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Hearings address nuclear weapons, environment


Lora Lumpe and Jim Winkler participate in a listening session sponsored by a United Methodist task force revising a 1986 Council of Bishops statement on crucial issues facing the world today. A UMNS photo by T.C. Morrow.  

Nov. 1, 2007 | WASHINGTON, D.C. (UMNS)

A task force revising a 1986 United Methodist statement opposing the use of nuclear weapons hosted a two-day hearing focusing on nuclear proliferation, poverty and environmental concerns.

The Council of Bishops task force to update the "In Defense of Creation" document convened Oct. 23-24 to allow United Methodists, people of other faiths and experts to provide testimony on nuclear weapons and global security, pandemic poverty and disease.

The document revision, authorized by the 2004 General Conference, is the denomination's attempt to seriously engage public policy on issues that most affect the human race, according to Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker, task force chairman.

"I am excited about the revision of 'In Defense of Creation' because it enables the church to relate the Gospel to the crucial issues confronting our world and the makers of public policy," Whitaker said.

"In Defense of Creation" was a 1986 pastoral letter and statement from the church's Council of Bishops in response to the threat of nuclear war at that time and the potential for extinction of life. Dramatic changes in problems facing today's world, including the threat of terrorism and global warming, are behind the update.

'Kairos moment'

Dakotas Bishop Deborah Kiesey said many people believe this is a "Kairos moment" in which the world is particularly open and ready to face the issues of global warming, poverty and nuclear warfare.

"The hearing provided a clear sense of hope," Kiesey said, citing hope that "positive solutions are within our grasp and (that) by working together we can impact these worldwide issues and make a difference for today and the future."

There is “a strong sense of hope and optimism that all these issues can be addressed and necessary changes can happen to preserve and protect all of God's creation, the world and its peoples.”
–Bishop Charlene Kammerer

Virginia Conference Bishop Charlene Kammerer was struck most by the connections between the topics addressed. These links are "grim depictions of current realities," she said, but there is "a strong sense of hope and optimism that all these issues can be addressed and necessary changes can happen to preserve and protect all of God's creation, the world and its peoples."

The task force is being assisted by the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy at United Methodist-related Wesley Seminary in Washington. The center also helped in drafting the 1986 document.

Those testifying at the hearings included: Lora Lumpe, legislative representative for Conventional Weapons at the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Howard Morland, an independent journalist; Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council; Daniel Lashof, a scientist; Robert Musil, formerly of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Stephen Lerner, Service Employees International Union.

Weapons of war

Retired Bishop Dale White, who co-chaired the original document process, said doctrines and strategies for national security have changed significantly in two decades.

"The original study action document was prepared at a time in which the mutually assurance destruction doctrine was in rapid retreat," he said, "with members of an aroused civil society 'overcoming their nuclear numbness, getting good and scared, then getting good and mad, and getting into action,' as Dr. Helen Caldicott used to say." He added that mass protests against the then-nuclear freeze campaign forced a sea of change in public policy.

“I am excited about the revision of 'In Defense of Creation' because it enables the church to relate the Gospel to the crucial issues confronting our world and the makers of public policy.”
–Bishop Timothy Whitaker

Lumpe testified about the international small-arms trade, anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs. She said churches in Great Britain have been particularly supportive of an international effort to ban cluster bombs, which break apart midair into smaller "bomblets." A petition to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the church's top legislative body, asks the denomination to support the banning effort.

Moral opposition to cluster bombs comes from the indiscriminate nature of the weapons, Lumpe said. She said cluster bombs used by the United States in Laos during the Vietnam War are still killing people 35 years later. Not all of the "bomblets" detonate upon impact, leaving life-threatening hazards for generations of innocent civilians.

Caring for the earth and its people

White said governments are losing credibility as they try to discredit the science of global warming in order to shore up old polluting industries and to build military ramparts higher to protect a decaying empire.

"In this moment, as in the 1980s, the people are rebelling, organizing to create in states, cities and communities the new green shoots of the emerging age," said the bishop. "They are once again turning to trusted leaders of their communities of faith to inspire and to guide them through perilous times, drawing upon the wisdom yet living in their ancient Scriptures."

Participants said increased drought, floods and heat waves brought on by climate change could exacerbate hunger and disease in years to come. "For me it is a 'love thy neighbor' issue," said Reid Detchon, an Episcopal layman who is executive director of the Energy Future Coalition. 

 
"We are caught up in a disease of consumption, and that is what is afflicting the earth," says the Right Rev. James Jones, bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England. A UMNS photo by Erin Robertson.

"I'm convinced there are young people who are searching for churches which will embrace their passion for caring for the earth. These folks can help the church remember its connection to creation, and the church can give them a sense of wholeness in their lives by relating their passion to Christ," said the Rev. Pat Watkins, a United Methodist clergy member of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference and environmental coordinator for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

The task force joined Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy for a breakfast to discuss the role of faith communities in caring for creation. The breakfast was co-sponsored by the British Embassy and the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

Speakers included the Right Rev. James Jones, bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England, who described how he called for a "carbon fast" last year for Lent in the Diocese of Liverpool. He said such a fast was more valuable than giving up chocolate or candy or other more typical seasonal sacrifices. "We are caught up in a disease of consumption, and that is what is afflicting the earth," he said.

Jones said that, by the end of the carbon fast, "people weren't ready to resume their previous consumption levels; it made them think about their life."

A worldwide document

The group is attempting to make the document relevant for the worldwide United Methodist Church. The task force has one member from outside the United States, Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.

"We shall attempt to get the vigorous leadership of bishops outside the U.S. in addressing the issues from the perspective of the church in their nations," said Whitaker.

Bishops anticipate approving a new document in May 2009 and releasing it to the church for study and action.

Annual conferences, seminaries and others are encouraged to conduct hearings, conversation and study on nuclear proliferation, the environment and poverty in 2007 and 2008. The results should be sent to the Rev. Barbara Green, executive director of the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy, at bgreen@wesleyseminary.edu or by mail to 4500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. For more information, contact Green at (202) 885-8648.

*This article was adapted from a news release by T.C. Morrow of the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy, Washington, DC.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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United Methodist Bishops Back Complete Ban on Nuclear Weapons

Resources

In Defense of Creation

Council of Bishops

Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy

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