The world seemed to collectively hold its breath over the summer as the intensifying war-mongering rhetoric between President Trump and Kim Jong-un reached ever new heightened levels. North Korea have been publicly intensifying their nuclear weapon capability both in range and load. With every new threat from Kim Jong-un, Trump responded with promises of “fire and fury”. At times, it seemed almost inevitable that a nuclear strike was a distinct possibility.
Yet while North Korea perfected its arsenal, many nations were busy negotiating the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty. In so doing, a paradox was exposed. While 122 countries (notably excluding the UK and USA) were dreaming of a nuclear free future, other nations were busy preparing for war. The USA cited the development of North Korea’s capability as a reason to maintain its own deterrent.
At the centre of the paradox we are confronted with a profound question: “where is God in the midst of this?”
There are several ways of viewing war and preparations for war from a Christian perspective. The most popular are the “just war theory” and “pacifism”.
Just war theory suggests that war is necessary in certain circumstances in order to protect our own lives and the lives of others. The concept, which first developed before the Christian era, has evolved under the influence of Christian theologians into a set of criteria to ensure that any war is justifiable. These include, amongst others, the requirement that all other means have been exhausted in resolving conflict and that the harm done is proportionate to the aim. Furthermore, any conflict must be able to discriminate combatants from non-combatants and the means proportionate to the ultimate goal.
When nuclear capability is compared in the light of this theory we find difficulty. The harm done is always certain to be out of proportion with the aim, it is impossible to discriminate the target because of the widespread and long-lasting impacts of nuclear exposure. Rachel Lampard, writing in the Methodist Recorder earlier this year, reminded us that the impact of nuclear weapons in terms of human, environmental and agricultural costs span our time and space with costs not yet imaginable with a unaccountable magnitude.
And so Pacifism, an opinion described by many as a “minority report”. Often citing a basis in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, pacifists take seriously Jesus’ command to resist the evildoer, to turn the other cheek, give more than is demanded and to love their enemies. Although it sounds passive, pacifism is active non-violence. While it sounds the easy option, it never really is – we only have to look at the treatment of conscientious objectors during conscription and national service to see the huge and humiliating personal cost for their devotion to the peaceful cause.
Many would argue that the basis of pacifist belief is fine for a personal ethic but cannot be extrapolated to international relations. Indeed it can seem naïve and implausible when considered in the face of the sovereignty of the nation state and its right to defend its borders and interests. Even more so, then, when considering the nuclear threat and its unthinkable cost, the pacifist view seems untenable.
But is it really so untenable and implausible? Walter Wink, in his book Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way, describes Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount about resisting the evildoer, turning the other cheek, giving more than is demanded and to loving enemies, not as a fixed manifesto of good behaviour but rather a set of examples of how playful subversion of the cultural expectations can defuse a potentially exponential cycle of violence and injustice begetting violence and injustice until all human dignity and the integrity of creation is destroyed.
One notable example of such subversion is Article 9 in the Constitution of Japan adopted in May 1947 which commits Japan to “renouncing war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” In the face of a brutal war and untold terrors, it would have been conceivable for Japan to retaliate, if it had the means. Instead, a nation metaphorically turned the other cheek and took a risk for the sake of peace, reducing their own sovereign right to make room for peace to be established.
Another notable example was the creation of the European Union in which each member nation softening its own sovereignty to find a common good.
For many, though not all, it is disappointing that Japan seems to be weakening its “pacifist clause” while the UK voted to leave European Union prompting fears of its eventual breakup and a return to hardened national sovereignty.
So I wonder if we could take Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as an encouragement to playfully subvert our own cultural expectations of responding to violent threat in creative and peace-building ways that do not resort to fire and fury.
And ok, we might not be able to change the Trump-Jong-un situation ourselves, but we can creatively and imaginatively implore our government and all the world’s leaders to be creative, innovative and risk taking peacemakers in the world for the sake of the God-given dignity and integrity of all peoples and the whole of God’s creation.
 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/07/treaty-banning-nuclear-weapons-approved-un [Accessed 15 September 2017]
 http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/peacemakers-nuclear-age/ [Accessed 15 September 2017]