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 in war. They have proudly sent their children into military service-and their chaplains to minister to them. And, with the same limited exception, no religious groups have ever challenged either the need for adequate defense or the basic defense policies of the nation or government.

This support continued right into the nuclear era; almost all of the running debate on atomic weapons since 1945 has been conducted on practical issues, with much of it confined, as James Woolsey has pointed out, to a nuclear "priesthood" whose task it was to serve as "intermediaries between ordinary people and the gods." J. Robert Oppenheimer lamented, as late as 1960: "I find myself profoundly anguished over the fact that no ethical discourse of any nobility or weight has been addressed to the problem of atomic weapons."

Thus it comes as something of a surprise to see the nation's churches now edging toward a direct confrontation with the Administration over nuclear weapons and deterrence policy. A special commission appointed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has drafted a proposed pastoral letter sharply redefining traditional Catholic teaching on nuclear issues. This draft Pastoral, already twice debated by the full conference of Bishops, is now being revised for submission to another Bishops' conclave in Chicago in May.1 Similar movements, also gathering wide support, are developing in the Protestant churches and to some extent the Jewish community as well. Given this breadth of support, no government in Washington can afford not to pay attention; no statesman can be indifferent to the debate. For in effect the churches are challenging the cornerstone of America's strategic doctrine, with enormous ramifications not just for U.S.-Soviet relations, but for America's relations to its European allies as well.

Why has this great church-led moral concern erupted at this time? In strictly technical terms, there is precious little "new." Back in 1950 the Department of Defense published The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (edited by Samuel Glasstone and Philip Dolan), which accurately described the general destructiveness of nuclear weapons. The considerable technical advances since then, in miniaturization and nature of yields, as well as the enormous increase in the numbers of weapons and in the sophistication of delivery systems, have not added significantly to the awesome picture described by Glasstone and Dolan. Within the debate, knowledgeable experts have long argued that 100 or so nuclear weapons are enough to destroy society as we know it.

Historically, two factors account for the timing of the contemporary debate. First is the growing awareness of the end of American strategic superiority. The oft-asked question whether America would have dropped a bomb on Hiroshima if the Japanese could have threatened San Francisco with nuclear devastation suddenly becomes germane. The reality of America's nuclear vulnerability-now publicly confirmed by Presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan-has become a steadily growing part of the public consciousness.

Another factor explaining the current nuclear activism, of course, has been the rather incautious approach to strategic nuclear issues on the part of the Reagan Administration, particularly with respect to the notion of "prevailing" in a nuclear conflict and the merit of civil defense.2 Whether National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 13 of November 1981 actually goes much beyond the old Presidential Directive (PD) 59 of the Carter Administration in projecting a "winnable" war can be known only to those privy to the documents, but certainly the cavalier attitude of many senior Reagan Administration officials toward nuclear issues has contributed significantly to the widespread fears outside government.

Whatever the explanation, however, many contemporary pronouncements by the clergy suggest a newly widespread determination among the churches to challenge public policy on nuclear issues. As one priest has observed, compared with the nuclear issues the other controversies within the Church "look like a child's sparkler on the Fourth of July." The history of American church involvement in politics, moreover, suggests that any Administration in Washington will ultimately be coerced into paying heed. Abolition was a product of the churches' moral ire; Prohibition came and went as a Protestant (particularly Methodist) campaign; Protestant church historian Martin Marty calls the ill-fated Kellogg-Briand Treaty "virtually a Protestant document." Subsequently, in issues from civil rights to Vietnam, the churches have shown themselves to be a powerful, and to some extent irresistible, force in American affairs. In this context, then, the current course of the Catholic Church and many of the Protestant denominations, if continued, may result in the most direct intervention in strategic and foreign policies in this nation's history. One can suggest more: because of their enormous memberships,3 organization, and dedication, the role of the churches will become critical in determining the political impact and outcome of the "nuclear movement" in the United States.

War has never been an easy matter for the churches. The Bible is replete with apparent contradictions about whether to turn the other cheek or to fight aggressors. Early Christians were pacifists for almost four centuries until a fundamental justification for Christian war took shape under Emperor Constantine. Gradually, through St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, a Christian rationale for going to war (jus ad bellum) emerged, as well as guidelines for conducting war (jus in bello). The extremes to which doctrine can be twisted were demonstrated in the early Christian injunction against using the newly developed crossbow against Christians. Crossbows, according to doctrine, were to be used only against infidels. Similar intellectual rationalizations served throughout most of subsequent history to enable Christians (and Jews) to serve God while simultaneously keeping a firm grip on the sword. Even two major world wars in this century have failed to provoke an enduring public debate.

America was no exception. Professor Robert W. Tucker has pointed out that Americans traditionally asked few questions about "just" war, and indeed formulated a "just war" doctrine characterized by such simplicity that it readily lends itself to "caricature."4 American use of saturation bombing of civilian populations during World War II and of the atomic bomb has posed many ethical questions. Nonetheless, America's normal posture of going to war only in self-defense or in pursuit of legitimate goals comes close to conforming to the jus ad bellum requirements. Now, however, church activism is raising serious concern about the ethics of conducting-or even threatening-any sort of nuclear war, and is challenging the assumptions of a national strategy in which weapons conceived for deterrence become possible instruments for devastation of the world.


In this context, the Catholic Bishops' draft Pastoral letter represents by far the most radical effort by any American church to define moral standards for the nuclear era. It is the logical successor to a number of far more modest efforts by the Catholic Church, the most direct of which was Vatican II's declaration that Catholics are forced by the nuclear era "to undertake a completely fresh reappraisal of war." The current document was commissioned at the annual Bishops' meeting in November 1981, after an over-powering display of support for the plea by liberal Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. He asked for an initiative in defining American Catholic responsibilities in the light of the Reagan Administration's program of massive arms buildup and talk of winnable, limited nuclear war.

The ad hoc five-member Bishops' Commission named by Conference President Archbishop John Roach of Minneapolis to produce a draft on nuclear war issues was what political observers would call "balanced," and included Bishop Gumbleton, an acknowledged pacifist, and Bishop John O'Connor of New York, the Auxiliary of the Military Vicar (Terence Cardinal Cooke) and, as such, particularly identified with the welfare of the nation's military. Archbishop-now Cardinal-Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was named Chairman, an acknowledgment both of his intellectual capabilities and his well-known administrative skill in running committees. Charged with presenting a draft for consideration of the Bishops at a meeting set for June 1982, the Commission (sitting with representatives of the conference of major superiors of men's religious orders and the leadership conference of women's religious orders) took testimony from 35 experts in and outside of government, met 14 times, prayed (by their own account) often, and produced a document on schedule. Aware of the enormity of their task, the Bishops at the June meeting considered this to be a first draft and set to work on a second version. Again the Bishops received comments (over 1,000 pages) from hierarchy and lay persons (Catholic and, in some cases, non-Catholic) throughout the nation and abroad.

