Methodists Reject Nuclear Deterrence

Times Staff Writer

The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church--in the strongest stance taken by any major religious organization--voted unanimously Tuesday to reject the idea of nuclear deterrence, any use of atomic weapons and the concept of justifiable war.

The council also spurned President Reagan’s “Star Wars” strategic defense initiative.

“Space defenses may well have provocative and dangerous offensive implications,” the bishops warned. “They threaten to become obstacles to new arms control agreements.”


“We have said a clear and unconditional ‘no’ to nuclear war and to any use of nuclear weapons,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter to be disseminated both outside the church and to the United Methodist Church’s 9.4 million members.

‘Social Justice Issue’

“We have concluded that nuclear deterrence is a position which cannot receive the church’s blessing. We have stated our complete lack of confidence in proposed ‘defenses’ against nuclear attack and are convinced that the enormous cost of developing such defenses is one more witness to the obvious fact that the arms race is a social justice issue, not only a war and peace issue.”

The letter and a 30,000-word teaching statement accompanying it went beyond the tough anti-nuclear positions taken by the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops in 1983 and by the Episcopal Church a year earlier. Both of those groups conditionally accepted the concept of deterrence.

In their teaching statement, the Methodists--third-largest religious group in the United States--made clear their abhorrence of the deterrence concept.

‘No Unilateral Security’

“Nuclear deterrence has too long been reverenced as the idol of national security,” the bishops said. “In its most idolatrous forms it has blinded its proponents to the many-sided requirements of genuine security. There can be no unilateral security in the nuclear age.”

After the unanimous vote of the gathering of about 100 bishops in Morristown, N.J., the church leaders stood and applauded.

“It’s a great moment in history,” Bishop C. Dale White of New York, co-chairman of the peace project, quietly told a colleague.

The Soviet nuclear power plant disaster in the Ukraine this week was on the minds of many at the conference. “I live pretty close to the station that discovered the atomic fallout the other day and, having my children there, this issue is close to my heart,” said Bishop Ole E. Borgen, the council’s president, who lives in Sweden.

“This ought to sober us all to realize we are putting unprecedented trust in the engineering capacity of human beings,” White added. “The next accident could involve a missile, and it could go awry.”

The Methodist bishops’ document took more than two years to prepare. From the first paragraph, it came down hard against the use and storage of nuclear weapons.

‘Creation Under Attack’

“Creation itself is under attack,” the bishops said. “Air and water, trees and fruits and flowers, birds and fish and cattle, all children and youth, women and men live under the darkening shadows of a threatening nuclear winter.

” . . . It is a crisis that threatens to assault not only the whole human family but planet Earth itself, even while the arms race itself cruelly destroys millions of lives in conventional wars, repressive violence and massive poverty.”

The bishops said that the concept of an ethically justifiable war, which originated with St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, is inappropriate to the nuclear age.

“When governments themselves become destroyers of community and threats to the Creation, when they usurp the sovereignty which belongs to God alone,” the bishops wrote, “they are rightly subject to protest and resistance.”

The religious leaders called for a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing and a mutual, verifiable freeze on the production and deployment of nuclear weapons, among other steps such as banning offensive and defensive weapons from space and a rapid, phased reduction of nuclear arsenals.

“The ‘nuclearism’ that permeates a whole culture is reflected psychologically in a simultaneous denial of the problem and a sense of helplessness to cope with it,” the bishops said. “There is a growing fear of ‘futurelessness’ among young people.

“For young people and for all citizens, the legitimate need for self-respect as a nation must be lifted above the relentless barrage of aggressive, competitive and chauvinistic sentiments which assault them not only in political rhetoric, but in commercial, recreational and even educational institutions. Peacemaking must be celebrated as a patriotic commitment.”