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Consultation on the "Peace of the World Free of Nuclear Weapons"

Speech given by Samuel Kobia at the Consultation on the "Peace of the World Free of Nuclear Weapons", organized by the Asia Pacific Graduate School, Korea; the National YMCA of Korea; and the DMZ Society, Hwacheon, Korea.

04 December 2009

Speech by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General secretary
World Council of Churches

Consultation on the “Peace of the World Free of Nuclear Weapons”

Kangwondo, Korea, 4 December 2009

Greetings to you in the Name of God our Creator and Redeemer, in the Spirit of Advent Season, in the name of the one we call the Prince of Peace. Pastors and professors, advocates and leaders in your churches in the work for peace, friends and former colleagues – this is a meeting whose purpose might inspire many more than we who are privileged to attend. It is a meeting that can become part of a wider process of bringing benefit to our societies and nations.

Your presence is a testimony to the commitment and concern that exists among the member churches of the World Council of Churches for a more viable international and human security. Largely because of Korean initiative, we are in this important context to examine the church’s role in a crucial area of peacemaking. It is unfortunate but fitting that we must meet on contested ground, and among a people whose lives have been buffeted by a century of aggression and conflict. We meet with sorrow in a place where the use of force has torn families, communities and a whole nation apart, and left them separated with no regard for the passage of time.

In the shadow of the most militarized border in the world, I would hope that this address, indeed, this conference and its outcome, will take place in the light of God’s words of life. Here so near to the DMZ, may God help all of us to be people who, as the second chapter of Ephesians says, strive to “live the peace that unites”, people who live out the peace that unites us for life and for service. My hope is also that our presence here may strengthen this Korean community and this Peace Park, as places where people yearn for peace and also work for it. We are meeting in a ‘peace park’ whose very location calls out for a world connection.

My remarks will be a kind of peace pilgrimage from here to places where churches have lifted up the cause of peace including peace in the face of nuclear dangers. The pilgrimage will include Tozanso and Amsterdam, Evanston and Seoul, Porto Alegre and Bujumbura, and, we pray, the forthcoming ecumenical peace gathering to be held in Kingston and WCC Assembly in Busan.

The objective of our consultation here in Hwacheon is to contribute to the revitalization of the ecumenical movement that is taking place around the issue of peace. This consultation growing out of one country and one region is hoping to become a tributary that flows into a larger river, the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2011. An analysis of that hope would indicate good prospects if we take account of both local and global factors. For example, will we address specific problems of peace and security here in Northeast Asia and bring them within the range of action of churches both here and in other regions? If so, we need to be faithful, ethical and politically constructive. We must pursue the goal as Christians with differences and as believers who collaborate with peoples of other faiths.

The organizers of this meeting and the organizations and networks represented here have been committed to the issue of peace in the Korean peninsula and elsewhere in the world for a long time. May our presence here, and the directions that we envision, lead to an important contribution to the cause of peace for the Korean people and their neighbours.

A Tozanso pilgrimage

137 church leaders from both parts of Korea and various other countries came together last month in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, around the theme of “Peace, Reconciliation and Reunification”.

A considerable number of us were there to mark this 25th anniversary of the Consultation convened in Tozanso, Japan in 1984 by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC and by the Christian Conference of Asia. That first ecumenical gathering on the peaceful reunification of the divided Korean peninsula generated a healing and reconciling spirit which has come to be a hallmark of what we call the Tozanso process. Convictions voiced along the Tozanso road ring out as clearly today as when they were spoken.

The yearning for peace, justice and unity converges most poignantly and in a unique manner in the case of Korea. The Korean people have been divided by foreign forces, and remain divided by force and have been submitted to coercive systems of control which perpetuate this division and are justified by it....In Korea…'security' imposes a continual state of confrontation. A so-called 'peace' is maintained at the cost of the largest concentration of military force in the world. (1989 WCC Statement)

In Tsuen Wan we recognized the many positive developments since Tozanso. These are a foretaste of “the peace that unites”. They include: Christian leaders from both North and South Korea, and from the wider ecumenical family, transcending borders by meeting repeatedly to develop trust and understanding; increasing contact between the peoples of North and South Korea through people-to-people exchanges, family reunions, tourism, the sharing of resources and economic cooperation; and the process towards reunification rising steadily on the agenda between the governments of North and South Korea, especially in the North-South Joint Declaration of June 15 of 2000 and the October 4 Declaration 0f 2007.