The second draft, submitted to the 285 Bishops meeting on November 1982 in the ballroom of a Washington hotel, begins with a powerful assertion, drawn in part from Vatican II documents such as "Gaudium et Spes" and from recent Papal Encyclicals-principal among them the 1963 "Pacem in Terris"-that the nuclear issues under discussion are in fact new to mankind. This in itself reflects a considerable evolution in the hierarchy's thinking. Well into the 1950s Pope Pius XII had argued that though the nuclear threat was quantitatively new, it was not qualitatively so. He also denied the faithful any discretion in these matters related to the state.5 As though to emphasize the great change, the authors of the draft Pastoral cite extensively Pope John Paul II's comments during his February 1981 visit to Hiroshima:

In the past, it was possible to destroy a village, a town, a region, even a country. Now, it is the whole planet that has come under threat. This fact should fully compel everyone to face a basic moral consideration: from now on, it is only through a conscious choice and then deliberate policy that humanity can survive.6

Having emphasized that there is a new magnitude to the challenge, the draft Pastoral offers a thorough review and interpretation of traditional Church teaching on war. This exegesis points out clearly that Catholic teaching has been characterized by two essentially contradictory forces: pacifism and "just war" theory. The Pastoral as it now stands in many respects reflects a tug of war between these two schools of thought.

On the former, the document notes that "From the earliest days of the Church we have evidence of Christians moved by the example of Christ, His life and teaching, committing themselves to a non-violent lifestyle" (p. 311). Many similar passages reflect a strong stream of pacifist sentiment among contemporary Catholic clergy; among the hierarchy, Bishop Gumbleton, Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, and 57 other Bishops are members of the Catholic peace organization, Pax Christi, and these key individuals argued successfully for the strengthening of the pacifist passages. (Indeed, sources close to the Commission suggest that without these passages the document as a whole would never have been accepted by the Pax Christi element, or many others.)

In describing the "just war" position, the authors are careful to point out that its limited justification of war does not conflict with the pacifist position that the taking of life is essentially wrong. But, drawing deeply on St. Augustine's teachings, they conclude that in the sinful world that unfortunately still exists the restraint of evil and the protection of good might under certain circumstances justify the resort to arms. Although the presumption remains against the use of force, for those rare instances, meticulously circumscribed, the parameters of allowable Christian participation in a "just war" are outlined.

The document reaffirms four central criteria: a just war must be declared by "competent authority," must involve a "just cause," with the "right intention" (i.e., pursuit of peace and reconciliation), and must be a "last resort" after all peacemaking efforts have failed. These criteria remain widely valid and essentially unaltered by the onset of the nuclear era.7

Three other central elements of traditional "just war" theory, however, appear to be directly challenged by the nuclear age: probability of success, proportionality (the requirement that resort to arms be proportional to the threat), and discrimination (a flat prohibition on actions aimed at civilians or noncombatants). The draft Pastoral takes a clear stance on each of these elements and concludes that they raise serious questions not only about the conduct of nuclear war but about whether the use of nuclear weapons is morally permissible at all.

In line with this approach, the arguments presented by the Bishops at their Washington meeting in November indicated a preponderance of opinion rejecting outright pacifism in favor of "just war" properly understood, but with considerable uneasiness over whether "probability of success" can be meaningful in a nuclear exchange, or whether nuclear war can in any fashion be squeezed into the framework of the requirements for both proportionality or discrimination. Few observers on either side of the argument denied that nuclear war as currently conceived would immeasurably violate both these principles. The exceptions might be Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans, who is particularly vocal on the dangers of the Soviet system as a fate worse than death, and a few isolated spokesmen who suggested that for the Christian the real issue is not life but salvation.8

The draft Pastoral particularly singles out the traditional principle of discrimination, prohibiting military actions aimed at civilians. The injunction is not qualified and the authors put it in italics for emphasis: "Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets" (p. 314).

Although this portion of the text was not debated at length at the Washington meeting, its implications for strategic nuclear doctrine could be very significant. For at least a decade there has raged within the nuclear "priesthood" an intense controversy as to whether the deterrent posture of U. S. strategic nuclear forces should continue to be based on "mutual assured destruction," which envisages the threat of attack on population centers and in effect, in the words of two of its own supporters, "holds the entire civilian populations of both [the United States and U.S.S.R.] as hostages."9

This doctrine-which for a long period dominated U.S. strategic thinking-has been defended on the ground that its sheer horror makes nuclear war far less likely. On the other hand, it has been vigorously attacked, in part on moral grounds, by advocates of "counterforce" doctrines that would put primary emphasis on military-related targets and thus "retain the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield or even in controlled strategic war scenarios, while sparing the general civilian population from the devastating consequences of nuclear war."10 The advocates of "mutual assured destruction" counter that such war-fighting scenarios are unrealistic in practice, would involve vast civilian casualties in any event, and above all tend to increase the possibility that nuclear weapons may in fact be used.11

It is not clear whether the authors of the draft Pastoral intended to take a position on this issue. They face something of a dilemma. While their rejection of attacks on civilian populations-with which the Administration concurs-clearly rules out many attacks usually associated with "mutual assured destruction," they are ambivalent on defining the appropriate use of the nuclear arsenal. Other portions of the draft denounce "hard kill" weapons as "inadmissible," noting that the MX missile "might" fit in this category, and declare it immoral to pursue a nuclear war-fighting capability. The cumulative effect of these strictures is surely to make it extremely difficult for any U.S. Administration to frame a practical doctrine of strategic nuclear deterrence.

