Interfaith support for nuclear arms treaty

I remember as a young seminarian in Scranton joining a number of my fellow seminarians and college classmates at a protest against the proliferation of nuclear arms. Those advocating world peace at that time were calling for a treaty to begin disarmament between the Soviet Union and United States. These were the days when the bishops of the United States were vocally supporting nuclear disarmament and pushing for an end to the arms race. Their efforts culminated in their 1983 pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace.” The hope of nuclear disarmament throughout the world was partially realized when President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It seems since those heady days of disarmament and the dissolution of the USSR the hope that the world may be rid of weapons of mass destruction has fallen by the wayside.

The announcement earlier this year that President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would sign an agreement that would reduce their nuclear arsenals came as a welcomed surprise to many. On April 8, 2010, the presidents signed a new START Treaty that will reduce the nuclear arsenals of both our countries by 30 percent. The date of the signing was almost one year after President Obama’s historic speech in Prague calling for nuclear disarmament. In this speech he said, “Clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons… it will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime but at some time in the future.” John Isaacs, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation said of Obama’s speech, that it was “perhaps the most significant nuclear weapons speech since World War II” and “more important than President John F. Kennedy’s nuclear test ban speech back in the 1960s.”

People of religion have been involved in the public conversation about nuclear arms since the first atomic bombs were used in 1945. Just days after the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Protestant leaders from the Federation of Churches (precursor to the National Council of Churches), issued a statement expressing their “unmitigated condemnation” of the horrific attacks. Pope Pius XII set the teaching found in The Catechism today that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” Pope Paul VI called the use of atomic weapons “butchery of untold magnitude.” Pope John Paul II said it was “a self-destruction of mankind.”

Jewish and Christian voices have been raised in support of the ratification of the START II Treaty. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Council of World Jewry have called for the ratification of START II, “We are deeply concerned that failure to ratify the new START treaty will have national security consequences far beyond the subject of the treaty itself.” The National Council of Churches has called for ratification in a letter to U.S. senators explaining that this treaty “cannot be caught in the gridlock of Capitol Hill. Its ratification is too important for the future and security of the United States and the world. On behalf of Christians across the country, we strongly urge you to bring the treaty to a vote and to support ratification of START.”

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y. and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, called upon the Senate to set aside politics as usual and pass this important treaty. “Nuclear weapons are a grave threat to human life and dignity. Nuclear war is rejected in church teaching,” Bishop Hubbard explained, because of its deleterious devastation of human life and destruction of the environment. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed his support of Bishop Hubbard’ efforts and said, “I renew and reemphasize the position taken by my predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is ‘a steadfast supporter of strong and bipartisan action on the new START Treaty.’”

May all people of faith pray for that day when the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, when we “will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will we train for war anymore.”

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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