We also noted recent difficulties which challenge the process towards reunification. These difficulties include hostility and continued reliance on military power and military threats; a sharp change in outlook and policies towards North Korea since the change of government in South Korea last year; a downturn in visits and in economic co-operation.

Tsuen Wan affirmed the gospel commitment of Christians “to work against evil, injustice and suffering in all its forms, and to pray and work for God’s justice, peace and unity in the world”.

In the Tozanso spirit, the Tsuen Wan Consultation offers support for new steps towards reunification. Some are for Koreans: full implementation by both Korean governments of the joint declarations of 2000 and 2007; more humanitarian and development aid; and promoting the concept of “reunification as a process” that builds up co-existence, co-operation and confederation.

Other steps are mostly for other countries: bilateral negotiations between the DPRK and the USA to reduce tensions; normalizing relations between the DPRK and Japan; urging the USA to end its hostile policies towards the DPRK; cessation of all multinational military exercises in and around the Korean peninsula; allowing space and time for direct, tension-reducing negotiations between North and South Korea.

Finally, and significantly for a meeting like this, there are steps for the international ecumenical community: supporting WCC policy and initiatives for a world free of all nuclear weapons; and encouraging Christians of North and South Korea to celebrate a turning point in their endeavours for peace and reunification at the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, Korea, four years from now. May active international partnerships for peace bring the world ecumenical community to celebrate at your side.

Let us ponder this point and explore it during our precious time together. What is the ecumenical vision for a world free of nuclear arms and how might that be a catalyst for peace action and a cause for collaboration among Korea’s Christians leading up to Busan 2013?  Tools for the broader work of peace exist, including the multilateral potential of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula.

These hopes turn, as at Tsuen Wan, on a unifying promise in Scripture, a guide for living in the One who is our Peace, the One who unites us:

In the name of Christ Jesus, our peace, in whom we are made one, who has broken down the wall of hostility, creating in himself one new people, reconciling all people to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end… (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Let us indeed live in Christ as people who believe that walls of hostility have been broken. Let us do so above the divisions that too often characterize church life. Let us do so to mend the torn fabric of broken communities.

Let us also stretch to break the highest of walls between peoples and bar the most dangerous of roads that nations take. Churches thinking nationally have allowed themselves too often to be identified, for example, with one nuclear armed nation against another. Finding our unity over against this world-shattering divide is an enduring ecumenical mission. It has been explored to a remarkable extent at the level of policy. But it has still to be achieved in our collective responses to our own societies and with our respective governments.

The Apostle John reminds us that we are not to become one for the sake of oneness. We are to be one so that the world may believe. To believe in a world restored to its nuclear weapon free status is to affirm and seek the life that God offers to all God’s children.

Ecumenical vision versus nuclear division: From Amsterdam to Porto Alegre

From Tozanso let us think back to 1948 and the churches’ struggle to claim the peace that would unite them amid the ruins of a world war and a crumbling colonial order. The ecumenical movement established its work in international affairs at the same time as the Atomic Bomb. Our spiritual forbears met to make a more united witness against a common threat just as the world was entering the most dangerous race in human history, the nuclear arms race.

At its first Assembly, in Amsterdam, the WCC stated that “the part which war plays in our present international life is a sin against God and a degradation of man” and “the discovery of atomic and other new weapons renders widespread and indiscriminate destruction inherent in the whole conduct of modern war….” Other early voices, scientific and religious, were also warning against the impending nuclear arms race. But even the fresh and terrible memories of a modern world war could not dampen the seductive power of having these unstoppable weapons.

The WCC has sustained its concern to avoid nuclear war and maintained its dedication to abolish nuclear armaments throughout the ensuing years. The governing bodies of the WCC and a solid core of member churches have again and again addressed the nuclear threat from a moral, faith-based and global perspective.