Even more controversial is the draft Pastoral's flat prohibition on the initiation of nuclear war. Again, the authors add italics for emphasis: "We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear warfare, on however restricted a scale, can be morally justified. Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be resisted by other than nuclear means" (p. 314). This proscription, of course, intrudes even more directly on contemporary nuclear strategic debate. It appears to align the Bishops with those who have challenged the threat or use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attack against NATO, and who have urged moving toward a doctrine of "no first use" in such circumstances. The issue goes to the heart of longstanding NATO deterrence doctrine, and lies at the core of U.S. relations with its European allies, which along with the Reagan Administration have continued to reject the idea of a "no first use" pledge.12

The proscription on "first use" leads to a third issue in the current debate-that of "limited nuclear war." Would these injunctions still leave open the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a "limited exchange?" Barely so, the draft Pastoral concludes after considering a wide range of scenarios, questioning whether the senior leadership would have the necessary information, whether field commanders could retain their cool, and whether the casualties even in a "limited" nuclear war would not run into the millions. The draft concludes: "This cluster of questions makes us skeptical about the real meaning of limited" (p. 315).

Thus, the draft Pastoral argues that the "no" to nuclear war "must in the end be definitive and decisive" (p. 313). But how to act in a sinful world, in which nations are threatened, and in which adversaries possess nuclear weapons? The draft Pastoral is extremely sensitive to this issue, in effect the moral justification of nuclear deterrence itself.

The political paradox of deterrence has strained our moral conception. May a nation threaten what it may never do? May it possess what it may never use? Who is involved in the threat each superpower makes: government officials? Or military personnel? Or the citizenry in whose "defense" the threat is made (p. 313)?

The notion of deterrence, the draft Pastoral notes, existed as well in the pre-nuclear age, and previously was not widely challenged as doctrine. But, by its very nature, nuclear deterrence envisions the likelihood of disproportionate retaliation. The problem is not nuclear deterrence as such, therefore, but the manner in which deterrence is supposed to function. The comments on this point are so central that they deserve full citation:

The moral questions about deterrence focus on five issues: 1) the possession of weapons of mass destruction; 2) the accompanying threat and/or intention to use them; 3) the declared, or at least not repudiated, willingness to use such weapons on civilians; 4) the moral significance of the prevention of use of nuclear weapons through a strategy which could not morally be implemented; and 5) the continued escalation of the nuclear arms race with its diversion of resources from other needs (p. 316).

From the very start of the Commission's deliberations in 1981, a satisfactory definition of the legitimate role of nuclear deterrence proved extraordinarily difficult. Its initial draft spoke of a "marginally justifiable deterrent policy," and elsewhere of a need to "tolerate" nuclear deterrence-terms which satisfied neither flank (and raised additional theological problems, given the specific doctrinal ramifications of the term "tolerate"). But then in June 1982, in his address to the second U.N. Special Session on Disarmament, Pope John Paul II provided a breakthrough formulation:

In current conditions "deterrence" based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.13

Here was the solution. The Bishop O'Connors of the Episcopate stressed that the Pope had endorsed nuclear deterrence as "morally acceptable;" to the Thomas Gumbletons the formulation came through, as the draft Pastoral now says, as a "strictly conditioned" acceptance. Having reluctantly accepted even this somewhat limited definition of deterrence, the "peace" Bishops then forged ahead to include in the second draft of the Pastoral a series of quite specific prohibitions and requirements, all directed to defining those adequate measures toward "progressive disarmament" that would make deterrence acceptable.

Thus, the draft, in addition to its strictures against vulnerable "hard kill" weapons and pursuit of a nuclear war-fighting capability, now argues that weapons "blurring the difference between nuclear and conventional weapons" (perhaps neutron bombs) are objectionable. The draft insists on the need to maintain a psychological barrier between conventional and nuclear war. On arms control it urges "bilateral deep cuts" in arsenals, which coincides with the Reagan Administration's position, and also both a comprehensive test ban treaty and the removal of weapons from border areas, positions the Administration has opposed. Further, the draft Pastoral, while explicitly rejecting unilateral disarmament, supports "immediate, bilateral verifiable agreements to halt the testing, production and deployment of new strategic systems," in language virtually identical to that of the national freeze resolution.

Finally, while attempting to avoid any suggestion of condoning conventional war, the Bishops do concede that "some strengthening of conventional defense" might be justified if it reduced the nuclear threat. As to whether the use of nuclear weapons might conceivably be justified in response to their use by adversaries, the second draft of the Pastoral is silent-declining to comment directly on when and under what circumstances the use of nuclear weapons might meet acceptable moral standards. A positive discussion of the theoretically moral uses of nuclear weapons was dropped from the earlier draft because the Bishops found it somewhat awkward to be prescribing the proper use of nuclear weapons. However, the presumption is heavily weighted against use: "Today the possibilities for placing political and moral limits on nuclear war are so infinitesimal that the moral task, like the medical, is prevention: As a people we must refuse to legitimate the idea of nuclear war" (p. 313).

In presenting this document to the world, the Bishops made unusual efforts to cast the Pastoral in quite unconventional terms. Rather than the didactic "preaching" common in past similar documents, the authors emphasize repeatedly that this is a study document, an effort to work through with believers the enormously complex issues under discussion. "The document is an invitation to debate," said one participant, "not an effort to close it off." They also note that although it is primarily meant for Catholics, it is intended for non-Catholics as well and as a "contribution to the public debate about the morality of war" (p. 308).

At the same time, there is an emphasis in the entire document on "guidance" to believers. Just how "binding" this might be is not clear, and the point was immediately raised in the Bishops' Washington parley. In fact, the positions being fleshed out in this document could pose an enormous problem for a Church with millions employed in defense industry or serving in the military (Catholics are about 30 percent of U.S. military personnel) or even, for that matter, for individual Catholics in the highest echelons of government. So central is this consideration that in the third draft the Bishops have reportedly made a much more careful explication of the difference between general universally binding moral principles and specific applications about which reasonable people may differ.

Concern over the binding nature of the Pastoral reflects the widespread conviction that this Pastoral will inevitably exert enormous pressures on Washington. What may be the practical ramifications of such a reluctant acceptance of deterrence? And if the justification for deterrence presumes progress on arms control, what happens in the absence of progress?


Although it is the Catholic Episcopate's initiative which attracts most attention at the moment, the nuclear issue has in fact been debated relatively longer and more intensely within the Protestant denominations. In this historical context, the Catholics are just now "catching up." Indeed, while the Catholic Bishops were meeting in Washington, the Council of Bishops of the second largest Protestant denomination, the 9.5 million-member United Methodist Church, wired a vote of confidence: "We thank God for your courageous witness on behalf of peace with justice." But as one might suspect given the structure of the churches, the historical Protestant treatment of the nuclear issues differs considerably from the current Catholic initiative.

