Because the nuclear issue is not simply political, but also a profoundly moral and religious question, the Church must pe a participant in the process of protecting the world and its people from the specter of nuclear destruction.
--Joseph Cardinal Bernardin
On any single Sunday, almost as many Americans attend church services as go to all the major sporting events held in this country during an entire year. From its very origins, the United States has claimed a belief in a unique ethical foundation, a nation, as G.K. Chesterton said, "with the soul of a Church." Waves of immigrants assimilated the conviction that there exists a peculiarly American covenant with God and that the destiny and guidance of this nation, both in personal and national affairs, derives from that special compact. What was true in peace was assumed in war as well. The persuasion runs deep that America carries a moral banner into battle.
President Ronald Reagan expressed this conviction in his speech last June to the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament:
The record of history is clear: citizens of the United States resort to force reluctantly, and only when they must. We struggled to defend freedom and democracy. We were never the aggressors. America's strength and, yes, her military power have been a force for peace, not conquest; for democracy, not despotism; for freedom, not tyranny.
For the most part, these ethical assumptions have been accepted and propagated by the nation's churches. Whether the historical record shows America living up to them is of course another question. Religious leaders have often been in the forefront of opposition to particular wars, notably the Vietnam War, usually on the grounds that the practical effect, if not the stated purpose, of these wars did not meet the very criteria stated by President Reagan.
But, with the exception only of the Quakers and other small historic "peace" churches, all congregations in America-Catholic, Protestant and Jewish-historically have supported the nation's readiness to engage
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