideration. So how does faith and biblical theology enter into the picture? Some Christians cite the secular aphorism “peace through strength” as if it was lifted from Holy Writ (it’s not), claiming the concept as virtual paraphrase of Romans 13:1-7. This biblical passage says that human government does not “bear the sword in vain,” and are indeed the servants of God to punish evil.
Equating Romans 13:1-7 with “peace through strength” is careless, sloppy biblical interpretation. I happen to agree that the passage confirms a divine ordination for human government to employ force as a check against the worst impulses of human sin. This is one reason I am not a pacifist (though I am proud and honored to have the support of pacifist brothers and sisters for the Two Futures Project). But maximalist interpretations of the passage–that all government power is just power–have been used to justify tyrannical regimes including the Third Reich and apartheid South Africa. The wicked fruit of this interpretation is proof of its illegitimacy.
There’s nothing wrong with a strong military, and as someone who grew up in Top Gun-era San Diego, you’ll never hear me say otherwise. But if we take seriously the whole witness of Scripture, we must also recognize that the unfettered pursuit of strength–fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment–in fact leads to an ungodly arrogance and idolatry. This was the case with King Solomon, who stockpiled horses in contravention of the Deuteronomic instruction, as well as Babylon, the ancient near East superpower, which God describes as “guilty men, whose own might is their god!” (Habakkuk 1:11).
As Christians who believe that true peace and security comes only at the sovereign and eternal hand of God, we cannot simply take a secular utilitarian, value-less approach to security policy. (In fact, the Old Testament prophets testify to the fact that doing so is an indicator of godlessness on the domestic front.)
For most Evangelicals, the Just War tradition provides a normative set of categories for integrating security and values–and Just War teaching flatly prohibits, among other actions, uses of force which 1) are disproportionate to the conflict, 2) do not discriminate between soldiers and non-combatant, and 3) cause more harm than good. Every conceivable use of nuclear weapons in our present context violates at least one–and in most cases all three–of these criteria.
A single nuclear terrorist attack on a major city would kill between 60,000 and 200,000 people, would contaminate 320 square miles for a generation, and cause the shutdown of the global economy, with massive suffering worldwide. One does not need religion to be horrified by such a scenario. But our Christian conscience must be doubly shocked by the affront to the sanctity of human life, stewardship of creation, and care for the poor that such an attack would constitute.
At the Two Futures Project, we seek to bring glory to God by working in his name to prevent such a scenario. And the best, nonpartisan analysis from security experts says that the only policy prescription to ensure this is to pursue urgent nuclear threat-reduction, guided by the vision of a world without nuclear weapons–a verifiable and technical possibility, and the fondest dream of President Ronald Reagan.
Now, there are people of goodwill who disagree with this analysis and policy prescriptions. So, let’s have that vigorous and substantive public argument, holding the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. But criticisms that amount to little more than partisan name-calling, often devoid of any substantive knowledge of nuclear policy, are not just pointless–they’re actually dangerous in an issue that holds hostage the well-being of all people on the planet.
Preventing nuclear disaster isn’t a goal of the political left or right. It’s a matter of right and wrong.
The Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founder and director of the Two Futures Project.