The second WCC Assembly took place in Evanston USA in 1954, the same year the armistice regime was set in place here in Korea. The WCC at that time called for a new international order with the elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons and a mechanism of effective international inspections and control. It is extremely significant to see that, already in 1954, the Churches were identifying in viable political terms the main elements of what 15 years later became the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT. But a new US president, a former general prescient enough to identify the military-industrial as a new kind of threat to peace, would preside over the beginnings of a super-power arms race whose scale defies the imagination.

At the third Assembly in 1961 – the first in Asia, in New Delhi, India – the Churches called for two concrete steps that still define progress today: no-first use of nuclear weapons and nuclear-arms-free zones to enhance the safety of citizens in countries without the bomb.

But one year later in the Cuban missile crisis, Russia and the US were to push each other to the brink of mutually assured destruction. The non-nuclear nations of Latin America acted on the concept the WCC and others supported. Their response to the specter of an apocalypse was to establish their lands as places that refuse to allow the specter of apocalypse– from Mexico in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south – the world’s first nuclear weapon-free-zone. Countries like Mexico and Costa Rica remain champions of nuclear disarmament and NWFZs to this day.

In 1983, the year of the Vancouver Assembly, massive public protests were held around the world against the nuclear arms race and super-power plans to deploy new nuclear weapons in Europe. The Assembly called churches, especially those in a Europe divided between East and West, to redouble their efforts to convince their governments to negotiate for security rather than seeking it in weapons of mass destruction.

Already by this time, the combined Soviet and American nuclear arsenals had reached more than 70,000 weapons. There were many more weapons available than targets to destroy. The indiscriminate effects of nuclear weapons put whole cities at risk. The biggest type of bomb carried more explosive power than all explosives ever used -- from the Chinese invention of gunpowder through the US bombings of the Vietnam War.

Strangely, however, after the end of the Cold War, public attention turned away from nuclear arms. We must confess that many in the churches became part of that trend. Some transferred their concern to curbing other forms of armed violence, such as land mines, and to the various wars of the 1990s. Some saw positive trends on the nuclear front and expected progress to continue.

Other developments contributed to a positive atmosphere. A black South Africa, and newly independent former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, made history by renouncing or by agreeing under pressure to give up the nuclear weapons they had inherited from collapsed regimes.

After a collective undertaking that the Middle East would become a nuclear-weapon-free zone, the Arab states agreed that the NPT should be made permanent at the NPT Review Conference in 1995. More countries joined the treaty, already the largest disarmament treaty in history. Shortly thereafter, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was negotiated and signed, although not ratified by key states including three main players in this region – the US, Russia and China.

Looking back now at what happened then, and conscious of where we are today, one can say that the five recognized nuclear powers did not give the 184 other signatories of the NPT – or the three states outside the treaty India, Israel and Pakistan – reason to believe they were serious about implementing the part of the NPT bargain where they promised to disarm in return for other countries never seeking the bomb.

However, the Cold War generated such vast nuclear arsenals that, ever since it finished, substantial cuts could be made over a long period without ever facing the real challenges of actually eliminating nuclear weapons. Any nuclear weapon anywhere is a threat to stability. One bomb somewhere will generate other bombs elsewhere in what Ban Ki Moon in his important Five-Point Plan for nuclear disarmament in October 2008 called “the contagious doctrine of deterrence”.

By the NPT Review Conference in 2000, India and Pakistan had both shaken South Asia by coming out as nuclear states. Israel was generating increasing instability in the Middle East with its studied ambiguity about its nuclear weapons, its failure to acknowledge regional concerns over its arsenal, and its self-defeating pretence that it would deal with its nuclear dilemma only after it had made peace with its neighbours.

The Review Conference in 2000 still made some progress. The five nuclear parties to the NPT, in order to save the treaty, committed themselves to ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals – but without mentioning a timeline for any success. By that, the delicate balance of the NPT, where the nuclear parties commit themselves to disarmament and elimination and others agree not to obtain nuclear arms, was maintained at least in a declaratory sense.

