Practicing the interfaith discipline of hope

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC, 2015.

Last September I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the first time as part of my sabbatical year. How does one encounter these two places that are such containers of pain, suffering and for me, as an American, complicity?  To be a tourist feels wrong and I ended up contemplating the World Council of Churches (WCC) model of pilgrimages of justice and peace as a way to be in a space of suffering, and as a way to practice accompaniment, commitment and perhaps even hopefulness.

American educator and community organizer Mariame Kaba describes hope not as an ethereal emotion about the future but as a discipline. Those of us working in any long-term movement for social change know that the journey is long and that the resilience of a movement over time calls for participants to engage in a discipline of hope.

We in the Christian tradition are no strangers to prophetic hope for a peaceful, healthy, generative future beyond the reality we see around us. A bedrock of our faith is that God wants people to live in relationship with one another and with the planet based on values of mutuality, trust and justice. We dont yet live in that world. But we know that another world is possible.

Despite our many differences, we share this determination to work for a better world with our sisters and brothers in many different faith traditions worldwide. It has been my great joy to work on behalf of the WCC in an ongoing and concerted way with colleagues from many other religious groups on the continuing work of nuclear disarmament at the United Nations and beyond.

This work takes different forms in response to the context of nuclear disarmament at the moment. We have co-authored and presented joint statements to the First Committee of the UN, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory and Review Conferences.

We often gather in person before each day begins at the UN for a common space of prayer and reflection together in front of the Isaiah Wall before we cross the street and enter the UN building itself. We are gentle with our religious differences and rigorous in our demands for justice.

We create small rituals, and share readings and stories that are authentically rooted in our own diverse faith traditions without asking anyone to participate in a way that feels false to their own deeply-grounded religious beliefs.

Over the years we have been joined by other members of civil society groups, activists, diplomats and occasionally a curious onlooker who happens to pass by.  We practice the discipline of hope, grounded in the practical actions of advocacy to make the planet safe from nuclear weapons forever.

We have grieved together taking solemn moments to mark the unimaginable losses of land and body wrought by the horror of nuclear weapons. But we have also celebrated many of us were together in the room on the day that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was finalized. We have marked each new step towards the treatys entry into force with joy and hunger for the day when every nation finally joins it.

This group has been the embodiment of hope as discipline. We are not afraid to disagree with one another, to make suggestions and to share ideas. We have no illusions about the differences between our religious traditions but we allow those differences to inspire different approaches in our common work rather than prevent us from taking steps together.

Our work together this year was hampered by the global pandemic which prevented us from making a common statement during the postponed Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. This inspired us to instead focus even more concentrated attention on developing a common response to the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The statement this year is one of the largest, most diverse interfaith statements on nuclear weapons ever issued. We have been joined by 189 different groups that range from entire denominations and regional conferences to individual intentional communities; the signatories represent organizations from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Jain, Hindu, Buddhist  and indigenous religious traditions.

Together we pause to recognize the terror of the past, to honor the lives that were sacrificed to the nuclear ambitions of a few and to say in the clearest voice possible: this was wrong and must never happen again.

As one of the organizers and co-authors of the statement, I have felt an eruption of joy with each new group that contacted us to sign. In a world where the fear of nuclear annihilation looms large, each new signature felt like a brilliant firework the heat and light of humans committed to a world that is safer, more just and more peaceful than the world as it is today.

This text is the seventh of a series of blog posts highlighting different reflections and experiences of those who are calling for an end to nuclear weapons. Learn more:

"75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: has your country ratified the UN treaty?", by Jennifer Philpot-Nissen (15 June 2020)

"Kiritimati and the Bomb: A Tale of Two Churches", by Becky Alexis-Martin (6 July 2020)

"Recollections of an ecumenical pilgrimage to Japan, for the 70th anniversary of atomic bombing (2015)", by Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (15 July 2020)

"Japan’s churches urge nuclear-free world", by Rev. Renta Nishihara (20 July 2020)

"Nuclear weapons are no good for the Pacific—and no good for the world", by Rev. James Bhagwan (27 July 2020)

"Open wounds: French nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa, Ma’ohi Nui 1966-1996", by Francois Pihaatae (3 August 2020)

About the author :

Dr Emily Welty is an assistant professor in Peace and Justice Studies at Pace University in New York City (USA). She also serves as vice moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

As an advocate for banning nuclear weapons, Dr Welty is known both for her unwavering belief in a world free from nuclear weapons, and for her strategic thinking toward that goal.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.