NEW YORK – A U.S. baptist minister and ethics of nuclear weapons policy expert has warned that Christians who would respond to a nuclear attack on the U.S. by calling for the same kind of retaliation will turn away people from listening to them preach the Gospel.
"What religions can do is pull us back from a sense of absolute reciprocity," the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday.
He said that if a nation such as North Korea were to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S., plenty of people will call for the same kind of attack in return, which would punish the people of an entire country.
"I think religious voices need to oppose that. What we are about is faithful witness. I'm quite sure, if nuclear weapons are used against the United States, many religious voices, many Christians would be calling for retaliation in kind. I think that after, if that happened, no one would ever listen to the Gospel from those lips again," Wigg-Stevenson said.
The baptist minister, who is also the founder and director of The Two Futures Project, a network of American Christians urging the abolition of nuclear weapons, participated in an anti-nuclear weapons panel at the UN on Wednesday. The conference featured members of several different religious groups who condemned such weapons, and warned that a nuclear catastrophe looms dangerously over the world.
Wigg-Stevenson provided some background on the meeting, and pointed out that the cornerstone of international nuclear relations is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which has existed since 1970. The treaty seeks to guarantee that countries that already have nuclear weapons will seek to eliminate their arsenals; that all countries will be able to use nuclear energy for peaceful means, and that other countries will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
"It sees a future where everyone has access to nuclear energy, and no one has nuclear weapons. That's the vision that holds the treaty together," the Baptist minister told CP, pointing out that the treaty is reviewed every five years.
The conference was hosted by The Permanent Mission of the Philippines and the Global Security Institute, which Wigg-Stevenson helped set up, and currently sits on its board.
Wigg-Stevenson spoke at the panel on behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance, with representatives from the Vatican, as well as Buddhism, Islam and Judaism participating as well.
The minister said that Christians, including the WEA, the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, all give similar analysis of the nature of the threat, and thoughts on how nuclear weapons should be dealt with within Christian ethics. He said that those thoughts are largely echoed by the other religions' takes on the issue.
He warned, however, that it is important not to "confuse our rationale with the end product."
"There is a tendency whenever you start bringing together multiple religions, some people want to say 'well, don't we all think the same, and don't we all agree for the same reasons.' And actually, the reasons that I come to this as an evangelical, are entirely different than the reasons, for example, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi [of Fiqh Council of North America] would come to this as a Muslim."
"I think it undermines religious activism, undermines the contribution we make when we ignore our own speciality, when we ignore the particularity of our own traditions," he added.
One of the speakers on the panel, Dr. William Vendley of Religions for Peace, took a theological and philosophical look on war and nuclear weapons when it comes to the Christian position.
Vendley noted that one of the central commandments of the Bible is "Thou shalt not kill," which he said is a clear, non-complicated commandment that is not tailored over specific circumstances.
"At the same time, that same tradition, and many others, recognize that reality is complicated, there are tragic situations where goods conflict, and where the least worst thing to do, in some traditions, might be to kill," he said.
Reflecting on those thoughts, Wigg-Stevenson emphasized that he believes Vendley was making the point that there might be times when self-defense or limited just war may be necessary, but people should not take those exceptions and make them the governing norms.
"Personally, I am not a pacifist," the Baptist minister said. "I am not approaching this from a strict sense that force is always forbidden. One thing I have written about, however, is that within a Christian understanding, we recognize that whenever we do engage in these activities of using force, the Christian responsibility is to understand that 'I am doing what I am doing as a proxy or a servant of God.'"
During his speech on Wednesday, Wigg-Stevenson offered that it is likely that governments will fail the people and lead them "into some form of nuclear catastrophe."
In his interview with CP he said that it is difficult to speculate about hypotheticals, such as the possibility of North Korea using a nuclear weapon.
The government of Kim Jong Un has continuously carried out nuclear tests despite international warnings and sanctions.
"I think them using a weapon is pretty unlikely, as it would be suicidal," the minister said. "It would invite everyone else to throw off all restraint. It crosses a taboo that hasn't been broken in nearly 70 years," he added, referring to the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945 during World War II.
Wigg-Stevenson said that the goal of the the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is not to create a perfect world, but simply one without nuclear weapons.
"There are substantial changes that need to happen. It's not utopia, it's not world peace, it's not one government, it's none of those things, but there are substantial changes. One of the things would be a rigorous international monitoring system [on] the capacity to build nuclear weapons. It's a tremendously technically difficult endeavor, that can be inspected."
Further information on the WEA's Global Task Force on Nuclear Weapons, which appointed Wigg-Stevenson as Chairman of the Task Force, is available on its website.