Deliver Us From Evil – the Church and the Bomb
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Church of England? Probably not nuclear weapons. But last month (8-Jul-18) the Church held a debate on the morality of the atomic bomb. They voted overwhelmingly in support of the UN Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.
The internal report The Ethics Of Nuclear Weapons informed the debate at the Church’s The report concludes that nukes are ‘uniquely terrible’ and ‘there is a legal and moral obligation… to take all practical and prudent steps towards achieving a situation in which none remain in existence anywhere.’
During the debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell said, “No circumstances” could ever justify the use of nukes. “Our holding them only makes them seem more attractive to other nation states”. He quoted Pope Francis, “Their possession is as bad as their use”.
Dr John Mason (Chester) described the “Moving, gut-wrenching experience” of his visit to Hiroshima. That the Japanese had no malice towards those who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is ironic, he said, given the position of the UK.
Paul Bayes (Bishop of Liverpool) said it’s time for the Church to do something. The matter is urgent because society is, “Less interested” in the “Threat of imminent mass destruction” than ever before.
It’s not the first time the Church has wrestled with the issue of nukes.
The insightful 1982 report The Church and the Bomb concluded that nukes are ‘evil’ and ‘anti-God’. Because they can annihilate mankind and destroy Creation.
And in 2007 the Church ruled that renewing Trident ‘is contrary to the spirit of the UK’s obligations in international law’. Maybe that’s a euphemism for breaking the law.
And now the Church of England joins all the other mainstream churches in the UK in support of the Ban Treaty.
But does the Church have much influence in the political sphere? Will the message get from Pulpit to Parliament?
It certainly has the opportunity. The Church has a role in Parliament that groups like CND can only dream about.
In the House of Commons, an MP is appointed to speak on behalf of the Church. There is also a Chaplain, who leads the House in prayers each day. The Chaplain also offers pastoral and spiritual care to MPs.
In the House of Lords, Bishops lead prayers and speak on many issues of concern, including nukes. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke on the 28th January 2018 about the “Moral, lethal extravagance” of nukes.
The motion was carried by 260 votes to 26. It read:
That this Synod, mindful that a faithful commemoration of the centenary of the 1918 Armistice must commit the Church afresh to peace building; and conscious that nuclear weapons, through their indiscriminate and destructive potential, present a distinct category of weaponry that requires Christians to work tirelessly for their elimination across the world:
(a) welcome the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the clear signal it sends by a majority of UN Member States that nuclear weapons are both dangerous and unnecessary;
(b) call on Her Majesty’s Government to respond positively to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by reiterating publicly its obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its strategy for meeting them; and
(c) commit the Church of England to work with its Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners in addressing the regional and international security concerns which drive nations to possess and seek nuclear weapons and to work towards achieving a genuine peace through their elimination.
Nuclear weapons and the Church of England are as relevant today as when Canon L. John Collins led the very first CND meeting in 1958. But there is one important difference. Sixty years ago it was just one brave man speaking out. Today the whole Church is leading the Christian campaign for nuclear disarmament.
Sixty years is long enough. It’s time for the Government to stop sleeping in the pews, pay attention to the sermon, and make amends… while there is still time to do so.