"Recollections of an ecumenical pilgrimage to Japan, for the 70th anniversary of atomic bombing (2015)"

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm takes part of a Lantern Floating Ceremony at Motomachi River Park, Hiroshima commemorating the nuclear attack on the city in 1945. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC, 2015.

I will never forget those August days in 2015: Together with an ecumenical pilgrimage group, I came to Hiroshima to listen to the survivors of the atomic bombing 70 years before. Their stories gave faces to the huge numbers of the dead and the unimaginable suffering of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who lost their lives or, as survivors, suffered throughout their lives from the consequences of the bombs which were dropped. Together we renewed the struggle against nuclear weapons, on which our own countries continue to rely in our defense policies.

Seventy-five years ago, the people in Nagasaki and Hiroshima felt the enormous destructive potential of nuclear weapons in a terrible way. The atomic bomb attacks in Japan demonstrated how a devastating weapon had come into human hands. German research and engineering had contributed to this weapon.

Later, in the so-called "Cold War,” deterrence through a possible attack with nuclear weapons became a political tool. The suffering of the Japanese people, caused by the dropping of these devastating weapons, made it clear that the use of nuclear weapons meant destruction of life in a scale unknown before. Yet, the strategy of deterrence still justifies the existence of nuclear weapons until today.

Today, the political distribution of power in the world has become more complicated than it was when the two major political blocs were facing each other. However, the danger of nuclear weapons being used in conflicts has not diminished but remains far too great.

In 2007, the Council of the German Protestant Churches made a firm statement against the deterrence strategy: "The threat of nuclear weapons is no longer considered a means of legitimate self-defence.” The synod in 2019 reaffirmed this decision and demands "a final ban on nuclear armament.”

"Blessed are the peacemakers" we read in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We understand this sentence as a far-reaching task for us Christians in following Jesus Christ. We all know that in the globalized world "making peace" is not always easy and not always clear. Strong words and positions to promote peace inevitably lead to conflicts. But these conflicts must be managed with prudence, dialogue and by peaceful means. On the path towards peace we can strengthen each other's backs in the worldwide ecumenical movement, and together we can walk hand in hand on the pilgrimage of justice and peace. It is and remains our task as Christians to prepare fertile ground for the peace that God wants and seeks and creates, in cooperation with members of other religions and civil society organizations.

For the 75th time we remember this year, together with many sisters and brothers in the world, the atomic bombing in Japan and think of the many dead and injured. We pray for the victims and their descendants. Such remembrance is an important part of peace work.

We stand in solidarity with church activists who protest nuclear weapons on German ground in Büchel and with the worldwide anti-nuclear weapons movement, represented most forcefully by Nobel Peace Prize winner the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. During our trip to Japan in 2015 I joined the call for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been prohibited under international law. In 2017 the treaty was adopted by the U.N. Once 50 countries have ratified or acceded to it, it will enter into force. There are currently 81 signatories and 38 states parties. Germany is not yet amongst them.

In memory of the great suffering that struck the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima 75 years ago, and in prayer for the victims and their descendants, we feel united in solidarity with all those who work peacefully for an earth without nuclear weapons.

I greet you warmly!

This text is the third 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)

About the author :

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm is a German Evangelical Lutheran systematic theologian specializing in social ethics. Since October 30, 2011, he has been Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and since November 11, 2014, President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany.


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.