Nuclear Disarmament: Are the Churches the Key?

I came back from the Peace and Planet conference last weekend in New York City with several big takeaways.

Perhaps top of mind was the impression made by the massive turnout by people from all over to Japan to say: “Hello? United States? Nuclear weapons still? What the hell?”  (See “Two nuclear weapons hit our country in 1945. It is not necessary” on the Chicago Nuclear Injury Action Groupwebsite.)

Representatives of Zenkyo (All-Japan Federation of Teachers’
and Staff Unions) and Gensuikyo (Japan Council Against the
Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) with their banners at the Peace
and Planet rally in Union Square on April 26.

But perhaps the deepest and most encouraging part of the weekend was a meeting of “church people.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis: “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of
mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for
an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence
among peoples and states.”

The big breakthrough came in December at the time of the Vienna conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons. Pope Francis issued a message to the conference that is a clear call for nuclear disarmament.

This was discussed at length at the Peace and Planet conference by the Rev. Paul Lansu, representing Pax Christi International.

Particularly important: the Pope takes the position that it is not just the use of nuclear weapons that is intolerable; it is also the threat of their use, and therefore their existence.

See the full statement of Pope Francis on nuclear disarmament.

So . . . 1.214 billion Roman Catholics worldwide (17.5% of the world population) saying “It’s time for the elimination of nuclear weapons . . . “ ?

Oikoumene (“Habitable World”)

Jonathan Frerichs from the World Council of Churches provided information on the way many other Christian denominations have long-standing social statements that oppose nuclear weapons.

The question now is whether these denominations will put nuclear disarmament on the front burner, where it belongs.

(For more on the World Council of Churches, see explains that “the ecumene (US) or oecumene (UK; Greek: οἰκουμένη, oikouménē, lit. “inhabited”) was an ancient Greek term for the known world, the inhabited world, or the habitable world.)


The Rev. Kristin Stoneking from Fellowship of Reconciliation spoke about the need to broaden our way of talking about how people conceive themselves and the process of getting into right relationship with God and the world. There are differences in the way major faith traditions talk about this.

Imagine how productive it could be for faith leaders from the Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and other faith traditions to sit down together and talk openly about whether, in fact, nuclear weapons are tolerable to their followers. (I’d watch that on Youtube!)

Owning It

These signs of progress are hopeful. They are needed. But I am afraid they are not sufficient.

Marc Chagall, Noah lets go the dove through 
the window of the Ark (Genesis VIII, 6 9)

The question that I asked in this meeting was: “I wonder if people of faith will only really be able to become a force for the elimination of nuclear weapons when their respective religions accept — “own” — the role that religion itself has played in bringing about the situation in which nuclear weapons exist today.”

One of the things I was thinking of was the efforts of Christian denominations to work for peace and justice in the Israel/Palestine, and the way that only becomes possible when the Church (and the West) “own” their centuries of colonization (geographic and conceptual) of the Holy Land. (See “The churches provide the software” on theFaith in the Face of Empire website.)

I was also thinking of the way in which, during the period of rapid increase in popular awareness of the extent of the climate crisis during the past few years, faith leaders have stepped up and “owned” the role of the church in fostering ideas of “man’s dominion over creation” that have laid the foundation for disaster. (See “The disappearance of dominion thinking in the Christian climate change debate”)

So: what will it take for faith traditions to “own” their role in bringing us to the nuclear precipice?


Go to your
and ask:
“What will it take
for our community
to work 
for nuclear disarmament
as if we really knew
it’s up to us
to save the world?”
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