The 2006 Assembly of the World Council of Churches, in its statement "On the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” affirmed that “all people of faith are needed in our day to expose the fallacies of nuclear doctrine.” The Assembly confessed that throughout the darkest period of the Cold War God had, in effect, saved us from ourselves. Porto Alegre calls on member churches and parishes to overcome complacency in society concerning the nuclear threat and to raise awareness among younger generations of what these weapons actually do.

The time has come for the churches to seek more and stronger unity and address the issue of nuclear weapons together. Addressing nuclear disarmament together requires robust development of clear policy goals, plus disciplined pursuit of the recommendation we make. The WCC governing bodies have set policy five times since 2004, including two months ago at the Central Committee in Geneva. Positions are increasingly informed by member churches and related groups as they develop operable policies at the national or regional level and share them ecumenically. Copies of the WCC documents are available here and at oikumene.org. Also there is a one-page summary of what we stand for, the policies that have anchored 60 years of ecumenical engagement for peace without nuclear arms.

Extending the circle of churches coming together for a nuclear-weapon-free world

When the WCC UN Advocacy Week focused on nuclear disarmament, 33 of the 80 participants signed up to stay in touch on the issue. All have received occasional news of ecumenical advocacy strategy, actions and opportunities as part of a larger list of interested parties in the two years since. Some have taken part in a growing ecumenical nuclear network. During 2009, these latter participants helped to generate a series of targeted actions. The actions above involved WCC member churches and ecumenical partners in: Australia, Burundi, Canada, the European Union, India, Kenya, Korea, Liberia, Malaysia, Middle East, Namibia, Norway, South Africa, USA, United Kingdom and more.

I will give two examples in brief and one in some detail. I would invite you to listen for aspects of these cases that may inform the challenges in this part of the world:

Churches are doing advocacy that is national-international advocacy with the WCC. This means that they collaborate so that their government can hear the same policy “ask” from their church or organization in-capitol as it does from WCC in Geneva or New York.

Churches are also doing joint trans-continental advocacy to engage the NATO military alliance. It is WCC policy that NATO renounces its reliance on nuclear weapons. NATO is currently reviewing its nuclear doctrine. The church approach represents all the churches in NATO countries via joint action from the US, European and Canadian Councils of Churches and WCC. As we have before, the WCC is urging that nuclear weapons are withdrawn from non-nuclear-weapon NATO states, where they sit in violation of the NPT. You are familiar with nuclear umbrellas in this part of the world. They have no place in a world freeing itself from the bomb.

Member churches working with the Geneva secretariat are also responding to the WCC governing bodies admonitions to support the establishment of nuclear Weapon Free Zones. That call includes "cooperation among the faith communities of the Middle East in support of the international community’s agreed objective of establishing the Middle East as a nuclear-weapon-free-zone."

To mention the Middle East NWFZ is to introduce a goal that may be as difficult to reach as the NWFZ in Northeast Asia -- as difficult, but not more difficult, and certainly not impossible.

Our strategy as a global secretariat has been to gain experience step by step. In fact, churches have helped identify and then reach one such goal since Porto Alegre. In the past year the WCC and member churches played a catalytic role in bringing the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone into force.

Last June, when Burundi became the 28th state to ratify the Treaty of Pelindaba, the treaty entered into force. A WCC delegation had just visited the central African country in March to encourage the step. We kept in touch with the government as they took up the task. We are doing the same thing in uranium-rich Namibia and investigating similar steps by other African countries.

The Central Committee in September saluted the African states that brought the Pelindaba Treaty into force and invited church support for further ratifications. The treaty has protocols obligating nuclear powers not to threaten its members. The WCC is urging Russia and the United States to ratifying these protocols that give Africa added protection from the recognized nuclear-weapon states. China, Britain and France have already done so.

Listen to a few details of the case that illustrate a shared struggle and may inform options for action here. Developed after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and after the end of the Cold War, the Treaty of Pelindaba is an example of the collective capacity of governments (and churches) to work together toward a world without nuclear weapons.

