We live in a world where our newspapers and television screens are filled daily with reports of violence from nearly every continent and region. While there is no one root cause for this violence, too much of it is spread and escalated through the illegal and under-regulated international trade of weapons. Countries are coming together in July to negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty, the first-ever international agreement that would close loopholes in international laws and regulate the sale of arms between nations. As Christian leaders, our faith compels us to speak out in favor of this treaty and its ability to promote peace and security for all God’s children.
The United States, largest arms exporter in the world, is also considered by many to set the gold standard for regulation and oversight of weapons transfers. However, other nations, including many where our churches do missions, have not been as willing to self-regulate. The discrepancies in international law create loopholes that have been exploited to create a thriving small arms black market that arms terrorists, warlords, and dictators.
This is a global problem that requires global solutions, and our country has a moral obligation to take a lead in advocating for a robust arms treaty. This will not only need to help stem the flow of weapons into the black market but also block their sale when those weapons are expected to be used in violation of international humanitarian law. Since many conflict zones already are teaming with weapons, we must ensure ammunition is also included in this treaty.
Despite claims made in some recent fundraising attempts by the gun lobby, the Arms Trade Treaty only addresses international trade and will have no bearing on domestic gun laws (or legitimate international trade between states). Instead it would focus on stemming the flow of weapons onto the international black and grey markets and into the hands of warlords, drug dealers, and terrorists.
Time and again we have heard our missionaries, relief workers, and brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe share the stories of struggle and horror. Women who must walk miles each day to draw water for their families face the real likelihood that they will be raped at gunpoint. Families in impoverished regions live with the knowledge that at any moment they could be forced from their homes by violent conflict in which they play no part. Parents carry with them the ever present dread that the next innocent victim caught in gun fire could be their child. The Psalmist cries out, “Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers; protect me from those who are violent.”
As Christian leaders, we wrestle with the tension present between Christ’s command that Christians should “turn the other cheek” and the Apostle Paul’s admonition that “the state does not bear the sword in vain.” But while we may come from traditions that take a different perspective on whether violence can be justified, we all support a treaty that takes a first step toward its end by curtailing the access to weapons by those bent on evil.
One treaty alone cannot end war and violence, but the Arms Trade Treaty can make a difference in the lives of thousands of people the world over. Scripture teaches that those who have the ability to act have a responsibility to use their power to help others. While we wait for the day when our swords will be beaten into ploughshares, we must do what we can here and now to stem the flow of illegal weapons and bring peace to a violence torn world. A good way for the U.S. to start is to support the Arms Trade Treaty.
Kathryn Mary Lohre is director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, assistant director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and the 26th president of the National Council of Churches.