United Methodist bishops, in a long, deliberative process, are drawing up a denunciation of nuclear war and weaponry, and it seems likely to be stronger than the firm rebuke by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops.
Instead of conditionally accepting nuclear deterrence, as the Catholic bishops did, a preliminary draft of the Methodist document declares that nuclear deterrence “cannot receive the churches’ blessing.”
Any moral case for that policy, “even as an interim ethic, has been undermined by the unrelenting arms escalation,” the draft says, with deterrence becoming a “dogmatic license for perpetual hostility” and for resisting arms control.
Beyond that key difference, the Methodist bishops’ views generally concur with those of their Catholic counterparts, and the document praises them, as well as the World Council of Churches, for their condemnations of nuclear war and arms buildup.
Declaring that the “passing years of the Nuclear Age keep multiplying the dangers,” the Methodist draft says:
“The whole earth is now threatened by conflicts among nations, by tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and by injustices which give rise to terror and repression. The Creation itself is under attack.
“God’s sovereignty is denied. The most blasphemous evils are committed and prepared by the policies of governments.”
The Methodist bishops have been working on their document for more than a year, gathering testimony from military and scientific experts, as well as theologians.
A first draft of the pastoral letter and an accompanying study document were tentatively approved at a mid-November meeting in Wichita, Kan., of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Based on discussions there, further refinements were planned before final adoption at the bishops’ semiannual meeting April 28 to May 2 in Morristown, N.J.
Bishop C. P. Minnick Jr. of Raleigh, N.C., who co-chairs the project with Bishop C. Dale White of New York, said the documents are not intended to reflect a consensus of the church but to be “pastoral and prophetic words.”
The church, second largest to Southern Baptists in Protestantism, has 10 million members, including 1 million overseas. Its bishops’ council has 110 members, 50 of them retired.
Entitled “In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace,” the draft of the 1,500-word letter, accompanied by a 30,000-word study document, declares:
“As bishops, we are now impelled to say No, a clear and unconditioned No, to nuclear war and to any use of nuclear weapons.”
Without specifically naming the Strategic Defense Initiative pushed by President Reagan, often called “Star Wars,” the draft calls for a “ban on all space weapons,” either offensive or defensive, saying:
“We have no confidence in proposed ‘defenses’ against nuclear attack, and we are greatly troubled by the enormous costs of trying to develop them.”
Like the Catholic bishops, the Methodist draft urges a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests and a multilateral, verifiable freeze on production, testing or deployment of nuclear weapons.
The document also calls for phased rapid reduction of nuclear arsenals, agreements on “no first use” of nuclear weapons, and withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from forward defense areas.
All “major counterforce weapons” on both sides are condemned, including the U.S. MX, Trident and Pershing II missiles and the Soviet SS-18 and SS-19 land-based missiles and Typhoon submarines and missiles.
Declaring that nuclear weapons have made Christianity’s “just war” theories obsolete, the draft says the principle of discrimination, barring attacks on non-combatant civilians, “is bound to be horribly violated” in any nuclear war.
“We cannot imagine that the norm of proportionality can be meaningfully honored in a nuclear war, since such a war could not be waged with the intention of doing more good than harm,” the paper adds.
Focus on Jesus Urged
While extensive references are made to Christ, retired Bishop John B. Warman of Friendship, Md., advocated at the Wichita meeting that the paper focus even more on Jesus.
While some things in the documents are debatable, Warman said, “one thing that cannot be argued is that we oppose the nuclear weapon because we want to obey Jesus. No one can imagine Jesus using the nuclear weapon.”
The document drew broad support. Bishop William B. Grove of Charleston, W.Va., praised the paper for pointing to human stewardship of all creation. He said: “To hold the creation of God hostage to human systems is blasphemy.”
Noting that world military spending now approaches $1 trillion a year, the documents say the arms race not only threatens destruction of Earth but also “destroys millions of lives in conventional wars, repressive violence and massive poverty.”
The draft says the U.S. military buildup cost $1.2 trillion from 1980 to 1985, or more than $20,000 per average family of four, and in 1986 will amount to more than half all discretionary spending by Congress. The draft notes:
“U.S. arms are now being purchased with food stamps, welfare checks, rent subsidies, Medicaid payments, school lunches and nutrition supplements for poor mothers and their children.”