Americans of faith must reconsider stands on nuclear terrorism (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) Setsuko Thurlow was 13 when “progress” came to Hiroshima in a white-hot flash. In the dark silence following the nuclear bomb blast, Thurlow recalls children crying, “Mama, help me. God, help me.”

Her sister lived for four days. Many of her 351 dying schoolmates “looked like skeletons with skin hanging from their bones.” They perished in agony.

Nuclear Explosion ConceptToday, Thurlow and other survivors travel the globe, sharing their stories with a new generation for which nuclear weapons are an afterthought — seemingly a hypothetical and abstract threat.

The end of the Cold War had a mixed effect on the nuclear equation. Through dogged diplomacy and effective institutions, disarmament continues, though at a slower pace in recent years. There are now 10,000 operational nuclear warheads in the world, down from a high of 64,000 in 1986.

But the specter of nuclear terrorism and regional conflicts between nuclear weapons states makes nuclear weapons even more dangerous in our international system. Deterrence theory, which governed strategic thinking during the Cold War, is a much less compelling framework today.

Thankfully, most states have forsworn these armaments. Nuclear weapons are not vital to any state’s legitimate security interest. No state or NGO has the capacity to respond to the unfathomable humanitarian crisis that would follow an accidental or intentional use of a nuclear weapon.

Thus a growing global consensus now acknowledges the extreme risk nuclear weapons pose.

Pope John XXIII stated unequivocally in his 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” “Nuclear weapons must be banned.”

Though many Christian ethicists conditionally accepted the logic of deterrence during the Cold War, it is time for Americans to reconsider the theological and ethical principles that compel them to oppose (or favor) nuclear weapons.

Hard-nosed realists may scoff at religious idealism, but the faith community has a role to play. At a minimum, it should demand that the United States and other parties honor their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The global concern about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons invites Americans of faith to engage a vital issue after years of complacency. There is precedent for such activism. Denominational offices in Washington and religious activists and ecumenical coalitions have contributed meaningfully to arms control efforts. Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions supporting nuclear disarmament in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now is the time for every person of conscience to join and affirm the global ecumenical consensus against nuclear weapons. We must honor the witness of survivors like Setsuko Thurlow. We must remember the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children — born and unborn — killed or maimed by nuclear attacks and tests.

The Vatican has been particularly active and increasingly vocal in promoting its belief that a world without nuclear weapons is possible. Late last year, Pope Francis said, “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”

The present moment calls on Christians to question the morality of weapons devised to indiscriminately vaporize and incinerate innocent human beings who bear the image of God.

The path forward is difficult, but the risk of calamity is too great to ignore. If millions of Americans shed our indifference and engaged nuclear security issues with moral clarity, we could truly change the world. We might even help save it.

(Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at Religion News Service and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University. His website is Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf.)

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RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Richard Hicks

Dresden and Tokyo had been burned to the ground with higher death rates by conventional fire bombing. Do the math. Thank you, Richard Hicks, OKC


300 planes, 1600 tons of explosives, 80-120 thousand dead. 14 planes lost.
1250 panes, 3900 tons of explosives, 25 thousand dead
one plane, one bomb, 70 thousand estimated dead
one plane, one bomb, 40 thousand estimated dead

Not sure the point of the math. War is ugly but we know that already.


The bombing of Japan was a legitimate act of warfare which ended the war and avoided uncountable additional deaths for both Japan and America. The vicious fight for Okinawa was enough to convince Truman that using atomic weapons was clearly justified. The bombing gave the Japanese Emperor the face saving reason he needed to issue a surrender document without risking a coup by the Japanese Army which could have happened. To quote the Emperor’s statement; “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover, the… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler

I was in agreement with all you said up until the bit about maintaining a military presence in the Middle East.and that Israel is “our closest ally in the region.” Israel under Likud is not a reliable ally and the willingness of Netanyahu to exploit the boobs in Congress show the intense corruption and manipulation by Likud of the stupid. Better to withdraw from the fire than waste American lives there.

Paul W.
Paul W.

A fellow named Jack has a great comment attached to the original RNS article that pretty much sums up these kind of “opinion pieces”: To clarify one point in the article, I am somewhat familiar with the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution from 1983. The nuclear disarmament statement was actually a compromise statement since a faction within the SBC was advocating for endorsement of a “nuclear freeze” which was rejected. The compromise wording adopted was “we go on record as prayerfully desiring an eventual nuclear disarmament, provided it would in no way compromise the security of our nation by being… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler

ISTM his comment was meanspirited, and pretty much revealed his jealousy of people who were cooler than he was. The U.S. never had to take the risks for survival that the Soviets and Chinese did. We were content to murder a few million Vietnamese and a few hundred thousand Iraqis because it was no skin off our nose. What was going on in the Cold War was Americans were kept fearful by politicians who exploited that fear. Invading Grenada was a great gambit for distracting the corporate media from our sacrifice of 250 Marines in Beirut, Lebanon. Interestingly, these days,… Read more »

Paul W.
Paul W.

I disagree with most of your interpretation of historical events but it might surprise you that I view McNamara, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in the group of folks that did not have U.S. interests at heart. Also, I am a huge proponent of mandatory conscription — I think the U.S. would be in a very different and better place if everyone’s sons spent at least a year in the military — there is something very wrong when there is a war going on and most of the population hardly notices. Also, what “risks to survival” for the Soviets and Chinese are… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler

I have long favored mandatory national service, either military or civilian, for young people following high school, including those who have reproduced and the hoamskuled. We need people in the military to hate it, and the way people overindulge kids these days they need to be weaned from Mommy and daddy’s coddling. Have you ever played “Risk,” the board game of world conquest? Players receive extra armies for controlling continents. Australia and South America are easy to take, but you get a measly two extra armies each turn and there’s only one avenue of attack. Asia (7) and Europe (5)… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler

The best way to end the nuclear threat is world government. This is complicated because the foremost opponent of world government as a group is the right-wing within the United States, the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons against an enemy. The best way to pave the way, slowly but surely to to remove the right-wing from all seats of power. It is my fervent hope this begins with the Likud Party losing its’ predominent role in the Israeli government and the end of the corrupt Netanyahu regime’s stranglehold there. Remove Likud, and there’s a path to peace. If… Read more »

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