NCC Leaders Offer Pastoral Advice to Senate on Nuclear Arms Reduction

An image of Mary, the mother of Christ, from the cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan. A vivid reminder of the human cost and suffering caused by the use of nuclear weapons in war, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first human communities to be the targets of nuclear weapons — a mute call for meaningful work to reduce nuclear stockpile today. Photo courtesy of the National Council of Churches

With perhaps unintended irony, two US senators have declared that Christmas is not the time to move toward peace by reducing the number of nuclear arms in the arsenals of the US and Russia. Today, Dec. 15, general secretary of the National Council of Churches Michael Kinnamon and several heads of NCC member communions, including Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger, sent the lawmakers a reminder that the Prince of Peace is the reason for the season.

Senators Jim DeMint and Jon Kyl have both declared their intention to delay ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START II) during the lame duck session of Congress. Observers suspect they may be taking the stand for partisan reasons, but each has declared that Christmas is not the time to support arms reduction.

“You can’t jam a major arms control treaty right before Christmas,” Demint said in an interview with Politico, calling the whole thing “sacrilegious.” “This is the most sacred holiday for Christians,” he said. “They did the same thing last year–they kept everybody here until (Christmas Eve) to force something down everybody’s throat.”

Earlier, Kyl complained that efforts by Senate majority leader Harry Reid to ratify START II as well as pass other legislation was too much at Christmas time. “It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out, frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians,” insisted Kyl.

But Kinnamon sent the senators a peaceful admonishment that they have overlooked the true spirit of Christmas. “If anything this time of year should be an encouragement for our leaders to work harder for peace on earth in response to God who wills peace for all,” he said. “Peace is major theme of the Advent season and celebration of Christmas. The NCC looks forward to being able to celebrate ratification of this treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles and improve verification. Any delay would be contrary to our commitment to peace on earth.”

Last month the general assembly of the NCC and Church World Service unanimously adopted a call to ratify the treaty. Kinnamon and CWS executive director John L. McCullough sent copies of the statement to US senators (see ).

Meeting today with the heads of several NCC member communions, Kinnamon said several other leaders endorsed the call to senators to recognize that the Christmas season is indeed the appropriate time to support measures for peace.

The leaders include Noffsinger along with Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America; Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America; Michael Livingston of the International Council of Community Churches; Betsy Miller of the Moravian Church Northern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference; Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Gradye Parsons of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church; and Dick Hamm of Christian Churches Together.

Kinnamon and the group also reminded the Senate that the theme of peace at Christmas time is unmistakable in scripture. The song of the angels on the night Christ was born makes it clear that the word on high is “Peace on Earth,” Serapion said, citing Luke 2:14. The Prophet Isaiah declares the coming of a messiah called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

“In this advent season we anticipate the birth of the Prince of Peace and hear the good news to ‘fear not,'” said Noffsinger. “The theme of ‘fear not’ calls us to a world freed from these weapons that are based on the response of fear.”

— Philip E. Jenks is media relations specialist for the National Council of Churches.

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