Recent contributors have rightly raised the faith dimension to anti-nuclear campaigning. There’s
a strong tradition of grassroots faith opposition to nuclear weapons in Britain, which at times has
been inspirational even for those of us who don’t count faith as a primary identity.
I was first touched by faith peace campaigning in the early 1980s when I became active against
siting of cruise missiles in Britain. While RAF Greenham Common made the news, something remarkable
was also taking place at RAF Molesworth. This was the second base to receive cruise missiles–64
were delivered in 1986. In 1982, the Fellowship of Reconciliation established a peace camp there,
strongly supported by Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Peace campers started to build an
All-Faiths Peace Chapel on the base, called Eirene. This chapel became a focus for resistance to
the military use of land at Molesworth; after the camp was evicted, daily requests were made for
access to pray at the chapel. They were always refused, but that determination to bear witness and
bring peace was a powerful symbol.
In our recent struggles against Trident replacement, we’ve seen not only grassroots activism,
but a greater willingness to speak out–and take action–from the upper levels of faith
communities. For example, in July 2006, 19 Anglican Bishops intervened in the Trident debate,
issuing a lengthy statement that included the language, “Whatever our various views on conventional
warfare, we all agree that just war arguments rule out the use of nuclear weapons.”
We’ve also seen cooperation between Christian denominations. Leaders of the Baptist, Methodist,
and United Reformed Churches made a joint statement, urging the British government “to work
tirelessly to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction,” pointing out that replacing Trident
would send the wrong message to aspiring nuclear powers.
This type of cooperation has been particularly strong in Scotland, where the Trident nuclear
weapons submarines are based. The leaders of the two major Christian denominations, the Rev. Alan
McDonald of the Church of Scotland and Cardinal Keith O’Brien of the Roman Catholic Church, stated
together that the deployment and use of nuclear arms is theologically and morally wrong. McDonald
was clear: “As disciples of Christ, our calling is to be peacemakers today in the world. There can
be no place for weapons of mass destruction in a world that God loves so much.”
The Scottish Catholic Bishops also got support for their anti-Trident position from Rome.
Cardinal Martino, representing the Vatican, sent a letter to Cardinal O’Brien endorsing the
bishops’ declaration. Action came, too. Last fall, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
organized an 85-mile walk from the Faslane base to the Scottish Parliament. On the first day, both
Reverend McDonald and Archbishop Mario Conti, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, took
part, sharing a rain-soaked platform with Bruce Kent and myself.
Yet among us was another faith representative–Bashir Maan, Scottish representative of the
Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The support of the MCB, Britain’s most representative Muslim
organization, is symptomatic of a wider and most significant new development: Non-Christian faith
communities also taking action. And perhaps most important of all, given the tendency in some
circles toward trying to divide people by religious affiliation, we’ve also seen cooperation across
diverse faiths to speak out
together against Trident replacement.
Representatives from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths came together
to make a categorical statement: “We believe that the common position held by our faith traditions,
expressed as the sanctity of life, leads us inexorably to say that the only real security for the
world and the most responsible position for people of faith in our traditions is to call on our
nation and other countries of the world to steadily and in a verifiable manner to eliminate these
weapons from the face of the world. We totally reject the replacement of Trident.”
For the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, we learned the lesson from our great anti-Trident
demonstration on February 24, 2007. Not only did we have nearly 100,000 people demonstrate, it was
jointly organized with the British Muslim Initiative, which had taken an unequivocally anti-Trident
position. The marvelous Anglican Bishop of Reading also delivered a powerful speech from the
platform. Interfaith cooperation is the way!