Anti-Nuclear Weapons Legislation will Test CofC Peace Commitment

At stake is whether I trust in God or the bomb. In nuclear war there are no winners. I therefore cannot agree that perfecting the bomb and developing the ability to use it first is a basis for my security and well being. It is certainly not an appropriate basis for my faith. … The fashioning of nuclear weapons and threatening to use them is a sin — a sin against God, against God’s likenesses (all humans), and against God’s creation. … Our security as a people of faith lies not in demonic weapons which threaten all life on earth. Our security is in a loving, caring God.

These prophetic words were delivered in a brave and remarkable sermon given by Charles D. Neff to the 1982 Community of Christ World Conference. Neff knew what he was talking about. He was in Hiroshima as a US Naval Officer just a few weeks after the city’s destruction by an atomic bomb. “What I saw there,” he told the conference attendees, “is indelibly etched into my  mind, my heart, my soul. The stark reality of death and despair everywhere in Hiroshima in 1945 was indescribable.”

Among the many contentious pieces of legislation that the Community of Christ faces at its upcoming 2010 World Conference is G-11, “Abolition of Nuclear Weapons” from the Central USA Mission Center. I believe this will be a key test of whether the church is moving toward becoming a peace church, something I have expressed doubts about on this blog.

The proposed legislation resolves “That Community of Christ calls for abolition of all nuclear weapons throughout Earth and space” and outlines a variety of ways the church can be involved in campaigning against nuclear weapons, particularly in the run-up to the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference in New York next month.

Whether you agree with banning nuclear weapons or not, one has to admit that a church that can’t take a stance against nuclear weapons can hardly call itself a peace church. Nuclear weapons fly in the face of Just War Doctrine, as they are the most indiscriminate and disproportionate weapon imaginable. There is no way they could possibly meet the Just War tradition’s requirement that military’s maintain ‘just conduct‘ in war. A church that cannot commit itself to a basic stance of Just War, nevermind pacifism and nonviolence, in my view, has no business pretending to be a peace church. Either drop the label of peace church or face the hard choices that implies — including giving up an attachment to nuclear weapons.

Throwing its lot in with the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons would speak loud and clear that the church truly has faith in the ‘peace of Jesus Christ’ rather than the bomb.

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24 comments on “Anti-Nuclear Weapons Legislation will Test CofC Peace Commitment

  1. Todd Elkins says:

    Matthew, I hope the church does indeed pass the resolution. It is the right side to be on. Yet I don’t agree that it is the litmus test for being a peace church that you seem to suggest.

    The Community of Christ needs to develop new methods to approve such positions instead of spending time in front of the World Conference where real reflection on a complicated issue like this is almost impossible. As a former peace & justice minister for the church, I know that such resolutions hardly make a difference in the pews and rarely are passed in a timely way that helps the cause. Something better needs to come along.

  2. Doug Gregory says:

    Brother, your leaps of logic are interesting. While here on earth, Christ’s ministry was not aimed at banning the Roman legions, but on inviting individuals to a peace that only He could share with them. I don’t know that that focus has changed.

    Do I like nuclear weapons? No. Would a missle from a drone aimed at my house have the same effect on me? Yep. Tell me the line where one weapon is okay and the next weapon is not, and I will have learned something new.

    I grew up in a time when as a young child in school, we would have drills where we would go to the basement of the school and hide under benches. My brother had a “foxhole” conversion when he thought the boom from Mt. St. Helens was the Soviets attacking Seattle with ICBM’s. The terror is real. I pray that the world is someday rid of all nuclear weaponry.

    If I were to hold you to a litmus test to require you to prove yourself in my eyes to some standard, would you pass? Would I pass under your scrutiny?

    Having been young once myself, having grown up through the 60’s, and having daughters and a son in their 20’s, I applaud your taking a stand. That is the only way for change to occur. Please be careful in how you measure institutions and people through your litmus tests, though. Wisdom and litmus tests just may not exist together peacefully.

