Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Pragmatism - is that all?

As is their custom, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has issued a statement welcoming the agreement between the USA and Russia to cut their stockpile of nuclear weapons.

We urge them to stand side by side in that shared responsibility and make urgent and unambiguous progress together. In fact, we believe that by doing so they will gradually gain the moral authority needed to encourage other states in eliminating these weapons of mass destruction.

Well, of course, who wouldn’t welcome the agreement? It’s pragmatic international politics and, on that level, let’s hope for more of it. The churches, and all people who value their lives and life in general, should encourage it.

But is the role of the World Council of Churches simply to support pragmatic political approaches to which everyone will sign up? Who takes this opportunity to say clearly, unambiguously and loudly that nuclear weapons are obscene and an offence to God? Who reminds Russia and the USA that that they have conveniently left themselves with enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other and the rest of us with plenty left over to do it all over again, without the cost of keeping the surplus stockpile safe and in order? Why should the WCC do little more than pat them on the back?

My former colleagues in the WCC know well that I have problems with this kind of statement. Inoffensive statements may win friends in high places but it has always seemed to me that the gospel is more about pulling the powerful off their thrones than encouraging them to think more highly of themselves than they should.

I want a WCC that isn’t afraid to offend by offering a radical vision in its statements that reflect a faith that should turn the world upside down – or perhaps the right way up.


  1. Totally agree. I like to see churches (and WCC of course) which are brave to have strong oppinion, to choose a side.

  2. It was surprising that a WCC statement on nuclear weapons should be
    quite so unexciting - here's anther example of overwhelming blandness
    - "Agreement by the two major powers to cooperate in limiting nuclear
    arms, which will enhance and improve international relations in the
    21st Century, would be widely welcomed among member churches of the
    World Council of Churches".

    Does no one over there in Geneva remember that in 1983 the WCC in
    Vancouver stated (in the teeth of the opposition of some Church of England delegates it is said) that "the production and
    deployment of nuclear weapons as well as their use constitute a crime
    against humanity", and that "such a position supports the struggle to
    cause one's own nation to commit itself never to own or use nuclear
    weapons, despite the period of nuclear vulnerability".

  3. In some ways I wish it was only a failure to remember. I fear it may be more a fear of robust discourse both between the churches and with the rest of the world.

  4. Or possibly a lack of confidence in the Gospel that has the power to change lives?