Sunday, 17 July 2016

Decisive and Courageous

Harry Farley writes:

Church leaders have offered unanimous opposition to the renewal of the UK's nuclear weapons ahead of a key House of Commons debate on Monday.

Representatives from the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Quakers have all voiced their dismay in a resounding cry against nuclear weapons.

The vote on July 18 will ask MPs to approve the replacement of the UK's four Vanguard submarines which can carry nuclear missiles.

They are based in western Scotland on the Clyde and one submarine is constantly on patrol maintaining a "continuous at-sea deterrence". 

A full replacement would take 20 years and cost at least £31bn. 

Although some individuals dissent, Trident appears to be one area of consensus across the Church's denominations in the UK. 

All eight Catholic bishops of Scotland have issued a joint statement to call for "decisive and courageous steps" towards nuclear disarmament. 

"The bishops of Scotland have, for a long time, pointed out the immorality of the use of strategic nuclear weapons due to the indiscriminate destruction of innocent human life that their use would cause," they said.

"Lives are being lost now because money that could be spent on the needy and the poor is tied up in nuclear arsenals," the bishops added as they endorsed the words of Pope Francis who said, "spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations." 

The response from the joint public issues team, a body that represents the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church, the United Reform Church and the Quakers, was equally strong. 

They urged Christians to write to MPs as they condemned the government plans as "unwarranted" and "unethical". 

Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, said his Church had opposed nuclear weapons for 30 years. 

"Attempts to sustain peace through the threat of indiscriminate mass destruction could not be further from the peace to which Christ calls us," he said. 

Alan Yates, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, said global threats were "diverse and nuclear weapons simply cannot offer security" and Rachel Lampard, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, added the vote was "ill-timed". 

Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, the Baptist Union of Great Britain said: "We will never achieve the peace which Scripture encourages us towards with a defence policy built on fear."

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain, added loving your neighbour meant "we cannot threaten others with weapons of mass destruction."

The Church of England, historically more nuanced in its interventions, has also been forthright on Trident renewal.

In their pre-election letter, the Church's bishops called for a debate as they acknowledged in the past "many Christians" had been "prepared to live with Trident" but now "the traditional arguments for nuclear deterrence need re-examining."

The CofE's national governing body debated the question in 2007 and passed a motion that said Trident replacement was "contrary to the spirit of the United Kingdom's obligations in international law and the ethical principals underpinning them."

More recently the Bishop of Chester, Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, questioned why the UK had a nuclear deterrent in a debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday. 

"Our continued and very expensive possession of an independent deterrent will need a justification that, I believe, will need to be kept under continual review," he said. 

As Church leaders are united in their opposition, Tory MPs are united in favour. 

Their 2015 manifesto promised to "retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent" and "build the new fleet" to replace the old four submarines.

The SNP, like the Church, is unanimously opposed. But the same cannot be said for Labour.

In the past Labour have backed Trident renewal but current leader Jeremy Corbyn is a longstanding opponent.

The issue is one that is likely to split the party down the middle and comes at a time of already intense divisions.

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