The famed Chautauqua Institution devoted this entire week to the theme of nuclear disarmament. It is a sign of the times. Chautauqua has often been known for sensing the nation's pulse and what is on the cutting edge of its thinking. And after becoming a dormant public issue since the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear weapons has again created a new movement toward the goal of a world without them.
One important sign of a shifting mindset came in 2007 when four of America's preeminent Cold Warriors -- George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and Henry Kissinger -- made headlines by co-authoring an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal saying, "The world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era." One year later, they wrote another WSJ column that began with the sentence, "The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point."
Former Senator Sam Nunn, a consistent hawk who always talked about "political realism" when he represented Georgia in the U.S. Senate, was a speaker at Chautauqua on Monday and got a standing ovation when he called for a "world free of nuclear weapons." That, according to Nunn and his fellow four horsemen, is the only realistic way to security now. As the men have warned, "The likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing ... We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands."
In fact, nuclear weapons in any human hands have always been dangerous. The failure of the United States and Russia to disarm their largest nuclear arsenals after the Cold War is a principle cause of the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons to more countries, failed states, and even terrorist organizations.
And now, we have a president who cares about nuclear disarmament. In the spring of 2009, in his first major speech in Europe -- in Prague -- Barack Obama affirmed his commitment. He pledged that "as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." I am told that this is something that keeps Obama up at night.
But for me, perhaps the most important sign of the times is a new generation of young Christian leaders who have identified nuclear weapons as an issue of faith -- much as we did as young Christian activists in the 1980s. Their commitment is best exemplified by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson and his Two Futures Project, which calls itself "a movement of American Christians for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. We believe that we face two futures and one choice: a world without nuclear weapons or a world ruined by them. We support the multilateral, global, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, as a biblically grounded mandate and as a contemporary security imperative."
Tyler gave an amazing speech at Chautauqua this week, and was down in front when I spoke yesterday. Sojourners was a leader in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons in the 1970s and '80s, and I described that history -- how the faith community was the animating core of that initiative for peace in the midst of the Cold War. I told the audience that when Tyler first called me about a new statement of Christian leaders that he had initiated and asked if I would sign it, I wept after putting down the phone. A new generation had decided to pick up the nuclear challenge once again, and would now be an intellectual and spiritual force for the disarmament that is now so crucial to the security of the world and of my two boys. Spending the day with Tyler and his wife Natalie was the highlight of my visit to Chautauqua.
To reverse the habits of the heart -- the assumptions and policies that have dominated U.S. national security policy for more than 60 years -- will be a monumental achievement. And the pressures against that happening will be enormous. Indeed, this is a job for faith -- and for the kind of social movements that faith at its best has always inspired. The energetic commitment of a new generation of believers in accomplishing this magnificent goal will be absolutely crucial. Perhaps after all the years of struggle on the huge theological and political issues surrounding nuclear weapons, the time for a new beginning has finally come. It's time to end the nuclear threat to our world, our humanity, and our faith.
The response of the people at Chautauqua to that call this week gave me a new sense of hope.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com.