Synod Goes Nuclear

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

In its almost fifty year history, there have been just a tiny number of occasions when the General Synod of the Church of England has been able to host the debate that the rest of society, including the political establishment, has been failing to have. Faith in the City is perhaps the best remembered example, when a well written and deeply researched report challenged both church and society to respond to the increasing impoverishment of both our inner cities and our outer estates. From that same era, with the Cold War between East and West still raging, and MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, as the basis for our defence policies, came a report entitled “The Church and the Bomb”. Both were highly controversial at the time, the Church being accused of meddling in politics by those who disagreed with the thrust of the reports, yet their fates were almost complete opposites. Faith in the City helped inspire a generation of responses to poverty, by both church organisations and wider society. By contrast, almost any attempt during the intervening decades to even discuss nuclear weapons has been at best ignored. So I’m delighted that space has been set aside next weekend for a serious Synod debate about this long neglected, but vitally important, topic. 

I’m a pragmatist at heart. If, on the balance of the evidence, our possession of nuclear weapons makes the risk of war much lower, and markedly reduces the likelihood that others will use such similar armaments as they possess, then I would consider them both moral to possess and a justifiable expenditure of the large amounts of the money we pay in our taxes for them. Given the risks such weapons present, and their huge cost at a time when money is short for many important other causes, I would have expected the arguments to be set out with similar seriousness and frequency to that with which we determine and revise our national position on matters from health and education to who runs our trains. Yet the silence has been deafening.

 

In fact it has been more than just silence. When the House of Bishops suggested, in the midst of a Pastoral Letter ahead of the 2015 General Election, that parties should debate their stance on Britain’s possession of nuclear arms, the response of many in the media and political world seemed to be that anyone doing so must be both a confirmed abolitionist and deeply unpatriotic. It was a reaction that first shocked me, and then convinced me that the need for a proper, informed debate was more urgent than ever.

 

Moreover, I was left with a feeling that perhaps the reason why nuclear weapons are not debated in public is because their justification is not actually about the defence of the realm at all, but something more visceral and far less worthy. In a Britain that has now long lost its Empire, and which struggles to keep up with the pace of development and growth in much of the rest of the world, do we cling to our bomb as some kind of status symbol; that in possession of this horrific armament, if in nothing else, we remain high in the Premier League?

So I’m looking forward to a reasoned and well argued Synod debate. One where the best of arguments around the role of nuclear weapons in both the world and in Britain’s armoury will be deployed and tested. One where the Church of England can show that, irrespective of the particular views of individual members on the subject, we are all passionate about the wellbeing of our country and its role for good in the world. Which is, after all, what true patriotism is about.

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6 Responses to Synod Goes Nuclear

  1. Perhaps one of the reasons that this debate has stalled is that nobody is willing to look at the problem of fear. We are in a cleft stick situation here; afraid of what will happen if we scale down or get rid of our nuclear armaments (which, I believe far exceed the amount needed for global destruction, let alone the destruction of other nations’ weapons) and equally afraid of setting off further chain reactions if we maintain or increase them. The question all those who are party to these discussions really need to be asking is ‘how do we manage fear? our own and everyone else’s’ The guidance of the Holy Spirit is badly needed here.

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  2. Angus J says:

    On this subject, I endorse the suspicions expressed in the penultimate paragraph – I think that keeping nuclear weapons in the UK is done by the government as a status symbol so as to stay in the ‘big boy’s club’ of nuclear nations.

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  3. I think Angus is probably right – sadly. But this urgent need to be ‘top dog’ is also spawned and sustained by fear. But it also opens up opportunities for a different kind of dialogue between nations – on a much more intimate and human scale, perhaps. These might be small seminar groups, ideally with a strong faith input, whose members would strive to hear and understand one another more deeply. If the spiritual dynamic was vital enough, and if there was even a speck of humour, trust might begin to appear and from trust comes friendship. Too idealistic for most I suspect, but what else is there left for us to do?

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  4. Andrew Jenkins says:

    We really appreciate Bishop David Walker’s blog post! We are members of the Church of England at St. Katherine’s, Teversal, Ashfield, Nottinghamshire in the Southwell diocese and we have written to all the general synod members from the Southwell and Nottingham diocese about the debate this month.

    In advance of the 2007 Synod, 20 Anglican Bishops stated that: “Trident and other nuclear arsenals threaten long-term and fatal damage to the global environment and its peoples. As such their end is evil and both possession and use are profoundly anti-God acts.” At last year’s Synod, Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, held a meeting, ‘Can Nuclear Weapons be banned?’ where Archbishop Justin Welby attended, telling the meeting ‘the matter is urgent’.

    The recent UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been drawn up by 122 nations including the Vatican. General Lee Butler, former commander in chief, United States Strategic Command, controlling all US nuclear weapons, has said: ‘We have escaped a nuclear holocaust so far by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention. Our Creator has given us a second chance to get it right. There is no guarantee of a third chance.’

    We and the congregations in our benefice are praying that our synod members will contribute, on our behalf, to ensuring that our Church makes the best possible contribution to achieving an effective ban on these terrible Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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  5. harry kane says:

    thanks

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