  3. FireTag says:

    Matt:

    I must confess, in light of Apostle Neff’s statement, that I am a sinner. I have both worked on radar systems to protect the launch platforms for nuclear weapohns, and on cleaning up the radioactive and chemical wastes their manufacture leaves behind.

    I must further confess that I am an UNREPENTENT sinner who would without hesitation commit the sin again if called upon to do so.

    I certainly hope the CofChrist “flunks” this test of being a peace and justice church, because I’ve long felt that policies advocated in the name of peace and justice during my lifetime by such churches have arguably produced more and larger wars and greater injustice instead. This time I don’t even think it is a close call.

    The worst possible situation in terms of the likelihood and consequences of nuclear weapons use is to have many nations having them. At least we think so, since that is a place we may not get to before someone who has them may use them to prevent someone who hasn’t got them from getting them. The shifting of escalation dominance between antagonistic states is a very dangerous time, as shown by decades of post-WW2 cold war crises.

    The second most dangerous situation is when there is one imperial power who has nukes, and no one else does. That is, after all, the only situation when we’ve seen them used to this date. There are empires, and then there are empires, of course. And the character of the leaders and people makes a great deal of difference to how often nukes (or other violence) are used and why.

    Which brings us back just a little farther than 1945, to a world in which no one had nukes, but smart people knew they were possible, and everyone else was pretty well having their lives traumatized by all of the physical and economic violence being carried out perfectly efficiently without nukes.

    THAT’S THE NIGHTMARE NUCLEAR-FREE WORLD I BELIEVE WE WOULD ACTUALLY BE HELPING TO PRODUCE IF WE TOOK THE LEGISLATION SERIOUSLY! A world that evolves rapidly into some version of situations 1 or 2 above because every psychopath with a power base sees himself as the founder of a new Rome or a new Reich. And psychopaths have been seizing power bases several dozen times per century somewhere or other on the planet for a very long time.

    So I prefer a church, with good conscience, that believes in a doctrine of Christian Realism rather than either pacificism or Just War. From that perspective, I do not support legislation which I expect, unless it is ignored, to actually get a lot of innocent people killed.

  4. Doug Gregory says:

    Very interesting, FireTag. I was thinking after my initial response that caring passionately about something like this is important. What was missing for me was a stream of logic to get from one point to the other.

    Declarative statements concern me, as they are normally from the heart and so I tend to not listen to them. Rational statements without taking into account the human condition also concern me, as we can rationalize any type of behavior.

    The problem with leading from the heart, or leading with the head, is that either direction will lead to tyranny. Using the head and the heart together to balance each others extremes is what – in my opinion – leads to sound judgement.

    • FireTag says:

      Yes, Doug, we definitely need to balance each other’s extremes, the way opposing sets of muscles are necessary to control the movements of our limbs.

  5. […] more practical solutions (Sustainability summit! Follow the WoW and eat less meat! Rethink nuclear weapons! Plus, a former Mormon is celebrating two years of car-free […]

  6. Matthew Bolton says:

    Two comments:

    1) Firetag, we are all sinners. Niebuhr once argued that while nuclear weapons are sinful they are tragically necessary given the state of the world. I can respect this Christian realist position — it is defended by many sober and thoughtful people — but only when it does not pretend that Jesus would have approved of nuclear armament. One can argue the ‘necessity of sin’ and I respect people who soberly take that responsibility upon themselves, but I only when they do not try to pretend that Jesus would have taken that path.

    2) Re: litmus tests. I think a better description of what I am asking for is ‘truth in advertising’ rather than a litmus test. Words of course have fuzzy boundaries but to endlessly redefine them does little for rigorous thinking. When I was a kid I became a vegetarian. But because meat was just too tempting, I soon became a vegetarian that ate chicken, then a vegetarian that ate chicken and ham, then a vegetarian that ate chicken, ham and beef. Eventually I had to admit to myself that it was time to drop the label. I am simply asking the church to decide whether it is a vegetarian (a peace church) or a vegetarian that eats chicken (a peace church that cannot take a stand against nuclear weapons) and thus not a vegetarian (nor a peace church) at all. There a lot of good churches that are not peace churches — Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists. They have made significant contributions to the world, even sometimes peace, but they are not peace churches. What I want is for the Community of Christ to decide whether it is truly a peace church — akin to the Quakers, Mennonites or Brethren — or just a church that contributes to peace (not necessarily a bad position). They are not the same thing and we should be honest to ourselves and the world.

