Why conservative Christians should support nuclear abolition

By Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevensonfounder and director, Two Futures Project When most people think of abolishing nuclear weapons, they think of … Continued

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.

  • YEAL9

    Rev. Wigg-Stevenson,Publish your column in Iran, Pakistan and North Korea and get back to us. And please note that the koran demands that male Muslims dominate the world by any means. You might want to talk to any imams you know about this problem since two Muslim theocracies now have the BOMBS.

  • whocares666

    Publish your column in Israel.

  • bigbrother1

    You’re assuming that conservative “christians” care about anything Jesus said or about bothering to make sense. They do not care about either.

  • GaryEMasters

    Robert Heinlein saw a future with nuclear weapons under control. It can be done. But now is the time to do it. If we wait, it will be much later thatn we want very soon.

  • moxford0

    This is an excellent well thought out post.

  • NotMyOwn3

    Sound reasoning, Rev. Wigg-Stevenson.Bigbrother1 – I don’t always agree with my brothers and sisters on the more conservative end of the spectrum, but most of them do indeed care about what Jesus has to say. But, like all of us, our ears are often closed to the voice of truth. The Spirit has helped to open my ears to the problem of nuclear arms, and I am confident that other ears will also be opened. Yeal9 – No doubt these countries pose a threat, but the Christian response can never be based in fear. Rather, the New Testament teaches us to be confident in the Lord, that the armies of darkness (real and spiritual) will never blot out the Church, and that the absolute best response for any Christian is to continue preaching Christ crucified, caring for the poor and sick, and working for the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • DwightCollins

    John of patmos saw what could be described as nuclear weopans being used…

  • arancia12

    I cannot understand Christians who do not support a world without weapons of destruction.To support such a vision does not imply doing away with defense. Yeal9 fails as a Christian. Which two Muslim theocracies does he refer to? Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and they are methods to ensure they don’t. Pakistan has weapons but they are few and not particularly sophisticated. Nation-states are not what we fear, it’s the terrorist with a weapon we fear. All the nuclear weapons in the world will not deter a terrorist but if terrorists cannot get their hands on a weapon or the materials to produce one, we are all safer. I do not believe in survival at any cost. Why would Yeal1 wish to be like the Muslims he cites? That is not living as Christ would wish us to. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Not living as a Christian is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Having served a career in the military maintaining our nuclear stockpile, I am not convinced we will ever by nuclear-free. I am however convinced we should try. We should strive always to eliminate aggression, weapons of mass destruction, and to live as role models to the world.

  • rmlwj1

    Mark 12:17:

  • cassie123

    I agree with this post and found it very insightful. As a Christian, why would I want to be responsible for shortening anyone’s time of grace (the time that they can come to accept and know Christ)? I think if we view this issue through the lens of love (as Christ commands for Christians to do), we can see that working towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons is a good thing. While I disagree with Obama on many things, I do support this move as a first step in showing the world that we look at other nations in love. Complete peace between nations will never occur, but we can try and we can be an example of the amazing love that Christ has first shown to us.arancia12 – “Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Not living as a Christian is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. ” — well said.

  • bigbrother1

    Notmyown3: I appreciate your comments. But I refer you to those of DwightCollins and Yeal9, which you have already remarked upon.Those comments have come to represent not only conservative “christianity” but Christianity as a whole. People like these two (not to mention “Christians” like Palin, Beck, Falwell, Robertson, Ratzinger, Bush, etc.) have laid claim to the name of Christianity and have pretty much taken it without a fight.I understand that you do not feel this way, and in your own life and heart I am sure that Christianity is not synonymous with senseless, murderous hatred. But in the world at large, I am afraid that your brand of your faith is not very operative.

  • YEAL9

    “John 2:13-16″The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Fortunately, JC did not have a AK-47 or a small nuke to teach these ingrates a lesson!! LOL!!!

  • NotMyOwn3

    DwightCollins (and other interpreters of Revelation): There is absolutely no evidence that John of Patmos saw modern weaponry in his visions. Reading your own specific world into the visions themselves violates the text at its very heart. Revelation is directed at communities of Christians in Asia Minor who were suffering and whose faith was hanging by a thread. The visions are meant to uplift the readers by showing them that their suffering is not meaningless and that, on the great Day of the Lord, divine justice will be dispensed and the righteous will be upheld. Christians are encouraged to be patient in their sufferings and NOT to fight back with violence. Based on your comments, however, I suspect your lord is not Christ but rather Roma (see: the Harlot of Babylon).