Predictably, the Protestant response to nuclear issues has been fragmented and disparate. But it began early. In 1946, the Federal Council of Churches (later to become the National Council) sponsored a prestigious commission headed by Robert L. Calhoun. While its report did not get deeply into theological issues, the moral tone was strong, as reflected in one of its opening passages:

We would begin with an act of contrition. As American Christians, we are deeply penitent for the irresponsible use already of the atomic bomb. We are agreed that, whatever be one's judgment of the ethics of war in principle, the surprise bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are morally indefensible. . . . We have sinned grievously against the laws of God and the people of Japan. Without seeking to apportion blame among individuals, we are compelled to judge our chosen course inexcusable.14

Another effort, the so-called Dun Commission report, was published in 1950. It was widely criticized for failing to condemn first use of nuclear weapons, and its findings were gradually forgotten.15 As "just war" theorist Dr. Paul Ramsey mused in frustration at the document, "It must be said, however, that the Dun Report is very confused and confusing throughout . . . if Protestants must use terms imprecisely, they should really not use them to discredit the quite precise notions in the moral doctrine of war . . . ."16

The international World Council of Churches (with which some American Protestant groups have had their differences) went somewhat further. In 1953 it commissioned a five-year study by an impressive roster of scholars and statesmen. This resulted in a provisional document, which proved to be the first in a series. Although the intellectual development was, again, fragmented, the positions argued were quite revolutionary. The initial document, for instance, argued that "A first requirement is for a discipline which is capable of possessing nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery, but of never using them in all out warfare." It suggested that in case of all-out war, "Christians should urge a ceasefire, if necessary on the enemy's terms." Moreover, in light of the contemporary resurgence of pacifism in Catholic thought, it is noteworthy that some members of the Commission rejected any use of H-bombs as "an atrocity not to be justified in a belligerent even if the enemy is guilty of it."17

The historic American pacifist churches, of course, were path-finders in the peace field, laboring diligently and long with little tangible success. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) announced in 1948, not for the first time: "We feel bound explicitly to avow our unshaken persuasion that all war is utterly incompatible with plain precepts of our Divine Lord and Lawgiver, and the whole of His Gospel, and that no plea of necessity or policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations from the paramount allegiance they owe to Him who said, 'Love your enemies'. . . ." Although the Friends have no "national" church as such, various Friends organizations have repeatedly called for a gamut of arms control measures. For the Church of the Brethren, the answer has consistently remained, as they repeated at a recent conference, a flat declaration that ". . . all war is sin. We therefore cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad." There is, then, within the non-Catholic churches an articulate pacifist element quite similar to the movement reflected so clearly in current Catholic debate.

The positions taken by the more conventional Protestant denominations, however, reflect both a greater divergence of opinion and the weaker moral authority of the Church arising from its diffuse structure. Despite the strong denunciations of nuclear war, there is almost no wrestling with the ambiguities of deterrence or the issue of justified use of nuclear weapons.

Such ambivalences are certainly a part of Protestant history. One need only note Reinhold Niebuhr's dualism regarding "moral man and immoral society." As a one-time pacifist, his later Christian realism argument that "to serve peace, we must threaten war without blinking the fact that the threat may be a factor in precipitating war," suggests the ambiguities in the Protestant position.18 Niebuhr was confident that what he called the "balance of terror" would prevent nuclear war, and never addressed the full consequences of a breakdown in deterrence. Even without reflecting on the possibility of a nuclear exchange, Niebuhr appeared to accept implicitly that the United States would emerge the victor, however morally tainted. "Niebuhr was clearly ambivalent on deterrence," says his long-time associate, John C. Bennett. "While he came to think that the use of nuclear weapons would be immoral, he did not feel that their possession or the threat of their use would be immoral."19

Throughout the early postwar debate, and then again in the 1970s when the Protestants again began to speak up, most of the statements mirrored rather than dealt with the paradoxes of nuclear deterrence. If mentioned at all, deterrence was seen as a guarantor of peace; there was virtually no reflection on the conflict inherent in threatening evil to achieve moral goals, and very little consideration of what happens if the system breaks down. One exception has been Professor Roger L. Shinn, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, who as early as 1963, argued imaginatively that the world would be more stable when the Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United States.20 For the most part, other proclamations dealt with "easy" issues, such as a prohibition on attacking population centers, which the World Council of Churches in 1961 said "is in no circumstances reconcilable with the demands of the Christian Gospel."

Of the major Protestant denominations in America, most have by now issued, in one form or another, declarations condemning nuclear war. (The conspicuous exceptions are the fundamentalist denominations, which remain remarkably "hawkish." Indeed, a fundamentalist leader, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, recently published a full-page advertisement opposing a nuclear freeze and posing questions clearly weighted in support of current "U.S. strategic programs aimed at restoring nuclear parity with the Soviet Union.") Even the politically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, with over 13.8 million members, balances concern for nuclear developments with its reaffirmation of support for defense.21 The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1981 issued a pastoral letter denouncing "massive nuclear overkill." Parallel to this, the Regional Executive Ministers of the 1.6 million-member American Baptist Churches (who are the chief executive officers of the church's 37 regional divisions) endorsed a resolution which called the existence of nuclear weapons and a presumed readiness to use them "a direct affront to our Christian beliefs and commitments." Both the large American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America independently passed resolutions urging the elimination of nuclear weapons. Among the most forthright statements was that by the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in 1982, which not only backed a nuclear freeze but added the exhortation "that we will never again be the first nation to use nuclear weaponry." During the debate, State Clerk William P. Thompson went further, rejecting deterrence as incompatible with a Christian striving for peace.

By comparison with the current Catholic draft Pastoral, the Protestant declarations have been earlier and occasionally even more sweeping, but at the same time-with few exceptions-superficial and inadequately defined doctrinally. It is hard to find studies in the official Protestant literature comparable to the depth and the intellectual detail of the Catholic draft Pastoral. Indeed, Robert F. Smylie, Associate for Peace and Justice of the Presbyterian Church, concedes that "in the statements of the General Assembly one does not find an elaborate system of doctrine worked out to provide the theological presuppositions for the authoritative witness of the Church in response to issues of war and peace."22 There is in Protestant statements only slight systematic grappling with the paradox of deterrence; nowhere is there an extended application of "just war" doctrine, particularly with respect to proportionality and discrimination.