    • Doug Gregory says:

      Matt, I can respect this position, but it is not how I read your original post. Thank you for not requiring a litmus test, because perhaps we can still be a peace church and not necessarily be like the Quakers, Mennonites, or Brethren.

  7. Matt – good post. I appreciate your perspective and I don’t see any leaps of logic at all. Many feel that opinions with which they disagree are naturally illogical. Others try to amplify their position by declaring the opposing view “illogical.”

    I appreciate FT’s and Doug’s positions (although I vehemently disagree with them) but find none of you to be illogical in any way.

    I will say, Doug, one line you can draw between a missle drone aimed at your house and a nuclear weapon is that the nuclear weapon need not be aimed at your house, nor anywhere near it, to inflict the harm upon you. This, in my estimation, is a pretty big difference.

  8. FireTag says:

    Matt:

    I am in agreement with your position on truth in advertising. I resigned from the priesthood two years ago because, as a matter of conscience, I could not accept even minor leadership positions on issues which I believed were life destroying and on which I felt the leadership was deciding wrong. The church needs leaders who believe in the product; I’ve always been a terrible salesman for products I don’t believe in, and peace churches lost all credibility with me after the killing fields of Cambodia.

    As to your first point, I’m not pretending at all — which is not to say I may not turn out to be honestly wrong. I pay attention to Jesus because I believe Him to also be the “Cosmic Christ”, the immanent aspect of a Divinity that has transcendent aspects as well. And when I look beyond first century Palestine everywhere else in heaven or earth, I see a Godhead to whom the violence of a Hiroshima (or a Haitian earthquake) is small potatoes absorbed into a greater purpose.

    I find it easier to explain the historical Jesus as a “Christian Realist” applying such principles in the human situation in which He was placed than to explain a pacifist God applying principles of non-violence everywhere else. God maketh the asteroid to fall on both the just and the unjust.

    I too have great respect for those who sincerely adopt the pacifist position — especially as, with some of your mentors — they expect to die rather thasn fight. Those who haven’t faced that possibility, who expect that the threat isn’t real, like the Twelve who didn’t really think that Jesus would be crucified, really haven’t been tested yet. Those who haven’t thought through the morality of the use or declination to use power to protect those innocents who can neither protect themselves or wish to harm anyone else before they’ve come to their moral conclusions….. well, let’s just leave it that they haven’t thought it through yet.

    If I were better with graphics, I think I’d put two added pictures on my blog. One would be devastated Hiroshima. The other would be a Nazi death camp. I’d caption one “What happens if you fight.” I’d caption the other “What happens if you don’t.” Christian realism has to acknoeledge the fallibility, and the terrible consequences of human error in response to human sin.

    • Again, Firetag – your points are well taken, but I think it undermines your position by claiming that the alternative view is just a result of poor logic or that “they haven’t thought it through yet.”

      I’d leave open at least the possibility that a reasonable person can think things through logically and still come to a different conclusion than you do.

      As for your graphics/captions – they seem to support Matt’s thesis that violence and hate happen whether you “fight” or not – so what’s wrong with making a moral stand against it?

  9. FireTag says:

    “Those who HAVEN’T thought through the morality of the use or declination to use power to protect those innocents…”

    My criticism was directed at a specific group of people who didn’t consider the issue, not those who considered the issue carefully and reached different conclusions, BTC.

    My point is we DO have to make stands, and the stands we choose make tremendous difference to the people involved. The two pictures may be equal in some sense, but they are very different to the people involved and lead to very different futures.