First, Pelindaba is the place where the white-minority government of South Africa developed the only nuclear arsenal in the Southern Hemisphere. When the new black-majority government took power in the early 1990s, it made the historic and rare decision to give up these weapons of mass destruction. Second, many states in Africa bear the scars of Cold War conflicts that were fueled by foreign rivalries and fought with a deadly array of imported weapons. The Pelindaba Treaty now in force bans the importation, plus the development, deployment, testing and use, everywhere on the African continent, of the most destructive weapons of all.

Africa became a nuclear-weapon-free zone by taking a shared approach to build a safer world. That is a secular version of living out the peace that unites. What is more, Africa’s new treaty is the most advanced of all the regional treaties banning nuclear weapons. Nuclear policies survive on double standards. Africa has set a higher standard.

The addition of 54 African countries to the various NWFZs means that 116 nations are now within such treaty zones banning nuclear weapons. Together these nations are making a powerful geo-political statement. The zones are living declarations of the will to be free of the global nuclear menace. The zones now cover all the countries in the Southern Hemisphere. They extend into adjacent areas of the Northern Hemisphere as well, embracing most of global South as well as the geographic south – Central America, North Africa – nearer here – the south-east Asian countries in the Bangkok Treaty, the newly declared NWFZ in Central Asia, and nuclear-weapon-free status of Mongolia. It is worth us noting here that this single country is denied collective security by its location surrounded by nuclear-weapon states. The zones together have now become a compelling new manifestation of the global majority’s long-standing will to reject nuclear weapons.

Just as governments large and small are capable of practicing this form of disarmament and finding strength in unity, it is an option that more member churches of the WCC could help to pursue as well. What it requires is for churches to respond collaboratively within a country, to support a regional or zonal initiative and, with the WCC, choose to add their voice to the international effort. In practical terms this is living out peace that unites us for shared security while affirming life in the regions so covered.

Like managing climate change, effective control over nuclear weapons requires solutions that work inside countries and across national borders. “In threatening life on our planet, [climate change and nuclear weapons] pose a unique challenge to people of faith,” says a 2008 report on WCC work in this field. “Each threat reminds us how deep are the disparities of power, status and wealth between the world’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.” Meeting each threat requires a more human-centered understanding of international security and a robust critique of narrow national security thinking that traps so many government policies.

Burundian church leader and WCC Central Committee member Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi noted after his country’s decision that “Other regions have done the same thing as Africa. We look forward to the day when Europe, Asia and North America are freed from nuclear weapons too.” All of us do well to remember that there are no super-powers when it comes to making peace. God has not authorized anyone to wage war and death. But God has given us all the power to work for peace and life.

Busan pilgrimage by way of Kingston and Seoul

This pilgrimage of practice and hope must continue and begin to set its sights on Busan here in Korea. We are traveling from Tozanso and have two more stops to mention. After my recent visit to churches and authorities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I took the opportunity, on behalf of the World Council of Churches, to write to the governments involved in Six-Party Talks. Our letter conveyed the core message from the Tsuen Wan conference and noted that that meeting included representatives from WCC member churches in each of the Six-Party countries.

We described how churches managed to facilitate contacts across the Korean divide and how, as direct contact became sustainable, the process began to generate understanding, build trust, develop relationships and open avenues for constructive service in North and South Korea.

We said that governments have a compelling need to do likewise: Pursue peace with direct engagement between all parties. There is the opportunity now to re-build confidence and constructive actions for the well-being, dignity and security of all the people of the Korean peninsula.

We are urging a return to the negotiating table ready to deal with the difficult but eminently solvable issues there. We especially commend the importance of all parties demonstrating good faith in the way they negotiate and in verification of all that has been agreed.

Given the resurgent vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, the WCC believes it is time to make the Korean peninsula a setting for disarmament success rather than a locus of regional instability and international failure. Given the fact that five of the six parties are recognized nuclear-weapon-states or are protected by such states, it is difficult to resolve in isolation the evident commitment of the DPRK to adopting a similar, armaments-driven posture.

The most durable and convincing steps imaginable at present would be to lay out and begin bold and concrete steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula and, ultimately, a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia.

