Aghast by the church’s historical “moral sausage-making” when it comes to the political outworking of the gospel in the area of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson—a Baptist minister and a nuclear policy expert—responded by launching the Two Futures Project (hereafter 2FP). Billed as a “grassroots Christian disarmament movement,” 2FP’s goal is to educate the broader evangelical community about the possibility of a future world without nuclear weapons and to provide ideas and avenues for advocacy. Since its debut last April at the Q Gathering in Austin (where Wigg-Stevenson shared the stage with former Secretary of State George Shultz), 2FP’s whirlwind “tour” has included the National Cathedral, PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Leaders Forum, and Willow Creek Community Church’s young adult ministry, Generation Axis. As 2FP received a $120,000 Ploughshares Fund grant in October 2009 to “expand [its] public campaign,” 2010 is anticipated to be an even bigger year for the organization.
In starting 2FP, Wigg-Stevenson has demonstrated a keen comprehension of the current nuclear policy landscape. Since January of this year, nuclear abolitionism—or at least the call for the intentional pursuit of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons—not only received honorable mention in President Obama’s inaugural address, but was the centerpiece of two speeches (5 April in Prague; 24 September at the United Nations) and a joint statement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (1 April in London). Obama’s stance on nuclear abolition has been built on a foundation erected over the last number of years by a host of former US national security practitioners. In 2007 and 2008, four doyens of U.S. Cold War nuclear policy—Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn—penned two now-infamous articles in the Wall Street Journal. Now known as the “four horsemen” editorials, they were written in light of the 20th anniversary of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik and the coming expiration of the START agreement and offered policy prescriptions for moving to a world free of nuclear forces.
Not only is he familiar with the policy landscape, but I would argue that Wigg-Stevenson has extraordinary insight into how recent shifts within American evangelicalism have created an environment within which 2FP’s nuclear abolitionist message can ripen and flourish. During the second Bush administration, arguments about the end of Christendom and the captivity of the American evangelicals to the culture war—familiar in evangelical left circles and, since the late 1990s, also oft-cited in so-called third-way, emerging and/or missional church conversations—began to circulate among more “traditional” evangelical audiences, particularly among the late-20- to early-40-somethings which make up the bulk of 2FP’s target audience. This disillusionment with the culture war, coupled with what might be thought of as an attendant “neo-Anabaptist turn,” has provoked in younger evangelicals an exploding interest in more communitarian aspects of church life and the integration of the gospel with what might be labeled “progressive” social justice concerns.
Before 2FP, Wigg-Stevenson served as the Policy Director for Faithful Security, a multifaith campaign for nuclear abolitionism associated with Barbara Green’s Churches Center for Theology and Public Policy in Washington, DC. He had also helped to draft the nuclear weapons-related portions of the Fuller Theological Seminary-based Matthew 5:21-26 Project—Evangelicals for National Security through International Cooperation—a document significantly influenced by John Howard Yoder’s theology and Glen Stassen’s just peacemaking theory. As described by Jessica Wilbanks in Relevant Magazine, Faithful Security’s desire was to expand the nuclear abolitionist message outside traditional liberal Protestant and peace church audiences into “more conservative and evangelical churches.” Given the shifting religious and political landscape, Wilbanks and Wigg-Stevenson established a separate NGO in Nashville in early 2008 called Biblical Security Covenant, secured a $40,000 Connect U.S. grant to “promot[e] the elimination of nuclear weapons as a ‘top-tier priority for American evangelicals’” and another $40,000 grant from the Tides Foundation and began a year and a half of networking and writing articles (often aimed at younger evangelicals in the pages of Relevant) to prepare for Biblical Security Covenant’s re-christening as 2FP.
As an evangelical Christian who has written on and taught graduate courses about U.S. nuclear strategy, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 2FP’s multi-generational invitation to keep U.S. nuclear policy from devolving into a theology-free zone. I would invite all Christians—evangelicals or not—to visit 2FP’s website, closely read the background and FAQ material (including the “Four Horsemen” articles), as well as Wigg-Stevenson’s Fermi Project paper (“A World Without Nuclear Weapons”), his and Wilbanks’ Relevant articles and the Spring 2009 issue of Yale Divinity School’s Reflections, which was devoted to “Faith and the Future of Nuclear Weapons” and was guest-edited by Wigg-Stevenson. These arguments are not to be brushed aside or ignored. However, I’d also like to offer a few questions and links to those who may not be nuclear policy specialists. They are questions for which I anticipate Wigg-Stevenson has answers, but for whatever reasons, he has not yet addressed them. Given that 2FP’s goal is to educate, equip and assist Christians in “bring[ing] their faith perspective to bear” on the issues surrounding nuclear weapons, it is important for, again, non-experts—national security and theological alike—to see that there are other, in some cases radically different and yet still Christian, perspectives to many of 2FP’s and Wigg-Stevenson’s claims.
Are nuclear weapons inherently sinful? Wigg-Stevenson insists that all nuclear weapons are “un-justifiable” and sinful because they are categorically indiscriminate and therefore fail the jus en bello requirement of noncombatant immunity. Wigg-Stevenson’s assertion rises or falls on whether all nuclear weapons are equally and completely indiscriminate in how they are used and who they are used against. His theological argument for nuclear abolition would appear to require the total exclusion of nuclear weapons from the just war framework.
Why should we privilege the recommendations and positions of the “Four Horsemen” over others who are just as knowledgeable about nuclear weapons policy but who are far less sanguine about the overall prospects for abolition? Take, for instance, Harold Brown, former Secretary of Defense under President Carter. Or James Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense under Nixon and Ford, one of the foremost architects of late Cold War nuclear targeting strategy and nuclear force modernization. For three good and very readable overviews of the different sides of the debates—see here, here and here.
How durable are present world conditions? Wigg-Stevenson argues that non-state terrorist actors are the primary threat to world security. And since he and others argue that stateless actors are near-immune to the threat of nuclear force, the overall deterrence value of such weapons are heavily discounted. This may indeed be the truth, but will non-state actors be the primary threat 20 years from now? Or 50? Neither Wigg-Stevenson nor I know who the United States might have to deter in the future; we also have no idea if our unknown future opponent will find conventional weapons enough of a deterring-type of threat. This is where the details surrounding the capability and speed of nuclear force reconstitution come into play.
On what methodological grounds are we able to assert that “nuclear have-not” countries choose to pursue nuclear arsenals solely or primarily because of the actions of “nuclear haves”? Wigg-Stevenson often uses the phrase “nuclear apartheid” to describe how the injustice and hypocrisy of this two-tier system is what drives proliferation. Is this action/reaction model the most accurate, or are there other, regional, domestic or country-specific reasons for why a “nuclear have-not” might choose to go nuclear?