Tyler Wiggs-Stevenson, in his opening remarks during his breakout session at Jubilee 2010 said, “It’s not about trying to save the world, that was done 2000 years ago. It’s about fidelity to the One who already has.” As a Christian who takes seriously the integration of the Christian faith into every aspect of life, such a statement always makes me sit up straight and pay attention. For the past six years I’ve worked as a minister to college students and the central focus of my ministry to them revolves around helping them develop a faith-centered understanding of their academic calling. Now I’m the point person for a small group ministry that is helping over 700 people try and make sense of how their lives can “riff in the key of Jesus” (to borrow from Bob Goff, another Jubilee speaker). Anytime someone can frame their remarks with an assertion that what they are going to talk about goes straight to the heart of living a life that is consistent with their faith, I’m all ears.
The title of the session was “Toward a Post-Atomic Age: Why Tomorrow Needs You Today”. Now I must admit that my understanding of nuclear weapons had been shaped mostly by the movie War Games (probably one of my favorite movies ever, if for no other reason than the scene where Matthew Broderick’s character uses a pull tab from a soda can to hot-wire a pay phone. I’ve tried that countless times and have never gotten it to work. I must not be holding my tongue right), so a 21st century discussion on nuclear weapons seems a bit anachronistic. Maybe that’s why I chose to attend, because I thought that it was an odd topic to be talking about so many years after the end of Cold War. In any event, what transpired over the next hour was a whirlwind tour of nuclear weapons history, policy, and theological implications. Easily the best session I attended at the conference.
My takeaways were numerous, and perhaps I’ll unpack them further in later posts if there is interest, but for now I’ll keep it brief.
- Christians can’t support the use of a weapon that kills indiscriminately. Nuclear weapons aren’t just technologically evolved guns. TWS used the example of an “abortion bomb” that, if unleashed in a city, would kill every unborn fetus within a 3-mile radius. Pro-life Christians would never allow our military forces to deploy such a non-strategic weapon. It’s use is unconscionable. Detonating a nuclear weapon would have the same effect, plus it would kill the mothers and anyone else in the blast zone, destroy the buildings, irradiate the land making it unlivable for decades, and send the area into an immediate economic downward spiral. Even proponents of Just War theory have a hard time making a case for deploying a nuclear weapon while abiding by the principles of proportionality and minimum force.
- Today, deterrence only breeds proliferation. Since the end of the Cold War our enemies have changed. The greatest threats no longer consist of large states with large military forces threatening land and sea invasions. Since 9/11 the focus has been combating terrorism. The shift is akin to the guerrilla fighting tactics the American Revolutionaries used to defeat the British Redcoats. Cold War era deterrence doesn’t hold water when the enemy can’t be targeted. Instead, the continued possession of nuclear weapons by the “haves” only makes the “have nots” edgier. The only way to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used is to eliminate nuclear weapons.
- The world is at a critical moment in nuclear history. Right now there is broad consensus among top military, scientific, political, and theological leaders that the “now what?” question regarding existing nuclear stockpiles must be answered swiftly, convincingly, and finally. National security experts like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry, along with Christian leaders like John Stott, Leith Anderson, Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Chuck Colson, and Bill Hybels, are all calling for complete global nuclear disarmament. It is telling that the two paragons of the big political parties, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, are both outspoken proponents of complete, multilateral nuclear abolition.
- If we miss this, it will undermine most everything else Christians advocate for. Our work on creation care, alleviation of poverty, international justice, and sanctity of life, could all be wrecked in an instant with the detonation of a nuclear weapon. The environmental impact of a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere would be devastating beyond the blast site itself, perhaps triggering cascading environmental effects for decades to come. The economic destruction impact our global economy, unfairly stressing emerging economies as financial aid is brought to a halt. With the attention of the world’s leaders shifted to responding to a nuclear crisis, the door for corruption and injustice in developing countries would be left open and unattended. Condoning the use of a nuclear weapon as either a first-strike or retaliatory measure by Christians would leave us hamstrung in taking a moral position on issues where we prize the unique and precious gift of life given to each individual.
So, here’s the deal. Nukes gotta go. It’s the only way to ensure they can’t be used. It’s a complex issue, to be sure, but complexity has never been an “out” for Christians. It’s not a sexy issue, no kids are going to write you letters thanking you for securing their future by keeping the bomb out of their village. It is a faith issue. If we serve the Prince of Peace, the One who will, with finality, beat swords into ploughshares, if we mean it when we pray, “thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven,” then our faith compels us to respond. Abolishing nuclear weapons won’t save the world. Jesus Christ already did what needed to be done in that department. Abolishing nuclear weapons is something we can do in response.
Want to learn more about the movement to abolish nuclear weapons from a uniquely evangelical Christian point of view? Visit the Two Futures Project website and join in. I did.