UCA Statements

Nuclear Deterrence, Disarmament and Peace

01 September 1988

This Statement is the result of a process of discussion and consultation in the Uniting Church, commenced at the 1982 Assembly. A draft statement was presented at the 1985 Assembly and subsequently discussed in parishes and presbyteries. In light of the responses and submissions received the Committee on Social Responsibility and Justice redrafted the Statement for presentation to the May 1988 Assembly. The Assembly referred the Statement to its Standing Committee to deal with on its behalf, and Standing Committee subsequently adopted the Statement.

Adopted in resolution 88.62


In 1982 and 1985 the Assembly addressed the issue of peace and disarmament, calling the Uniting Church to be a peacemaking church. In 1985 a Statement was issued for discussion and comment by parishes and presbyteries.

Many people throughout the Uniting Church were involved in discussions of the Statement and a number of submissions were received by the Assembly Committee on Social Responsibility and Justice. These comments made have been taken into account by the committee in redrafting this Statement in order that the Assembly may speak to the whole Uniting Church on these matters.

The purpose of the Statement

This Statement is a theological response to the call of Jesus Christ to peace in an age dominated by the arms race and its economic and ecological consequences.

The question of nuclear weapons and warfare by means of mass destruction is urgent, especially at a time when world leaders are making the first treaties for nuclear disarmament and France continues nuclear testing in the Pacific. There is a widespread understanding that nuclear conflict of any form would bring massive destruction globally with radiation effects and probably "nuclear winter". Equally, many already suffer the consequences of the nuclear arms race through poverty, nuclear explosions and testing, and from radioactive waste.

The Assembly believes the question is necessary because of the silence brought on by anxiety and grief associated with an awareness of the nuclear threat, and the silence encouraged by those with vested interests who seek short-term benefits from the arms race.

The Assembly believes the question is necessary because of its recognition that the question of peace may not be restricted to issues of nuclear weapons, or even to any sort of weapons, for peace is grounded in justice which includes the whole of humanity and all life. Lest this become a mere slogan, it seeks in this Statement to ground human justice in a theological understanding of the justice (righteousness) of God.

This Statement is an effort to treat the pursuit of peace in a world threatened by nuclear war as an issue of faith rather than of strategy. It is a claim that the nature of war brought into being by nuclear weapons represents an attack on the very nature of human existence and the claims of God to be creator and redeemer of the world.

The Assembly heeds the words of the World Council of Churches Assembly at Vancouver in 1983: "The churches today are called to confess anew their faith, and to repent for the times when Christians have remained silent in the face of injustice or threats to peace. The biblical vision of peace with justice for all, of wholeness, of unity for all God's people is not one of several options for the followers of Christ. It is an imperative in our time."

This Statement seeks, therefore, to address the nuclear threat theologically, to understand that threat in the light of the claim God has made upon the whole creation.

Approaching questions of peace theologically

Australia is tied by its alliances and general political philosophy to the military doctrine of deterrence. It is a doctrine that assumes a world divided into enemies and friends, and a belief that the best way to halt the spread of the enemy is through a balance of nuclear and conventional military power.

While acknowledging that nuclear weapons pose a terrible threat to humankind, proponents of this position defend it on the grounds that an imbalance between the world's superpowers would pose a greater threat to the world than that posed by the present arms race.

This position of deterrence and nuclear balance is supported from within the Christian community by what is described as the realist position. Beginning with the understanding that there is a serious brokenness and sin in the world that will not allow real peace to be implemented, it argues for the preservation of relative harmony and an open and pluralist society through a balance of power.

While such a position appreciates the brutality of power and people's proneness to follow self-interest, it does not take seriously enough the prophetic and transforming role of the gospel and church. To maintain 'peace' it is willing to balance evil with evil and force with force.

This Peace Statement claims that it is always part of the church's task to move beyond the 'realist' appreciation of the world, and to help people envisage new futures and other realities. How one views the world, expresses hope and seeks transformation are central to what occurs in the world.

All Christian affirmation about peace is grounded in the declaration that Jesus Christ is our peace. Through him the power of evil, sin and death is decisively broken, and the hostile and alienated world is reconciled to God and is itself renewed. We speak in hope, trusting God's promise of the final transformation of all things.

In speaking of this peace we reject the view that restricts it to the heart and inner life of the Christian. Although it is right to recognise the personal dimension of peace, and its importance to the relationship between people and God, peace cannot exclude consideration of politics and the world of nations.

We also reject that view which relegates 'peace' to the political arena, as if it had nothing to do with Christian faith, as if it is concerned only for the absence of conflict achieved through political and military means. Such absence of conflict is often achieved at high cost to justice and human rights, and gives no recognition in the realm of national life to the gospel proclamation of reconciliation through forgiveness.

Much theology has separated these two realms and restricted the gospel to the private and inner realm. This removes the peace of the gospel from engagement in the political realm.

Both the 'individualistic' and the 'political' approaches to peace are similar because they share the same split view of the world. Both divide the world into spheres or realms; the personal and the political. Both then restrict 'peace' to either one or the other. Indeed it is possible for both views to coexist, and they often do in Christian thought.