There are signs, however, of a significant stirring in the National Council of Churches of Christ in America. The organization backed SALT II and the freeze, and has now called for a nationwide "Peace With Justice" week in the spring. In the past five years, the NCCC and most of the principal Protestant denominations have established "peace" offices. Privately, though, many leading Protestant figures are chagrined at the failure to posit a more formidable position on nuclear weapons. "I've been against nuclear weapons since the 6th of August 1945," Church historian Martin Marty says in self-criticism. "And I've written thousands of lines since then. But I'd be hard pressed to find three or four coherent sentences on the ethics of nuclear deterrence."23


Perhaps the most curious anomaly in the current awakening of concern for nuclear issues by the American churches has been the relative lack of participation of the Jewish communities. As individuals, American Jews have certainly been outspoken critics of unrestrained nuclear development. Albert Einstein repeatedly warned of the consequences of nuclear war and even argued that the only way to prevent it would be the formation of a world government. He also proposed that the American nuclear arsenal be turned over to an international body. Physicist I. I. Rabi warned as early as 1949 that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground. And Hannah Arendt observed some years later that when war can threaten the continued existence of mankind on earth, the alternative between liberty and death loses its plausibility. Individual Jews to this day continue to speak out, but the community as a whole, which has gained such a reputation for involvement in moral and social issues from civil rights to the environment and Vietnam, remains conspicuously aloof.

There have been some notable exceptions, especially from within the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, whose President, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, has spoken out vigorously in support of the anti-nuclear movement. At its General Assembly in December 1981, the Reform UAHC, which represents about one-third of American Jews, unanimously accepted a resolution appealing to all nuclear powers "to mutually agree upon a freeze on the testing" of systems, and went a step further by supporting a verifiable 50-percent across-the-board cut in nuclear stockpiles, as proposed also by George Kennan. But like so many of its Protestant counterparts, the resolution was hortatory and superficial, failed to deal either with first use or deterrence, and excluded any reference to specific weapons systems because the sponsors thought it too sensitive.

On a local level, some Reform Jewish leaders have attempted to promote concern for nuclear affairs. In New York, Rabbi Balfour Brickner sponsored a widely acclaimed symposium on "Nuclear Arms, Judaism and the Jewish Community," while Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Leo Breck Temple in Los Angeles opened a similar conference with the biblical reminder of Deuteronomy, "I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life. . . ." But despite considerable enthusiasm at these symposia, a basic theme was lamentation at the failure of Jewish congregations to grapple with the moral and theological issues of nuclear warfare.

It is worth asking why Jews, whose entire history has been marked by war, have been comparatively reluctant to participate in efforts to achieve some form of nuclear arms control. There is no consistent answer to this. Some Jews reply that the absence of a coherent, unified "Jewish" reaction to nuclear issues reflects the independence and fragmentation of the Jewish community. Yet this structural problem has not hindered Jews from becoming deeply involved in any number of social issues where they have played a role all out of proportion to the size of the community.

Other observers suggest that this reluctance to join the nuclear barricades reflects a fundamental Jewish theological ambivalence toward war. Jews have no strong pacifist tradition; and there is certainly a strong call to arms in the tradition of an obligatory (defensive) war, "Milchemet Mitzvah," as well as the discretionary (offensive) war in the "Milchemet Reshut." Jews, it is argued, are torn by the contradictory admonitions of the Bible. In Micah 4:1-4, for instance, there is the charge to beat swords into plowshares, while in Joel 3:9-11 it is precisely reversed ("Beat your plowshares into swords . . . ."). The 20th chapter of Deuteronomy amounts to what has been called "Israel's own manual of war," though others see in the qualifications on going to war a sort of Israeli Geneva Convention. There is in any case only slight theological direction regarding preventive war (striking first), and even less on deterrence as a strategic concept.

Theological reflections aside, many Jewish observers concede that the reluctance to become deeply involved in the nuclear movement stems from concern over how this might affect Israel's security. This concern is on two levels. There is the fear that any weakening of the American strategic deterrent could endanger Israel, that America's role as Israel's "guarantor" might somehow be undercut. Jews as a community remain particularly suspicious of the Soviet Union, both because of its policy on emigration and its role in supporting the Arab threat to Israel's security. Then there is as well the softly articulated assumption that Israel itself has a nuclear capability, and that any moral pronouncements inhibiting the use of nuclear forces might in some way weaken the deterrent value of these weapons.

The reluctance of Jews to participate, for whatever reason, in the nationwide groundswell of concern is widely regretted in the Jewish community, and many senior Jewish officials sense this is already changing. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations has just adopted a strong endorsement of "the SALT and START process, and this organization, which represents roughly another third of religious American Jews, is described by officials as "determined to get involved." The Rabbinical Assembly of America, the rabbis of the Conservative Jewish congregations, probably the largest of the three religious groups, endorsed the nuclear freeze in April 1982. Probably the most important, the Synagogue Council of America, a loose umbrella group for all branches of Judaism, on February 25 endorsed a resolution urging President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov "to implement a bilateral mutual cessation of the production and deployment of nuclear weapons." "I'm dismayed at our lack of Jewish participation in what must be just about 'the' issue of our times," says Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a leading Orthodox rabbi and president of the Council. "We have been totally neglectful in analyzing the ramifications of the nuclear race."

Several of these groups have plans for the immediate future. The UAHC has just published a basic manual for synagogues and community organs on how to participate in the nuclear debate. Several congregations are calling for a major meeting to bring together scholars and rabbis from all the Jewish denominations, not to seek resolutions but to explore the meaning of the nuclear age for Halaohah, Jewish law. Samuel Pisar, an internationally known lawyer and survivor of Auschwitz, has already suggested a fundamental theme for such a conference. Pisar, during a convocation in Israel of survivors of the Holocaust, recently asked before the Knesset: "From where, if not from us, will come the warning that a new combination of technology and brutality can transform the planet into a crematorium?"


Given the Church activism, as well as the freeze movement, the Administration evidently felt impelled to react. In the spring and summer of 1982, it began to track development of the Catholic Pastoral. During preparations for the first draft, several Administration witnesses, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and arms control negotiator Edward Rowny, testified as expert witnesses before the Bishops' Commission, emphasizing that the government was pursuing an energetic and comprehensive arms control policy. As work on the second draft progressed, the Administration sought to exert further pressures. In July, National Security adviser William Clark wrote, in a letter subsequently forwarded to Apostolic Delegate Pio Laghi: "I am troubled in reading the draft pastoral letter to find none of these serious efforts [of the Administration] at arms control described or even noted in the text, even though they so clearly conform with many of the most basic concerns and hopes of the letter's drafters." Apparently uneasy with the thought of a confrontation with the Bishops, Clark, in an obvious misreading of the Pastoral, concluded: "On the subject of overall nuclear deterrence strategy, then, I find that the position recommended by the Pastoral letter is remarkably consistent with current U.S. policy, with one notable exception-the issue of no nuclear first use."

