I write this to those of you in the clergy, that global body of people charged with leading the people to peace. In the Christian Church that, of course, means following the ways of Jesus, and as I read the texts of the New Testament, Jesus' life and teachings are unambiguous - we are not to kill.
As for the church and your role in it, I know how difficult it is for you to inhabit an institution that for roughly 1700 years has been inextricably chained to the very empire it is supposed to resist. Constantine was, indeed, a clever one; no one saw those heavy chains coming.
There have been those who have, from within, challenged us to be more than we are. The Reverend William Sloane Coffin is among those modern day prophets who warned the church and all its inhabitants of the dangers of the empire and its propensity for destruction, including its own.
Coffin worked tirelessly to abolish nuclear weapons. He started a nuclear disarmament program while senior minister at the Riverside Church, and in his later years founded Faithful Security, a coalition for people of faith committed to working for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The church has, for the most part, kept silent for these 65 years since (and about) the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And since those bombings the U.S. and Soviet Union have led the world in building up huge arsenals of nuclear weapons far beyond the destructive capabilities of the bombs dropped on Japan.
What could (and should) the church do if it wishes to recapture the spirit of the early church before it was co-opted. Here is what Gary Kohls, M.D., a founding member of Every Church a Peace Church, has to say:
Much of the responsibility for causing and, therefore preventing, military atrocities like Nagasaki lies with the Just War Theory American Christian churches and whether or not they will finally start teaching what Jesus taught and then living as he lived: the unconditional love of friend, neighbor and enemy the refusing to kill other children of a loving God.In a little over two weeks people will come together to remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and rededicate themselves to the abolition of nuclear weapons. People of faith should all be at the forefront of this struggle (and many already are), and they need strong and courageous leadership to guide them on this difficult path.
The next Nagasaki can be prevented if the churches courageously and publicly resist militarism by active nonviolent means and refuse their government’s call for the conscription of the bodies and souls of their sons and daughters.
If the churches start to exercise their sacred duty to warn their young parishioners about what killing does to their souls, it may not be too late to save the suffering people of a dying, war-torn, financially and morally bankrupt planet.
On August 8th, the Sunday between the anniversaries of the bombings, ministers in the vast majority of churches will go about the usual Sunday business of worship. Perhaps a few will offer a brief litany or prayer related to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even fewer will preach a sermon on the subject.
So I challenge each of you good clergy people - people of faith; people of a gentle, loving, merciful god - to ask what God wishes of you and what that gentle Jesus would say if he dropped by your office and you asked him about that August 8th sermon. I challenge you to give the sermon that will make the people sit up and listen, that will make many uncomfortable and perhaps even more of them angry, but above all to make them accountable. I challenge you to breathe life into the words that on so many Sundays are just that - words.
Rabbi Heschel once said that "There is the grain of the prophet in the recesses of every human existence." I challenge you to find that prophetic voice deep inside yourself and bring it out. The world can't wait and the people desperately need to be roused from their stupor.
Why now? Why the Sunday of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki 65th anniversaries? Why not!?!? Of all the abominations forced by humans on their fellow humanity, none is more diabolical than nuclear weapons. There is no other single weapon in the world capable of instantly incinerating hundreds of thousands of people in an instant.
So I ask you with all humility to speak up on Sunday, August 8th; speak up with all the faith and conviction possible. And then speak up some more. As the Rev. William Sloane Coffin once said in his book, Passion for the Possible, A Message to U.S. Churches:
It's my own deep feeling that most people in the pews are far more prepared for painful truths than we give them credit for. What they want their preachers to do is to raise to a conscious level the knowledge inherent in their experience. And the majority of them realize that the painful truths known and spoken sour and subvert life less than those known and unspoken. So let us not hesitate to speak up, to preach with clarity and compassion at true and lively biblical word, remembering always that our calling is to serve the Lord, not to be servile to our congregations.
P.S. - One more thing you can do as leaders of the people is to participate in activities surrounding the anniversaries of the atomic bombings. Communities, large or small, have vigils, lantern lighting ceremonies or other gatherings on or around one or both anniversaries.
Click here to find an event in your state. If you are in Washington State, click here for events.
And just one more thing: check out the Two Futures Project and Faithful Security!
The quote by Gary Kohls is from one of his Duty to Warn essays, The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story.