I have mentioned Seoul and Kingston on the way to Busan. For some of you the relevancy may be great, for others small. Seoul – because of the prophetic encounter that took place there in 1990 under the ecumenical process known as Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. The conference did not fulfill the highest expectations it had inspired in churches around the world. But those who staged it and those who saw it through were able to demonstrate some of the commitment, debate and vision that the hard but uniting work of peace must entail. “A History of the Ecumenical Movement” says that Seoul’s Ten Affirmations live up to their name:

They were hopeful because they presupposed that by God’s grace something can be done about the state of creation and of the human condition. There valuable indications of the content that ought to be found in a moral communion of ethical engagement with the world But, above all, they themselves helped create the kind of space needed for an effort to think out and live out what such a communion could require. (Vol. III, p. 302)

I invite you to look up the Affirmations. They bear fresh scrutiny today, including in the development of an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace for Kingston and for the Busan Assembly.

There are other constructive connections to make between Seoul nearly 20 years ago and Kingston’s International Ecumenical Peace Convocation two years from now. Seoul’s “four covenants” offer parallels to the daily themes foreseen for Kingston. Kingston more explicitly includes the international dimensions of peace which are central to our meeting here in Hwacheon. But its “Peace among the Peoples” is not seen in isolation from the other expressions of a just peace. Kingston will also treat “Peace in the Community”, “Peace with the Earth” and “Peace in the Marketplace”. Seen as invitations to pursue together the peace that unites, to exercise our various and different gifts as peace makers and peace builders, these four themes will accommodate Seoul’s covenants as well as the much wider ecumenical commitment to peace with justice.

We should also ponder how our journey has advanced ecumenical social thought: that there is now a conscious linking of diakonia, the work of justice and service, with koinonia, the life of community and the call to the church to be the church. The precise linkages may remain one of God’s intricate mysteries. But one thing is certain. This framework for hearing and doing the Gospel carries the imperative of a basic unity in our actions. Its essence is there, not in the luxury of endless disputations. The Gospel empowers some to be mobilizing crusaders and others to be patient persuaders, some to carry out tactics and others to develop strategies. All are to differentiate between the various roles and responsibilities, and use specific means to reach attainable goals that lead forward to the mission’s end.

Where are such openings in the geopolitical and social context here? Today there are a core of countries that have had the capacity for nuclear arms, but have chosen to turn back toward a world without them. They have had the integrity to set nuclear doctrine straight, rejecting these WMDs in the interests of their own security and for the security of others. This group of states needs to use their acquired moral power in a more convincing way. In this group we find Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, South Africa, Ukraine, Libya and Kazakhstan. How might the country where we stand be added to this list? If so, might churches be able to explore together an appropriate role in helping it to rise to such a challenge? Could this be a step toward one of the goals recently reiterated in our Hong Kong meeting and before?

The Churches and the ecumenical movement are present in all these countries as well as in the international context in which they operate. The strength of the churches in working against nuclear weapons has been and remains to seek unity and put it to work for the common good. If minorities within civil society speak, change will not come. However, when majorities across civil society unite – mayors, scientists, youth, parliamentarians – their unity makes a difference. When the churches add their voice to civil society and speak in unity it makes a difference too.

Member churches and national councils of churches have the benefit of 60 years of WCC policy as a dynamic platform for opposing nuclear arms. They can also benefit from WCC’s location in the disarmament capital of the world. They can add to or amplify its cooperation with international disarmament organizations including, in the African case I cited above, the Africa Peace Forum, the Institute for Strategic Studies in South Africa and the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament. In the case of Africa this loose inter-sectoral grouping is called “Friends of Pelindaba”.

In closing this pilgrimage for peace, allow me as an African to pose a question: Is there an appropriate place in this part of Asia where different voices for peace could come together as friends of a future treaty, and continue meeting and working for as long as necessary, until such time as the site of their encounters becomes the place where a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula will be declared?

In whatever we do internationally on the road to peace, as individuals responsible to each other and to God, as churches, related institutions and ministries of service to society, let us see and use the God-given potential to live out the peace that unites. With those the Bible calls our neighbors and with others it calls our enemies, let us seize the opportunity to stand together for life and human security for all God’s children everywhere.