Weinberger, in September, wrote a curious letter to Archbishop Bernardin that also attempted to embrace the first draft while at the same time interpreting it for the Archbishop. "I am particularly pleased," wrote Weinberger, "that [the draft] directly recognizes and supports the right of legitimate self-defense and the 'responsibility to preserve and pursue justice.' But," he continued, "I am concerned that the draft pastoral letter fails to do justice to the efforts by the United States and its Allies to maintain the peace through deterrence and negotiation."

As the November Washington Bishops' Conference approached, Administration officials, clearly responding to the Election Day success of freeze resolutions in eight of nine states, and evidently fearful that the Bishops' action would further coalesce the peace movement, launched a determined public drive to influence the drafters. On the opening day of the Conference, Navy Secretary John Lehman, Jr., a Catholic, penned an appeal in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the Bishops were neither informed nor logical, and "what is worse, if adopted, such recommendations could lead directly to immoral consequences." On the eve of the Washington meeting, White House representatives suggested that the drafting commission meet with the President, or, alternatively, that Secretary of State George Shultz address the Conference. Both the appeals for a further hearing and suggestions that they were ignoring the Administration's serious peace efforts were rejected for the time being by the Bishops.

An evidently frustrated Administration then took the unusual step of having Clark, a Catholic, write to the Commission on behalf of the President and the Cabinet. In his letter, released to the media before it reached the Bishops, who were already in deliberation, Clark contended that the draft Pastoral "continues to reflect a fundamental misreading of American policies and continues essentially to ignore the far-reaching American proposals that are currently being negotiated with the Soviet Union on achieving steep reductions in nuclear arsenals, on reducing conventional forces, and through a variety of verification and confidence-building measures, on further reducing the risks of war." The Bishops appeared more irritated with the tactics than impressed with the arguments. At the same time, a group of 24 distinguished academics and former government officials, ranging from ex-CIA Director William Colby to one-time SALT negotiator Gerard Smith, wrote an open letter supporting the Bishops' justification for taking a stand on the nuclear issue, and concluding that "there is increasing evidence that we cannot rely on governments to act in this matter in a timely fashion." For their part, the Bishops let it be known that they were prepared to meet further with Administration figures after the meeting.

Meanwhile, the White House, recognizing the Church as an international institution, was hoping to stimulate pressure on the Bishops, either from the European hierarchy or the Pope. A number of German and French Bishops had responded with commentaries critical of the initial draft of the Pastoral, but the American Bishops seemed to give them no particular credence. As one observer suggested, "neither the French nor the German Bishops have distinguished themselves in articulating the issues." Key American Bishops met in January 1983 in the Vatican with the European Bishops to hear their views. The outcome was inconclusive.

More curious was the apparent assumption on the part of the Administration that somehow Pope John Paul II might intervene against the American Bishops. Some Washington sources have suggested that Ambassador Vernon Walters, who met with the Pope in November before the Bishops' meeting, had asked the Pontiff to move against the supposed "nuclear heresy." If so, none of the Pope's statements would appear to give encouragement to the hope of his intervention against the Bishops. On the contrary, the course of the debate has suggested that the American Bishops' position is not inconsistent with that of John Paul II. The Pope has clearly made "peace" a central element in his papacy. Although invited to comment on the original draft, the Pope asked for no changes; instead, two senior aides delivered basically complimentary commentaries. And, as we have noted, the Pope's U.N. speech, with its emphasis on conditional acceptance of deterrence, provided the breakthrough for consensus within the drafting Commission. Finally, at the Washington meeting, the Pope's own delegate in Washington, Pio Laghi, commended the Bishops for "playing a leadership role" and added that it "coincides remarkably well with Pope John Paul II's commitment to peace in the world and to authentic doctrines of the Church."

Indeed, John Paul II in 1982 asked his prestigious Pontifical Academy of Science to prepare a detailed study on the effects of nuclear war-a report then hand-carried by his emissaries to Leonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan. It is also noteworthy that the Pope, in his 1983 New Year's homily in St. Peter's Basilica, reaffirmed the dedication to arms control which has become a hallmark of his papacy, without expressing the slightest hint of discord with the American Bishops. In February, Archbishop Bernardin was the only American elevated to Cardinal, hardly a sign of Papal dissatisfaction with the Bishops' initiative.


It appears evident from the debate at the November Bishops' meeting that a majority of the Bishops are determined to bring the Pastoral to a vote when they convene for further discussion in May in Chicago. There is certain to be intense debate, and the third draft reportedly does reflect some changes. There is stronger criticism of the Soviet Union's role in the arms race; there is further clarification of the legitimate use of nuclear weapons as well as discussion of the degree to which the Pastoral is binding on Catholic conscience. But these modifications do not detract from the fact that the Bishops are preparing a ground-breaking condemnation of key elements of America's nuclear strategy, and that they enjoy the broad support of wide segments of Protestant opinion. A process has been set in motion, and a new level of debate unleashed, regardless of what text is finally accepted.

Thus the Catholic Church, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the nation's Protestant denominations as well, appear to have embarked on a course which will have enormous repercussions in three areas: (1) the potential for tension within the Catholic Church; (2) relations between the Catholic and Protestant Churches, in particular with respect to Church-State relations; and (3) most fundamental of all, on America's national security policy in the nuclear age.

Within the Catholic Church there is already a considerable debate on the wisdom of the Bishops' initiative. The initial challenge has been to the Bishops' competence-theological and strategic. Critics question the authority and ability of the Bishops to attempt to describe doctrine on a secular issue of this nature. "As a Catholic, I don't exercise much independence in matters of faith like the infallibility of the Pope," observes Professor Robert Spaeth, of St. John's University in Minnesota (author of a forthcoming book on ethics and deterrence), "but if a Bishop tells me the MX missile is bad, that's politics-that's my field." Added archconservative Phyllis Shlafly, criticizing the Bishops for failing to recognize the dimensions of the Soviet threat, "the Bishops are over their heads in a subject they don't understand."

The Bishops' response is that few persons actually have true technical competence, and that they have in fact become "experts" through intense study and briefings. To challenge their competence is as irrelevant, they add, as complaints that priests cannot make judgments on married life. "For that matter," adds one Bishop, "what particular competence does President Reagan have on nuclear strategy issues?"

"People who raise this issue," says Bishop Daniel Reilly of Norwich, one of the five members of the drafting commission, "are begging the point, for we aren't claiming this is Almighty God handing down the truth from the mountain as with Moses. It's simply the Bishops of the United States trying to bring to bear analysis on issues never before faced by the human family."

But even supporters of the general tenor of the Bishops' draft Pastoral are sensitive to the inherent implications for the unity of the Catholic Church. The Bishops, some observers charge, are far more liberal than their congregations. Bishop Francis Schulte of Philadelphia cautioned that "we have already witnessed movement toward polarization within the Church on this issue." To a large degree, of course, the extent of any divisiveness will depend on the final judgment on just how binding the Pastoral might ultimately be. Although this is still somewhat unclear, if the Pastoral is passed by a two-thirds majority, the statutes of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops state that it "should be observed by all members as an expression of collegial responsibility and in a spirit of unity and charity." On the other hand, some earlier Pastorals were pretty much ignored. Several members of the drafting Commission are confident that the current draft is "close to mainstream Catholicism." Other Bishops, on and off the Commission, doubt this.

Nevertheless, participants in this debate are constantly reminded by critics to be alert to the possibility of serious fissures among the believers on this issue. No one wants to repeat the experience of the encyclical "Humanae Vitae," which contained papal teachings on sexual matters that have been disregarded by large numbers of the faithful. Similarly, there is a reluctance to take any action which would further exacerbate the Church's current internal problems, such as the declining number of priest candidates and an alarming disaffection among various women's orders.

But some would argue that the potential for division is posed already by the draft Pastoral. If the Bishops side with the pacifists, they alienate perhaps the majority of the Church; but to adopt a stance more conservative than the current draft brings with it the risk of disaffecting some of the Church's most pious supporters, for example the Pax Christi wing to which 57 Bishops belong. "To force believers into making a choice," says Thomas Fox, editor of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, "creates the potential for the greatest religious-political clash in U.S. history."

There are already rumblings of just that sort of revolt. Largely as a response to the Bishops' original draft, an American Catholic Committee was set up, organizationally modeled after its Jewish counterpart, with the intention of mounting an aggressive nationwide political campaign to blunt the Bishops' efforts. Prominent among the members is Michael Novak, a formidable publicist, who is circulating a "counter-pastoral" and urging it as an alternative to the Bishops' efforts. Another active voice in opposition to the tenor of the Bishops' Pastoral is the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, whose president, Ernest Lefever, has sponsored symposia and published useful studies offering conservative commentaries on traditional Catholic war doctrine.24 The Catholic Center for Renewal in Washington has also become a catalyst for determined criticism of the Bishops.25

If the new nuclear doctrine represents a threat to the internal unity of the Catholic Church, it also raises issues of considerable moment for the Protestants. Neither Protestants (nor, even less so, Jews) will be torn internally over the posture of their respective churches in the same fashion as Catholics. For Protestants, the various statements and declarations represent at most moral guidance, as they do for the Jews. Also, because the Protestant statements have until now been less theological and more hortatory, they place fewer restraints on Protestants than the rather precise Catholic draft Pastoral. But if the anti-nuclear initiatives create no particular threat to Protestant denominations, there is detectable a widespread caution within the Protestant churches over the new Catholic activism. This country has a history of interdenominational quarrels, often bloody, and not so many years ago. Many of the same Protestants who welcome Catholics to the nuclear arena take great exception to Catholic political activism on issues such as abortion and tax relief for parochial schools.

For all the warm words of greeting from liberal Protestants to the Catholics on this issue, many reflect as well concern over demonstrated Catholic aggressiveness in the political arena. Not a few Protestants at the moment echo the hope that the Catholics will take a "stand, not a side." After all, Catholics, as the largest single denomination and a political force, if united, of enormous potential, stir some Protestant concern. How this will be resolved cannot be predicted. Properly handled, of course, the nuclear issue itself could be a great binding force between the two groups.


Apart from theological issues, the ultimate political question raised by the debate is how this religious involvement, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, will influence American strategic nuclear doctrine. Conflict with the Reagan Administration, or with any Administration in Washington, now seems inevitable, regardless of the particular drafting changes in Chicago. It is clear that nuclear policy and the general atmosphere in Washington have already been affected. Although impossible to measure quantitatively, it is evident that to some extent the loss of support for military spending stems from public awareness of the current nuclear debate; the rejection of the MX dense-pack basing mode by Congress in December 1982 would have been quite unthinkable without the intervention of an uncommonly aroused public. The entire spectrum of defense and strategic deterrence is being placed under public scrutiny with a fervor seldom before experienced.

Opponents of the Bishops' initiative, and for that matter many supporters, emphasize, of course, that the force of Western public opinion is creating an unbalanced situation, because pressures that might be brought to bear in Washington are not similarly possible in Moscow. One-time Kissinger adviser Helmut Sonnenfeldt has emphasized "the asymmetrical effect from the pronouncements of clergymen in free societies: What they say may indeed affect the public policies of the United States and its allies, but would have no impact whatsoever on the Soviet Union." Some observers worry particularly how this asymmetrical facet will affect America's relations with its European allies.

Yet another level of criticism is that the Bishops really have not taken account of the true alternatives to nuclear deterrence. Paul Ramsey said recently, "to judge the morality of deterrence, one must judge as well the morality of the alternatives." This was the theme of a critical letter to Bernardin drafted by 24 Roman Catholic members of Congress, who wrote that "Our real threat comes from an ideology which challenges our fundamental faith in human dignity . . . . The crisis we face today does not involve two morally equal forces, but the contention of human freedom against totalitarianism."

What may in time become increasingly clear is the Bishops' profoundly human inability to square the circle. Nuclear weapons cannot be wished away. Many observers have suggested that ultimately the paradox of deterrence, the readiness to commit an evil in hopes of preventing an even worse evil, cannot be resolved. Canon G. R. Dunstan, in a remarkable new volume, argues that "there is no 'Christian' solution to it. There is only a choice among evils; and there is everlasting mercy for those who, in good faith, are driven to choose."26

There remain, however, the qualifications placed on deterrence policy in the Pope's own commentary, where deterrence in itself is judged wrong unless accompanied by progress toward arms control. Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia raised the same point in his historic testimony (on behalf of SALT II) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 9, 1979:

The moral judgment of this statement is that not only the use of strategic nuclear weapons, but also the declared intent to use them involved in our deterrence is wrong. . . . [However] . . . as long as there is hope of [negotiations] occurring, Catholic moral teaching is willing, while negotiations proceed, to tolerate the possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence as the lesser of two evils. If that hope were to disappear, the moral attitude of the Catholic Church would almost certainly have to shift to one of uncompromising condemnation of both use and possession of such weapons."27

What may this mean in practice? Will there be a point at which an absence of progress in arms control forces a harsher condemnation of deterrence by the Bishops? Absent progress, can the Bishops opt for rejection of the only policy the nation has thus far found to prevent nuclear war?

The central lesson in this whole experience may be that, along with the technical and political complexities of deterrence, a tangle of ambiguities await those who would try to sort out the moral quotient. Archbishop John Roach suggested as much at the close of the Bishops' meeting. "Ambiguity," said Roach, "is a legitimate and treasured part of our moral tradition. Perhaps," he concluded, "the consensus will be on ambiguity."

1 "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," quoted in Origins, the documentary service of the National Catholic News Service. Page citations herein are from the second draft, which is contained in Origins, Volume 12, No. 20, October 28, 1982.

2 For chilling evidence of this sort of talk, see especially Robert Scheer, With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War, New York: Random House, 1982. In all historical fairness to Mr. Reagan, of course, a certain determination to "prevail" in a nuclear exchange has long been a central part of American strategy. Only 51 days after the surrender of Japan, the Pentagon's Joint Intelligence Staff prepared a report, "Strategic Vulnerability of Russia to a Limited Air Attack," that included nuclear bombing of 20 Russian cities. Other plans in the mid-1950s called for attacks which would leave the Soviet Union "a smoking radiating ruin at the end of two hours." Access to government files under Freedom of Information legislation has also revealed "Operation Dropshot," a plan for conducting nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Certainly nuclear deterrence was established U.S. policy at least by 1953, and was initially based on an assumption of U.S. nuclear superiority. This was particularly evident in the doctrine of "massive retaliation" enunciated by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles the following year. See Michael Mandelbaum, The Nuclear Question, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979, p. 50.

3 The Catholic population of the United States is over 51 million; the Protestant 71 million; the Jewish 5.8 million. These figures are based on slightly different methods of compilation. They are from the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1982, published by the National Council of Churches (Abingdon Press).

4 Robert W. Tucker, The Just War: A Study in Contemporary American Doctrine, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960, p. 11.

5 For example, Pope Pius XII declared in his Christmas Message in 1956: "If, therefore, a body representative of the people and a government-both having been chosen by free elections-in a moment of extreme danger decide, by legitimate instruments of internal and external policy, on defensive precautions and carry out the plans which they consider necessary, they do not act immorally; so that a Catholic citizen cannot invoke his own conscience in order to refuse to serve and fulfill those duties the law imposes." The New York Times, December 24, 1956, p. 5.

6 John Paul II, "Address to Scientists and Scholars," Origins, Volume 10, 1981, p. 621. Italics in original.

8 Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Alabama, expressed one version of this with his comment that the continued existence of the planet alone is not necessarily an absolute good, and that its destruction might not be the worst evil imaginable. "We seem to assign the human species itself a right to eternity. This is certainly not the 'biblical vision of the world at the heart of our religious heritage.' The worst evil that can befall us is not the loss of our life, or of even all human life. It is sin and the consequent loss of that life in the Father through Christ by means of the Spirit that we rightly call life everlasting.' Should this world and our species remain in such a way that such life in the Father is not possible to the generations that would follow, then we have threatened not just the sovereignty of God over the world, but the victory of Christ over sin and death." The New York Times, November 19, 1982, p. D-15. Some echo of this could be heard among other bishops, but there was certainly no widespread acceptance either of this view or the notion, heard as well in corridor talk, that a nuclear holocaust might in fact be the biblical Armageddon or the apocalypse, e.g., of Apocalypse 6:12-13: ". . . and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the whole moon became as blood. And the stars of heaven fell upon the earth, . . . ." (Douay version; in the Revised Standard version the analogous passage is in Revelation.)

9 Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr. and Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, "MAD versus NUTS," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1981/82, p. 288.

11 Keeny and Panofsky, loc. cit.

13 John Paul II, "Message to U.N. Special Session 1982," p. 8.

15 "The Christian Conscience and Weapons of Mass Destruction," ed. Angus Dun, Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, December 1950.

18 "From Progress to Perplexity," in The Search for America, ed. Huston Smith, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1959, p. 144.

19 Interview with author, March 1983. For a more detailed contemporary analysis of Niebuhr's position, see John C. Bennett, "Niebuhr's Ethic: The Later Years," Christianity and Crisis, April 12, 1982. In the interview, Bennett suggests that Niebuhr would today be far more critical of nuclear deterrence strategy, saying: "We-and this includes Niebuhr-took deterrence for granted without facing the consequences of failure. We used to think it would be immoral to criticize deterrence. Now we must ensure that these weapons are never used, even if this notion calls deterrence into question."

20 Shinn discussed this early insight in his comments at international public hearings sponsored by the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam on November 23-27, 1981. His views, as well as a broad range of reflections on nuclear strategy, can be found in Christianity and Crisis, January 18, 1982. The Amsterdam hearing ended with the following statement: "We believe that the time has come when the Churches must unequivocally declare that the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds." Report of a Public Hearing on Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament, World Council of Churches, Geneva, May 1982, p. 22.

21 In their most recent statement the Baptists declared: "Whereas our national security interests require both a strong defense and a responsible limitation on nuclear weapons . . . we affirm our historic Baptist, commitment to peace with justice as a goal in personal, social and international relations . . . . We support, a program of mutually verifiable disarmament including nuclear disarmament . . . ." "On Peace With Justice," June 1982, New Orleans.

22 Robert Smylie, "A Presbyterian Witness On War and Peace: An Historical Interpretation," Journal of Presbyterian Studies, Winter 1981, p. 505.

23 Interview with author, December 1982.

24 The Apocalyptic Premise, Ernest W. Lefever and E. Stephen Hunt, editors, Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1982.

25 For an overview of the Center's views, along with those of the American Catholic Committee, see "Justice and War in the Nuclear Age," papers presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. in October 1982. Prepublication copy. Publication is scheduled for early spring, 1983.

26 Ethics and Nuclear Deterrence, Geoffrey Goodwin ed., London: Croom Helm, 1982. Dunstan is Professor of Moral and Social Theology at King's College, University of London.



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  • L. Bruce van Voorst is a correspondent for Time magazine. He has served in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America as Bureau Chief, and has reported extensively on peace movements both in Western Europe and the United States.
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