In the wake of a survey that showed evangelical churches and other institutions have been largely silent in the public debate on nuclear war, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has begun a new program to stir its members to play a larger role in such discussions.

The NAE report said that the failure of evangelical churches to develop a distinctive perspective on war and peace issues has left them "susceptible to external political pressures from both the left and the right."

The report called on evangelicals on both sides to acknowledge that there is a "legitimate plurality of ethical and political perspectives" on the question and to "learn how to live with differing opinions on these matters."

In a related development, the United Methodist Council of Bishops moved unanimously to authorize a comprehensive two-year program of study and action on "The Nuclear Crisis and the Pursuit of Peace."

The United Methodist bishops, who guide the nation's second largest Protestant denomination, will work with the Washington-based Center for Theology and Public Policy to develop a major study document and a pastoral letter on the topic.

In addition, each bishop will be responsible for implementing the procedures of the study within his or her own area.