President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Sunday that he had ordered Russian nuclear forces to high alert (he called it a “special mode of combat duty”) brought to mind some of the most dangerous days of Cold War brinkmanship. For four decades, bellicose Soviet and American rhetoric and actions — from the Cuban missile crisis to Reagan administration talk of a “winnable” nuclear war — kept the world at very real risk of annihilation. (The Biden administration, to its credit, responded this week to Putin’s provocations by asserting, correctly, that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought,” as a White House offical put it to Reuters, and declined to escalate the U.S. nuclear alert status.)
Despite the ongoing threat posed by these weapons of mass death, the world’s powers — led by the United States and Russia — still possess thousands of nuclear weapons, and in many ways the Cold War mindset hasn’t changed. But neither has the movement to rid the world of this existential threat, a movement in which Christians have played prominent, and sometimes leading, roles. Sojourners has been at the forefront of this movement since our founding, grounding our work in the biblical and theological call to be peacemakers. We joined with other people of faith in efforts to “freeze” the nuclear arms race and to abolish nuclear weapons altogether. We have highlighted the stories of people of faith and others who have experienced conversion around these questions and called for nuclear abolition, from Billy Graham to Reagan cabinet members George Shultz and Henry Kissinger to, more recently, Pope Francis. And we’ve wrestled with theological questions including whether the “just war theory” is obsolete in the nuclear age, whether deterrence with world-destroying weapons is ethically defensible, and whether the existence of these weapons, which inherently threaten civilians, can ever be morally justified.
This week’s rhetoric from Russia, in the context of its unconscionable violence against Ukraine, demonstrates not only that our work for a non-nuclear world isn’t finished, but that it’s as imperative as ever. As we enter into the season of Lent, it feels appropriate that we answer Jesus’ call to be peacemakers by rededicating ourselves to eliminating these horrendous devices from the face of God’s good earth.
You can get started with this reading guide.
‘It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon’
From its beginnings, Sojourners argued that the use — and even existence of — nuclear weapons cannot be reconciled with the gospel. (1977)
New Abolitionist Covenant
In the early 1980s, Sojourners joined with other religious peace organizations to publish and organize around a Christian statement of commitments to peace and nuclear weapons abolition. (1981)
Sleepwalking in a Nuclear Minefield
Decades after the Cold War era’s buildup of nuclear weapons, major world powers still refuse to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons. (2008)
VIDEO: Hawks Against the Bomb: Why George Shultz Wants to Ban Nuclear Weapons
In an interview with Sojourners, George Shultz explains his and fellow Reagan cabinet member Henry Kissinger’s conversion to abolition and their Wall Street Journal op-ed “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” (2008)
‘A World Without Nuclear Weapons’
A December 2012 report estimates that “some 4,300 warheads are considered operational, of which about 1,800 U.S. and Russian warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.” (2013)
Nuclear Weapons: Time for Abolition
For the first time, the Vatican calls the posession of nuclear weapons “morally problematic.” (2015)
‘I Used To Believe in a Just War, But I Don’t Anymore’
Today, Christians are still reckoning with the contradiction between “love your enemies” and nuclear weapons. (2020)