In a word: Overwhelmed.
How else can I describe the seconds after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that ICAN had won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6 of last year? About 30 minutes before, I received a call informing us that we were about to win the prestigious prize. I admit, that I was still in a daze as the announcement was made public and our phones began ringing and website crashing.
Thankfully, we had help. Our friends at the World Council of Churches stepped forward immediately. They organized and hosted a press conference. Answered our phones. And were willing to step in to do whatever was necessary to seize that moment for ICAN and the movement. They were truly selfless.
As crazy as that day was, it fits perfectly that WCC was there. They were there...you were there when we were overwhelmed.
ICAN is a coalition of nearly 500 organizations in 100 countries working toward total nuclear disarmament and specifically promoting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons or TPNW. As many of you know, the TPNW was adopted by 122 states at the UN last July and it will enter into legal force once 50 states go through the process of signing and ratifying the Treaty.
Many of you know this, because many of you were there each step of the way. WCC member continues to be a key part of the ICAN movement and a vital ecumenical voice for this cause. It’s my conviction that we would not have achieved the historic treaty without the support of churches and people of faith around the world. In fact, I’m 100% certain that we would not have achieved the TPNW or won this prize without WCC’s support, guidance and commitment to ICAN.
One of the great aspects of this Nobel Prize win is that the Nobel Committee quite intentionally awarded the prize not to a person, or even a singular organisation, but to a vast movement. I was so pleased to share that day with WCC because this is was not my prize, or ICAN’s prize, but our prize.
I think back to that day and see over and over that it encapsulates what people of faith have done for the world on the issue of nuclear weapons, and so many other causes.
When the world is overwhelmed…
You step forward with hope.
You step forward with determination.
You step forward with faith.
You step forward with community.
And you step forward with moral clarity.
Nuclear weapons are certainly overwhelming.
When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, Reverend Martin Luther King said that “most of the time human beings put the truth about the nature and risks of the nuclear war out of their minds because it is too painful and therefore not ‘acceptable’.”
Nuclear weapons do not respect borders or human-made boundaries. The fallout from any nuclear attack does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, it does not recognize which states are in conflict and certainly is unconcerned with the boundaries of alliance.
The enormity of the nuclear threat is understandably overwhelming.
Your own words, in the WCC 2014 Statement Towards a Nuclear Free World state the dangerous reality the world has let stand for 72 years with clarity and conviction:
“Nuclear weapons cannot indeed be reconciled with real peace. They inflict unspeakable suffering with blast, heat and radiation. They wreak destruction which cannot be bound by space or time. Their power is indiscriminate and their effects cannot be matched by any other device. As long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose a threat to humanity.”
Faced with this overwhelming threat, we have seen people of faith rise and act. Their unique perspective allow faith communities to see the light of hope in the darkest times and faced with the greatest threats. They point the way out of that darkness for the rest of the world.
It’s a blessing to the world that WCC entered the world at the dawn of the Atomic Age. You have spoken the truth about nuclear weapons for seven decades. At the First Assembly in 1948, WCC announced that nuclear weapons are a “sin against God” and “a crime against humanity.” Following the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the midst of the Vietnam War, the Fourth Assembly at Uppsala called nuclear war “the gravest affront to the conscience of man" and declared that the first duty of government was to prevent nuclear conflict. That gathering also endorsed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And in 1983, as a massive nuclear arms race sent the world hurtling toward nuclear war, the Sixth Assembly said, “Enough!” and called for a treaty prohibiting the the use and possession of all nuclear weapons.
ICAN has been working to prohibit and abolish nuclear weapons for 10 years, the WCC for 70. So, the number one thing I want to say today is “Thank You.”
At each dark moment this body, a unified communion, called for an end to the madness and always placed people and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons at the center of your opposition.
That was something it took me awhile to learn. I was not really interested in the issue of nuclear weapons coming out of university. I thought there are more pressing issues, more immediate rather than existential threats. But as I worked on the issue, I learned that nuclear weapons affect us all, even before they are used.
I learned this from test survivors from the Marshall Islands, Bikini Atoll, Morocco and Kazakhstan. I learned it from vibrant anti-nuclear weapons campaigners in Africa and Latin America who understood that the impact of nuclear weapons was not far away, it was felt in their daily lives in the form of injustice and inequality. I learned it from activists in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia who warned us that if we don’t abolish all nuclear weapons, they will spread. And I learned it from churches and faith-based groups who understood that the immorality of the very existence of nuclear weapons damages us all, in ways seen and unseen.
Far from being one of many separate issues that rightly call for our attention and action, nuclear weapons are the beating heart of a system of oppression that drives the world toward division and conflict, instead of cooperation and unity. Wherever you are in the world, whichever government represents you, it is imperative that you stand up to these weapons.
As WCC has done steadfastly, and with vigor at moments of great danger. We need your communities now.
This moment in time is one of paradoxical fear and hope. Erratic men with fragile egos send threats of total nuclear destruction, of mass murder, across an ocean with a tweet. Gaining less attention is the fact that right now, a new arms race is beginning. The nuclear-armed states are modernising their arsenals, challenging each other to have bigger and more destructive nuclear weapons, as well as smaller warheads that they dangerously label, “more usable.” These weapons are meant to last decades and it’s urgent that we take a practical action to end these weapons before the end us.
So what can you do?
At a meeting in November where Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church position to oppose not only the use of nuclear weapons, but the possession and stockpiling, I asked His Holiness to unite his community in prayer for the end of nuclear weapons on December 10, the day of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. I did not hear from the Vatican in the intermission, so it was to my great surprise that I opened a newspaper in Oslo on December 11 to see a photo of Papa Francisco leading thousands in prayer in St. Peter’s Square for the end of nuclear threat.
I should mention that the Holy See has been a leader in supporting, signing and ratifying the TPNW, and I can think of no better moment for the Pope to break bread with this community and voice united support for ending the threat of nuclear weapons and promoting respect for all humanity.
We need all of you now in your faith communities to pray, preach and teach the grave threat nuclear weapons still pose to humanity. “The time has come to say together that for the sake of the one humanity there is no moral ground on which we can keep them and threaten one another with them.” Those are the words of WCC general secretary Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and your churches need to hear them.
They need to internalize the wisdom of our friend, academic and activist Dr Emily Welty who wrote, “For people of faith, nuclear weapons violate core tenets of our deepest held beliefs.” They need to know that nuclear weapons are still here, still threatening us all, but we now have a clear pathway to abolishing them.
One of the ways we will abolish nuclear weapons is by stigmatizing them, changing norms and international and national laws. The second action you can take is to be good stewards of your communities finances.
These modernisation programs require investments and loans. Each year, with ICAN member PAX, we put out the Don’t Bank on the Bomb report. You can go to dontbankonthebomb.com and find out if your bank or your churches bank, investment fund or pension fund makes funds available to nuclear weapons producers. Even if they don’t, you can ask the financial institution to publicly clarify their position on investment in “controversial weapons” and specifically nuclear weapons. Church communities should also declare that no church funds will be held in institutions or investment vehicles that support the approximately 20 producers of nuclear weapons and their components.
This works. This will have impact. We know this because many major financial institutions are already pulling their funds from nuclear weapons producers. And we know this because of the lesson of other banned weapons. The last producer of cluster munitions stopped production in 2016 citing the financial risk of violating the ban, even though the US has not joined that treaty.
Third, your communities must urge their governments to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Everyone has a right to demand these weapons are banned and that nuclear disarmament occurs. The very act of claiming this right is powerful. It is unifying and it is a challenge an anachronistic and patriarchal system.
The time to act is now and the world needs WCC to lead the way.
executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons