Saying No to Nuclear Deterrence

In 1986, the United Methodist Council of Bishops, after nearly two years of prayerful and penitent study, adopted a pastoral letter and foundation document entitled In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace.1

The bishops' statement was deeply rooted in biblical faith. They wrote:

At the heart of the Old Testament is the testimony of shalom, that marvelous Hebrew word that means peace. But the peace that is shalom is not negative or one dimensional. It is much more than the absence of war. Shalom is positive peace: harmony, wholeness, health, and well-being in all human relationships. It is the natural state of humanity as birthed by God. It is harmony between humanity and all of God's good creation. All of creation is interrelated. Every creature, every element, every force of nature participates in the whole of creation. If any person is denied shalom, all are thereby diminished. . . .2 New Testament faith presupposes a radical break between the follies, or much so-called conventional wisdom about power and security, on the one hand, and the transcendent wisdom of shalom, on the other. Ultimately, New Testament faith is a message of hope about God's plan and purpose for human destiny. It is a redemptive vision that refuses to wallow in doom.3

Based upon this faith, the bishops in their pastoral letter stated unequivocally that "we say a clear and unconditional No to nuclear war and to any use of nuclear weapons. We conclude that nuclear deterrence is a position that cannot receive the church's blessing."4

The implication is clear. If nuclear weapons cannot be legitimately used for either deterrence or war fighting, no nation should possess them. Accordingly, in the foundation document the bishops indicated:

We support the earliest possible negotiation of phased but rapid reduction of nuclear arsenals, while calling upon all other nuclear-weapon states to agree to parallel arms reductions, to the eventual goal of a mutual and verifiable dismantling of all nuclear armaments.5

In 1988, the United Methodist General Conference affirmed and supported the statements of the Council of Bishops contained in In Defense of Creation.6 Four years later, in a resolution entitled "Nuclear Disarmament: The Zero Option," the 1992 General Conference stated that "now is the time to exercise the zero option: to eliminate all nuclear weapons throughout the globe,"7 and the conference offered a series of concrete actions for achieving this goal.

Our Commitment

We reaffirm the finding that nuclear weapons, whether used or threatened, are grossly evil and morally wrong. As an instrument of mass destruction, nuclear weapons slaughter the innocent and ravage the environment. When used as instruments of deterrence, nuclear weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. Therefore, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt.

In contrast to the goal of total nuclear disarmament, policy of the United States government has moved in the opposite direction in recent years. A series of policy documents—"Nuclear Posture Review" (January 2002), "National Security Strategy" (September 2002), "National Security Presidential Directive 17" (September 2002), and "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" (December 2002)—have called for the development of new nuclear weapons, preparation for renewal of nuclear testing, targeting non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons, and using nuclear weapons in response to biological and chemical weapons. Policy statements have asserted the right to take unilateral, pre-emptive action, including the use of nuclear weapons, against emerging threats by states and terrorist groups before they are fully formed.

These policies undermine the intent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and increase the risk that nuclear weapons will actually be used. We deplore these dangerous and retrogressive policies.

Therefore, we reaffirm the goal of total abolition of all nuclear weapons throughout Earth and space.

Recommended Actions

Because we unequivocally reject the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons, we call upon all possessors of nuclear weapons to carry out the following actions as soon as possible:

1. renounce unconditionally the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence and war-fighting purposes;

2. pledge never to use nuclear weapons against any adversary under any circumstance;

3. immediately take all nuclear weapons off alert by separating warheads from delivery vehicles and by other means;

4. embark upon a program to systematically dismantle all nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles as soon as possible with adequate safeguards and verification, carried out under multilateral treaties and through reciprocal national initiatives;

5. ratify and implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

6. cease all research, development, testing, production, and deployment of new nuclear weapons and refrain from modernizing the existing nuclear arsenal;

7. halt all efforts to develop and deploy strategic antimissile defense systems because they are illusory, unnecessary, and wasteful;

8. respect the requirements of nuclear weapon-free zones where they exist;

9. enter into a multilateral process to develop, adopt, and carry out a nuclear weapons convention that outlaws and abolishes all nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control; and

10. develop and implement a system for control of all fissile material with international accounting, monitoring, and safeguards.

We call upon all nations that do not possess nuclear weapons to:
1. cease all efforts to develop these instruments of mass destruction and their delivery systems;

2. ratify and carry out the provisions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

3. adhere to all provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty; and

4. respect the requirements of nuclear weapon-free zones and extend this approach to other nations and continents.


To promote the achievement of goals and objectives specified in this resolution:

1. We ask the Council of Bishops to transmit a copy of the resolution to the heads of state of all nations possessing nuclear weapons.

2. We ask the General Board of Church and Society to publicize the resolution with appropriate governmental officials, legislators, the media, and the general public.

3. We call upon the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Church and Society to provide leadership, guidance, and educational material to United Methodists, congregations, and conferences in order to assist them in understanding and working for the goal and objectives of nuclear abolition.

4. We request that the General Board of Church and Society prepare an annual "report card" to be included with Peace With Justice Sunday materials in relation to: a) countries that possess nuclear weapons and their compliance with the recommended actions in this resolution, and b) countries that do not posses nuclear weapons and their compliance with the recommended actions in this resolution.


We fervently believe that these recommendations will greatly enhance global security by eliminating the possibility of nuclear war. Furthermore, the resources of human talent, production capacity, and money released can become available to deal with urgent human problems around the globe. Nuclear abolition provides great hope for global peace and prosperity.


See Social Principles, ¶ 164C.

1. In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace, the United Methodist Council of Bishops (Nashville: Graded Press, 1986).
2. Ibid., page 24.
3. Ibid., page 28.
4. Ibid., page 92.
5. Ibid., page 76
6. The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 1988, page 503.
7. Ibid., page 601.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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