Peter Weiderud. Photo: Anis Issa, SwedAlex

Peter Weiderud. Photo: Anis Issa, SwedAlex

By Claus Grue*

When WCCs long-time partner, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, another small but important step towards a safer world was taken. Not only was it a recognition of global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, but also an affirmation of the role Christian churches have played at local and grassroots levels to raise awareness and mobilize people against nuclear proliferation.

A well-known Swedish diplomat, who has been engaged in such work over the years, is the World Council of Churches (WCC) former director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Peter Weiderud: “Since its founding after World War II, the WCC has taken a radical position on nuclear weapons. With its strong base of member churches all over the world, the WCC has been a force to be reckoned with. As independent guardians of human rights, churches can – and should – make a difference”, says Weiderud.

That includes holding governments accountable for their actions and reminding them of international treaties that bind their countries.

“Such crucial tasks require the trust, integrity and authority that churches generally have. We must keep on raising these issues and never let go of our influential role”, he continues.

Today, all but a few countries adhere to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. At the same time, easy access to nuclear technology has lowered the threshold to develop nuclear capabilities.

“A nuclear attack would be devastating and we must do everything we can to prevent the development and usage of these terrible weapons. Eliminating them altogether is the best way of doing so. In the end, it is about inducement and political will”, Weiderud points out.

As a man of faith, he is driven by a mission of doing good for the world.
He worries about today´s increased polarization and populism, where racism and islamophobia have gained ground and where human rights are challenged.

“This is a very serious situation where churches must step forward and explain what it really means to be a human being and the responsibilities it entails. We have a situation today which is very much like in the 1930s. The growing populism we see in the western world nowadays aims at tearing down democratic institutions which were established after World War II to protect us from power abuse. To make matters worse, such extremism is now legally represented in parliaments and governments where it obstructs common international agreements”, Weiderud explains.

He defines democracy as a system which warrants majority rule and at the same time protects human rights for all.

In the midst of the current, rather worrisome development where tensions are rising in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula, and where the European Union is going through its worst crisis ever, there are glimpses of hope, according to Weiderud:
“The young generation of today is more enlightened, more tolerant, better educated and more environmentally conscious than ever before. I am confident that we are now slowly moving in the right direction, away from polarization and ignorance, towards a better and more just society. But it will take advocacy and courageous political leadership to get there. Again, faith-based organizations play an important role as voices of the people”.

Nuclear disarmament remains a top priority for a safer world and Weiderud would like to see a closer cooperation between countries that possess nuclear capabilities, but have chosen not to take advantage of these capabilities. Brazil, Canada, Germany, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Japan and South Africa are among those countries.

“Such countries are trusted and have the moral credibility to influence other countries. Through its member churches, the WCC is ideally positioned to catalyse a well-coordinated collaboration between these countries”, Weiderud explains.

Convinced that diplomacy and dialogue are the most efficient tools for facilitating change, he continues his journey as a Christian witness trying to do good for the world. Since 2015 Weiderud serves as director of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, Egypt, which is part of the Swedish Foreign Office. The task is to promote dialogue between Europe and the Middle East/North Africa in order to make Europeans and the people in the region better understand each other.

“As human beings we are all created equal, regardless of religion, race or other differences”, Weiderud concludes.

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*Claus Grue is a communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.