    We are always making decisions that determine who lives and who dies. God doesn’t seem to allow us to opt out of the decision, because trying to opt out simply changes who dies. If we are very lucky, we get the guidance to decide how many — but we won’t know until the entire span of history is shown to us, how our choices play out.

  10. Matthew Bolton says:

    The conference has just voted to refer this resolution to the Peace and Justice Team, to study the matter and bring back a resolution to the 2013 conference. This was not a defeat, but was a disappointment. I feel discouraged that that the conference did not have the courage to make a clear stand and simply to kick the matter down the road.

    While I sympathize with Todd Elkins belief “such resolutions hardly make a difference in the pews and rarely are passed in a timely way that helps the cause.” I have to disagree. As someone who has some engagement with advocacy on the national and international level, I have found that a resolution like this is enormously helpful in advocacy to political authorities of various levels. It also gives the church leadership the assurance of a solid foundation on which to base their public statements on issues such as these.

    Like others on this forum, I am unsettled by the tendency of the conference to avoid difficult issues by simply referring them to a committee. That can hardly be considered prophetic.

    • FireTag says:

      Matt:

      We have to have some conversations in future threads about what it means to be prophetic, but I don’t think the “merits” were the reason for or against action. The conference just ran out of time because of the length of time required for dealing with internal, denominational matters.

      If the conference had gone another day, you’d have had your resolution (though not MY vote, mind you.)

      Things just run out of steam about Friday as delegates travelling by car have to travel back home. I just hope the delegates planning to travel home through Europe don’t suffer too much disruption from the closure of airspace.

  11. GREAT NEWS!! We have finally affirmed as a Church that it is contrary to Christ’s peace to condone nuclear weapons of any kind! What a huge day!

    Obviously, the motion didn’t pass, but was referred and pushed to a later date – but if you heard the sentiment in the room and felt the spirit – you would know that passage is immenent.

    Yes. That was sarcasm

  12. Susan says:

    Make no mistake. The FAILURE of this resolution to pass was a huge statement. (Referring to committee in order to avoid something so basic is failure.)This is NOT, nor will it be a peace church.

    It’s time to accept the facts of the managed decline and total lack of leadership as well as the unwillingness of the membership to learn the most basic aspects of peace.

    • FireTag says:

      Although people have been known to try to convince me otherwise, I find the most BASIC aspects of peace to be:

      1) I will not hurt you.
      2) I will not let others hurt you.
      3) I will not let you hurt others.

      I found the proposed resolution to speak much too strongly to point one, and to not really address my concerns about points two and three. I’ve suggested why I feel that way in an earlier comment to the thread, so I’ll let it go at that.

      • My problem with that position is that the only one truly withing one’s control is Number 1. Also, No. 1 can conflict with No’s 2 & 3. For these reasons, I stick with No. 1 only.

  13. FireTag says:

    Yes, BTC. The three points can come into conflict with each other, and it is finding a route to a place in which all three can exist without conflict that makes peace and justice so challenging, because all three conditions must hold before peace can be said to exist.

  14. I disagree. To say peace exists, the need for No’s 2 & 3 must be obviated. If all of us agrees not to harm another, then peace exists. To the extent one person violates that, then peace does not exist.

    We cannot control whether others choose to violate no. 1 – other than by creating conditions that diminish the incentive to do harm. Threatening to use nuclear weapons is not only a direct violation of No. 1, but it encourages violation by others who are similarly justifying their violation with the exceptions of 2 & 3. In my opinion.

  15. FireTag says:

    But Christian Realism proceeds from the position that the agreement of all people to point one will never occur unless two and three occur SIMULTANEOUSLY with one. Any human population contains predators and parasites; even microbal ecologies contain predators and parasites.

    I’m just not that worried about the kind of people who can be pursuaded by moral arguments in the first place. I just don’t think that the lamb can provide a sufficiently strong moral example of how good grass is to convinve the lion to change diet.

  16. […] a previous discussion on this blog of the Community of Christ and nuclear weapons, click here. Explore posts in the same categories: Community of Christ, Peace and Justice, […]

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