Since the 1940s, children in school have learned about August 6 and August 9, 1945—days when multitudes of Japanese people, many of whom were innocent civilians, were killed by atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. military, ending World War II. Though far from a simple, black and white moral decision, the U.S. government at the time believed such drastic measures were necessary to end the long war with Japan. Earlier this week, Presbyterian News Service published a World Council of Churches article, “Lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings still need to be applied seven decades later”, in commemoration of this week being the 69th anniversary of the horrific bombings on Japan.
In a statement published on Tuesday, August 5, Isabel Apawo Phiri, associate and acting general secretary of the World Council, said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered these terrible attacks and to the aging survivors among them who still cry ‘Never again’ today.”
The World Council of Churches has at times been criticized by conservative Christian groups for numerous reasons, among them being that the Council’s focus is all too often on political issues and not gospel-centered enough. While there may be some truth to that criticism, the Council’s emphatic voice against nuclear warfare is a Christ-honoring, Biblical stance to take. Contrary to common misconception, the Council is not comprised solely of ultra-liberal churches. While there are certainly liberal churches represented (United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, etc.), there are also churches on the other end of the spectrum represented—the Orthodox Church in America, for instance.
Presbyterian News Service reported that during their meeting last month, the 150 delegates of the Council’s Central Committee affirmed that “nuclear weapons cannot be reconciled with real peace”. The delegates described using the energy that God has placed within the atom to create such a destructive weapon as “misuse of God’s creation.”
The report also stated that World Council of Churches has asked its member churches to pray that the governments who depend on nuclear weapons for their national security would, in memory of tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, get rid of their nuclear weapons. One certainly does not need to be a pacifist to see a great deal of sense in what the Council is advocating.
What constitutes a “just war” has been discussed among Christians for centuries, dating back to St. Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century. The International Politics section of the Mount Holyoke College web site lists the following as one of the seven components of traditional “just war theory”:
“The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.”
Using this criteria, it is clear that nuclear warfare is incompatible with “just war” since it is not possible to secure the safety of civilians when dropping at an atomic bomb.
Whether or not one is a fan of the World Council of Churches, let us applaud their stand against warfare that can’t possibly be defended as “just”. Let us pray for the speedy coming of the day when nations will beat their swords into plowshares and learn the art of war no more.