Do we have enough hope?
The first legally binding international agreement to ban nuclear weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021. None of the nine nuclear states, including the UK, have signed the treaty.
Martin Tiller explains how the church can bring about change
“My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that He cannot do (clap clap)”
You may have sung it at Sunday School, or taught it to others. And in our adult lives we continue to make similar bold professions. There is an area, however, in which it seems that many UK Christians have forgotten this hope.
Britain is one of just nine countries which still maintains that nuclear weapons are a “necessary evil” to protect us from present or future threats. Christians have been praying regularly for peace since the earliest times. If we believe that nuclear weapons are now here to stay, are we denying the words of that chorus? Or are we actually suggesting that the weapons are His answer to those prayers, as they maintain the peace?
Nobody wants a nuclear war, obviously. Since about 1990 we have been collectively forgetting just how awful it would be, but we are still clear that, in the words of Ronald Reagan, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The only debate among the sane majority is how best to avoid it.
In the UK we have been brought up on Deterrence Theory. Space does not permit a full discussion of this doctrine here; suffice to say, it takes some gymnastics to reconcile it with “love thy neighbour”. Are we happy if other countries take this stance towards us (Luke 6:31)? Would we apply it to any other type of Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD), or just the ones we already possess? Not many of us would even consider “deterrence” to be a justification for executing individual criminals, so why entire cities? The book of Jonah is just one Biblical example where God’s mercy goes far beyond our narrow conception of how His standards should be upheld.
Some say you cannot “uninvent” nuclear weapons. But you cannot uninvent cannibalism or slavery either; this does not mean they deserve state sanction and vast investment from our ailing public finances. Still less should those of us who celebrate the Prince of Peace meekly accept that the current situation is as good as we can hope for.
Some say it is naïve to believe we can ever persuade the politicians to get rid of these things. See the opening quotation again; and in fact, the naivety belongs to those who think we can carry on as we are now without a nuclear weapon ever being used. It is naïve to assume that all current and future political or military leaders will never use them. It is also naïve to ignore the risk of accidental use, particularly with the rise of cybercrime.
Ah, but we will get rid of our nuclear weapons when the conditions are right, say the politicians. Just be patient! But there were many well-documented cases in the last 70 years when we had a very lucky escape. Will we last another 70 years? Would even that represent adequate stewardship of God’s earth? Are we happy to leave it to future generations to make the world a safer place?
The majority of the nations are becoming increasingly exasperated about the way in which the “nuclear nine” are risking all of our futures. In the long-standing Non-Proliferation Treaty (1970), the UK and others agreed to “pursue negotiations in good faith … to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
Frustrated by the stalled and reversing progress on this commitment, the United Nations has now agreed a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which has the support of 130 nation states. Some are small countries like Vanuatu, but the list also includes countries like Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines and pretty much the whole of Africa. The UK government has refused to participate in the process at all, and has stated that it will never join the Treaty.
Nevertheless, the TPNW entered into force on 22 January 2021, to widespread rejoicing and thanksgiving around the world. Nuclear Weapons will be outlawed under international law, as every other type of WMD already is, but the UK will not recognise this law.
Some say this is politics, and the church should stay out of it. They said the same about debt relief, poverty alleviation and climate action! In any case, to quote Archbishop Stephen Cottrell, “We are not telling our government what to do, we are asking them to stop telling us what they will not do, and work towards developing plans that will rid the world of the danger and expense of nuclear weapons.”
There are many important issues facing Christians, but this one demands more engagement and hope. How?
Firstly, we can make our prayers for peace more specific, informed, and credible. Christian CND produces a monthly prayer diary which may help.
Secondly, we must simply get this issue back on the agenda, and start to mean it when we say “there’s nothing that He cannot do”. Ask your politicians what they are doing to free future generations from this threat. Don’t be naïve. There are powerful forces in play here and we need to engage with them, prayerfully and persistently. As we have seen with poverty alleviation and, more recently, climate change, when the churches rise up and an intractable issue becomes mainstream, change can happen.
To quote from the hymn God of Grace and God of Glory:
"Save us from weak resignation to the perils we deplore… Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore.”
Martin Tiller is a member of Rugby Baptist Church and part of the Executive Committee of the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Baptist Union and the nuclear weapons debate On the eve of the United Nation’s “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” becoming international law, Steve Tinning highlights our journey towards a call for nuclear disarmament
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