The Ecumenical Movement and the Nuclear Question
Religion & Liberty Online

The Ecumenical Movement and the Nuclear Question

It’s worth noting that the original context of engagement of the ecumenical movement by figures like Paul Ramsey and Ernest Lefever (two voices that figure prominently in my book, Ecumenical Babel) had much to do with foreign policy and the Cold War, and specifically the question of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Last week marked the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki detonation. As ENI reports (full story after the break), the ecumenical advocacy against nuclear weapons has not abated since the 1960s.

The question of nuclear weapons is a complex one, that involves distinctions between ius ad bellum and ius in bello, strategic and tactical nuclear devices, and combatants and non-combatants. Kishore Jayabalan has also made the case that we also need to distinguish between different kinds of regimes.

It may well be that the question of nuclear weapons is analogous to the question of capital punishment: the government might well have the theoretical right to prosecute it, but given the practical limitations of human fallibility, there may be no morally-sound way to practically implement it.

As Paul Ramsey wrote of the nuclear question in 1967, however, the position that it is acceptable to possess the weapons only on the condition that they never be used is incoherent:

The actuality of deterrence depends upon a credible belief, mutually shared, that one might use a nuclear weapon. If the government of one of the great powers were persuaded by the churches never to be willing to use any nuclear weapon under any circumstances, and this were known, there would be instantly no deterrence and therefore no practical problem of finding a way out. Likewise, the morality of deterrence depends upon it not being wholly immoral for a government ever to use an atomic weapon under any circumstances.

Nuclear weapons about values, says pastor who survived Hiroshima

By Hisashi Yukimoto
Tokyo, 4 August (ENI)–A Japanese pastor who became a Christian after surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima says his decades-long pursuit of peace has involved a resistance to “nuclear weapons in the human mind”.

In his autobiography published in May, the 82-year-old pastor, the Rev. Shouzo Munetou, of the United Church of Christ in Japan, writes that nuclear weapons are “a symbol of the devil that was produced by egoism, greed, pride, conceit, enmity, hatred”.

Munetou contracted leukaemia after being affected by radiation from the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 in the closing days of the Second World War. This led to him questioning why he had survived and what life meant to him.

“The problem of nuclear weapons is not only a matter of weapons, science and technology, but also a matter of human existence, values, way of life, and thoughts that do not fear God,” Munetou told ENInews.

The United States is to be represented this year, for the first time, at the commemoration of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, is to attend the event, as well as diplomats from Britain and France.

It is believed that at least 150 000 people died as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima and the dropping of another atomic bomb three days later on the city of Nagasaki.

After surviving the bombing and the radiation, Munetou became a Christian and then resolved to train to be a pastor. He studied in Tokyo and San Francisco, where he wrote his master’s theses on the apostle Paul’s understanding of human sin, and on the relationship between Church and State in the writings of Karl Barth, a Swiss Protestant theologian.

“The beginning of my steps as a pastor for 50 years has been simply these two master’s theses, that is, the issue of human sin and forgiveness and what the social mission of one who has been forgiven is,” he writes in his book.

Munetou says the atomic bombing was “a result of a war of aggression and colonial rule in Asia by Japanese militarism, which cannot be talked about without a deep repentance as one who supported and cooperated with causing the war of aggression”.

He has been actively involved in peace movements and Christian actions to promote world peace, and has written several books on peace and Christianity.

Munetou said the world church “has an obligation and a responsibility to continue to say ‘No!’ without any ‘Yes’ to nuclear weapons that are against humanity and the absolute evil that plunges humanity into ruin and is incompatible with Christian faith”.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.