“The existence of nuclear weapons in the world is a grave threat to peace and we need to abolish them.” ~ Archbishop Joseph Takami of Nagasaki
As the world teeters yet again on the precipice of nuclear war, it has astounded me to hear that one Christian leader has granted God’s blessing to Donald Trump to “take out” Kim Jong-Un.
Whether this emboldened the US president to tweet that he was ready to rain down “fire and fury” on the North Korean leader we don’t know.
But it raises the question for me about whether it is ever possible for the church to give its blessing to a policy of nuclear deterrence? I would say it is not. In fact, I would agree with scholars and leaders from across most Christian denominations, and many other religious traditions, in saying that nuclear weapons have no legitimate use for deterrence or in conflict, and it is wrong for any nation to possess them.
In addition to their obvious danger, they pose an inherent moral contradiction. On the one hand, our faith affirms the ultimate value of each human life and indeed calls us to respect all life, while on the other nuclear weapons threaten indiscriminate death to massive numbers of people, including innocent non-combatants, as well as threatening the ecosystem. In fact, I believe that the possession of nuclear weapons is grossly evil and morally wrong. How could God give his blessing to such an instrument?
Even when used as deterrence, as Mr Trump seems to be implying in his recent tweets, these weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. In other words, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt.
It should be a stated goal of all Christian leaders to see the total abolition of all nuclear weapons throughout the world.
As Pope Benedict said recently:
“One of the most serious [challenges] is increased military spending and the cost of maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals. Enormous resources are being consumed for these purposes, when they could be spent on the development of peoples, especially those who are poorest. For this reason, I firmly hope that… concrete decisions will be made towards progressive disarmament, with a view to freeing our planet from nuclear arms”
Not only can the money used to build and maintain weapons of mass destruction be better spent elsewhere, as Benedict says, but the policy of nuclear deterrence runs contrary to the church’s call to evangelism. The Scriptures call us to appeal to God’s mercy and patience to give the church opportunities for evangelism (2 Pet. 3:9). The killing of masses of people who should be the objects of evangelism cannot possibly be aligned with the will of God.
Instead, nuclear proliferation and the posturing of global leaders continues. The current estimated number of nuclear weapons in the world is 17,300, split among nine countries. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the largest, with 8,500 weapons. The US holds 7,700, according to the Federation of American Scientists, who also warns that approximately 1,800 Russian and American nuclear weapons are on dangerous high alert and are ready to be launched within minutes.
Now, intelligence reports tell us that North Korea has nuclear weapons that could attack South Korea and Japan, although they are yet to be able to miniaturize them into weapons capable of hitting the US. The madness of nuclear proliferation seems to continue unabated. Which regime will be next?
It defies logic not to work for the verifiable nuclear disarmament of the world.
What would this look like? One group, Global Zero, has a step-by-step plan to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2030. I encourage you to read it. In summary, they are calling on nuclear powers to exercise the zero option: to eliminate all nuclear weapons throughout the globe. Church leaders should be calling on all governments that possess nuclear arms to commit to the following steps (borrowed from a United Methodist statement on nuclear disarmament):
- Renounce unconditionally the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence and war fighting purposes.
- Pledge never to use nuclear weapons against any adversary under any circumstance.
- Immediately take all nuclear weapons off alert by separating warheads from delivery vehicles and by other means.
- Embark upon a program to systematically dismantle all nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles as soon as possible with adequate safeguards and verification, carried out under multilateral treaties and through reciprocal national initiatives.
- Ratify and implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- Cease all research, development, testing, production, and deployment of new nuclear weapons, and refrain from modernizing the existing nuclear arsenal.
- Halt all efforts to develop and deploy strategic anti-missile defense systems because they are illusory, unnecessary, and wasteful.
- Respect the requirements of nuclear weapon-free zones where they exist.
- Enter into a multilateral process to develop, adopt, and carry out a nuclear weapons convention that outlaws and abolishes all nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control.
- Develop and implement a system for control of all fissile material with international accounting, monitoring and safeguards.
Will North Korea comply with this? Will China, the USA or Russia? I know it sounds impossible. But so did the abolition of the slave trade, and the fall of the Berlin wall. Embracing insurmountable obstacles in the name of Jesus is simply what we do.
All Christian citizens of nuclear powers should call on their governments to take action immediately to break faith with nuclear weapons. Church leaders must embrace the monumental challenge of ending the nuclear age, not spurring presidents on to “take out” other world leaders while destroying countless innocent lives in the process.