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(RNS) In a dramatic about-face for a movement that a generation ago embraced a Cold War nuclear shield against the Soviets, evangelical Christians are now spreading the gospel of nuclear disarmament.
Exhibit A: eliminating nuclear weapons will be on the agenda of a leadership forum hosted by the National Association of Evangelicals in Landover, Md., on Friday (Oct. 9).
“It’s always been commanded that we act as peacemakers,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in suburban Orlando, Fla. “We’ve always had a foundational affinity for it, but only recently has it become a movement.”
A major part of the evangelical anti-nuke movement has been the development of the Two Futures Project, led by 32-year-old Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who will address the NAE’s Evangelical Leaders Forum.
In many ways, Wigg-Stevenson represents the next generation of evangelical leaders who came of age long after icons like the late Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson aligned the movement with the pro-defense Reagan-era GOP.
“The way we see it, there are two potential futures: one in which nuclear weapons are used, which will create international conflict, and the other which is free of nuclear weapons and promotes peace,” said Wigg-Stevenson, an ordained Baptist minister from Nashville, Tenn.
“The choice is disarmament or seeing a morally unacceptable outcome.”
Wigg-Stevenson said the religious foundation of his organization is the biblical imperative against “the killing of innocents,” which he believes is inevitable in a world with nuclear weapons waiting to be launched.
Wigg-Stevenson said he first learned about anti-nuclear activism from his parents in the movement’s heyday during the 1980s, but didn’t get serious about the issue until he more deeply understood its potential harm while working as projects director for the Global Security Institute of former Democratic California Sen. Alan Cranston.
Evangelical ambivalence on disarmament was common in the 1970s and 1980s, Hunter said. In previous decades, many baby boomers were involved in the anti-nuclear movement, but it was separate from their involvement in the church. During the same period, Hunter said, evangelicals had more of a “a hard-power approach to international relations,” but now have returned to “leading by example and diplomacy.”
According to Hunter, the reason for the dormant reaction of Christians is difficult to pinpoint.
“I can’t explain it biblically, it comes from more of a cultural and political aspect. We felt it was a great deal more constructive to align ourselves with self-defense and believe in using a military response to unfolding world events,” he said.
Since the launch of the Two Futures Project last April, the movement has gained the endorsements and support of former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz and President Bill Clinton’s Pentagon chief, William Perry, whom Hunter calls “giants of the previous generation.
“But the organizational power comes from a younger generation that is taking increased social action,” he said.
Still, evangelical activism around nuclear weapons has its nuances.
In September, Robertson, Southern Baptist public policy guru Richard Land and other leaders from the old guard launched the group Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Iran. The group isn’t as concerned about the U.S. arsenal, but is dedicated to making sure Iran doesn’t acquire one.
In the meantime, the Two Futures Project and other evangelicals have been mobilizing to recruit more people to the anti-nuke cause.
Wigg-Stevenson is encouraging others to write lawmakers in Washington, sign a pledge to support disarmament and speak out about the dangers nuclear weapons pose.
“No one of us can achieve this goal, it’s the work of a generation or more,” said Wigg-Stevenson. “It requires genuine leadership, so we are asking people to be part of a critical mass and lend their support through three concrete steps: Join up, pitch in, spread the word.”
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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