Millions of Americans grew up fearing nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.
We practiced taking cover under our school desks, and learned the location of the nearest air raid shelter. We watched anxiously as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded. Our nation and world survived under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). But now we find ourselves in a different world - one that includes Iran, rogue nations, clandestine terrorist groups and the ongoing threat of human error.
Few Americans worry much about a nuclear attack anymore, even though the threat is in some respects as great or greater now than it was during the Cold War. As nonpartisan statesmen like George Shultz, Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger and William Perry have written, the logic of deterrence fails to guard against the dangers of our post-Cold War era. Against these perils, the very existence of nuclear weapons may be more of a liability than an asset.
Christians hold that all people bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, human life and freedom are precious and should be defended from injustice and tyranny. Nuclear weapons, with their capacity for terror as well as for destruction of human life, raise profound spiritual, moral and ethical concerns.
We question the acceptability of nuclear weapons as part of a just national defense. The just war tradition admonishes against indiscriminate violence and requires proportionality and limited collateral damage. New scientific studies reveal that even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would have profound global consequences, harming billions of innocents. The very weapons meant to restrain evil could potentially destroy all that they were intended to protect.
In our globalizing world, security cannot be obtained by threatening retaliation after a nuclear strike. Instead, our security - as well as our commitment to seeking genuine peace -requires that we eliminate the very possibility of such an attack. Russia and the United States now share a common interest, along with the other nations of the world, to see that no nuclear weapon ever falls into the hands of terrorists or madmen. We must partner to keep nuclear missiles and warheads under control, just as we are doing with chemical and biological weapons.
As leaders in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), we believe thoughtful application of evangelical principles and consideration of the current realities support:
Re-examining the moral and ethical basis for the doctrine of nuclear deterrence
Maintaining the taboo against nuclear use
Achieving verified mutual reductions in current nuclear stockpiles
Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Increasing safeguards against accidental use
Resolving regional conflicts
Preventing the unauthorized spread of fissile material
Continuing dialogue on the effects of possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons
Jesus called people to reconciliation with God and with one another. Evangelicals seek to promote spiritual transformation leading to peace with God and neighbor (Romans 12:14). As evangelical Christians, we therefore call all nations to prayer and preparation. We call for prayer to keep all people safe from nuclear attack. We pray for our nation and others to acknowledge the danger and take responsibility to reduce nuclear weapons everywhere. And we ask our elected leaders and candidates for public office to consider carefully the issues raised by nuclear weapons, and to explain the strategic and moral basis for their positions.
In President Reagan’s historic 1983 “Evil Empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, he asked evangelicals to support keeping “America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals and one day, with God’s help, their total elimination.” Nearly three decades later, his call is more urgent than ever. And for those who cannot imagine such an outcome, we say: let us at least begin the work.
Leith Anderson is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Dennis Hollinger is President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. John Jenkins is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden. Jo Anne Lyon is General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. The authors are members of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals, which at its October 13 meeting passed a resolution on nuclear weapons, on which the foregoing is based. The full resolution is available at www.nae.net.