Peace grounded in the righteousness of God

Christ overcomes this divided understanding of the world and peace. The declaration that Jesus Christ is our peace is nothing less than a summary of the gospel; that by Jesus Christ's reconciling ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, god has overcome the enmity of the sinful world to God. The source of division is overcome and class, gender, race or culture no longer divide people. Although there is still hostility and violence, faith sees in Christ the reality and the promise of one healed, peaceful, reconciled world. In Christ life is whole, and the personal and religious are no longer separated from the political and worldly. The peace of Jesus Christ is a transforming power both in personal and political life.

The peace gained by Jesus through his death on the cross and by his resurrection is grounded in God's righteousness. Such righteousness (justice) is a profound contrast to sinful expectations. Where human beings expect judgement and punishment upon those caught up in sin and alienation, God declares his gracious forgiveness and gift of life through Jesus Christ. Sinful humankind is thereby released from the power of evil, sin and death, and in faith is set free to live a new and reconciled life.

God's freely given gift of peace may be profoundly disturbing, and bring trouble for those who live by it. While the sinful world wreaks judgement upon enemies, Christ's forgiveness - the source of peace - seeks the love of enemies, forgiveness for the sinner, freedom for the captive, liberation for the oppressed.

This peace is thereby grounded in God's justice. The God of the covenant unites and reconciles, and requires that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. We are called to be a community which lives justly because we are God's people.

In Jesus Christ, God reclaims and transforms the creation

God's reconciliation in Jesus Christ is addressed not merely to humans but to all life. The righteous God who redeems sinners is at the same time the God who has created the universe, who sustains it by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who seeks its radical renewal, thus transforming all into healed and peacefilled life.

The implication here is that reconciliation includes the natural environment and therefore requires a special regard for the whole ecological system.

By contrast war, with its mass destruction, is a symptom of death and opposition to God, and a sign of enslavement to sin. Human society at war in this century is an expression of the reign of the power of death which opposes the reign of God. It catches up those who plan for war, the many who are innocent victims, and people who must oppose those who wage war.

The call to peace

The call to peace which comes from Jesus Christ is a radical call to trust the gracious God for life and security and to oppose the reign of death. This reiterated the call to Israel to refuse idolatry, and not to put their trust in princes but to rely on the Lord alone. Jesus Christ is the promise to the world that he can be trusted as the ultimate source of life.

The false nuclear promise

This promise of life is especially significant in the context of nuclear weapons. When considering nuclear weapons and nuclear security theologically, we are impelled to listen to the claims being made for these weapons.

The theological dimension is clear. In the assertion that nuclear weapons prevent war or protect the freedom of our society, the claim is made that nuclear weapons give life. The weapons have taken on the character of idols, and the systems and alliances which sustain them require complete allegiance.

The nuclear system is sustained by fear of the enemy. Ideological commitment to the 'west' against 'communism' or 'the Soviets' is based in fear of invasion by an 'enemy'. A similar fear sustains the Soviet nuclear system. Therefore the world is divided into armed camps and annihilation of the enemy is thereby justified.

At the same time it has become apparent that this claim to give life is false and distorted, because these weapons threaten not only the supposed opponents but also the ones who use them, with annihilation.

Language in the service of nuclear weapons has become perverted, concealing the true nature of the arms race. Missiles and missile launches are given innocuous, even theological names (such as 'Peacemaker', 'Corpus Christi'). The horror of the consequences of nuclear strikes is disguised in neutral sounding terms (such as 'limited nuclear war').

The powerful argument used in favour of nuclear weapons is that of 'deterrence' and 'balance of armaments'. It is often said that the bomb has maintained peace for over forty years. Such a claim cannot be properly tested without investigating its theological dimensions.

Firstly, it implies that terror (de-terrence) is an acceptable means for maintaining peace. This strikes against the words of Jesus which call us to love our enemies.

Secondly, the claim that peace has been maintained between the superpowers since the second world war disguises the reality of the ever-escalating nuclear arms race and ideological struggles which have been played out economically and militarily in many parts of the globe. Unable to confront each other directly, the superpowers have carried our their war through third parties - supporting and encouraging wars in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific. The destructive nature of nuclear weapons has allowed the development of increasingly destructive conventional weapons, including chemical and biological weapons. Nuclear tests continue, and radioactive wastes still distort and destroy human beings and other life.

The slowness of the superpowers to take steps to limit nuclear testing and weaponry has also encouraged proliferation among other nations (e.g. France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, China and South Africa), and a subsequent increase in the risk of nuclear conflict.

The indiscriminate mass destruction, implicit in modern warfare, reaches its peak and supreme expression in nuclear weapons.

Theologically speaking such weapons, designed for annihilation, serve the power of death.

This strikes at the heart of God's creative will. Where the creator God made the heavens and earth from nothing (the nihil) and raises the dead from death to life, nuclear weapons and those who serve them are annihilators which threaten the earth and seas with death and nothingness (nihil).

Human beings, the makers of these weapons, have now become entranced and entrapped by the terror of the weapons, and believe it would not be possible to live without them. this displays the character of idolatry.

Reliance on nuclear weapons is sinful

Human beings do not live in a perfect world, and Christians have always had to grapple with the questions of violence and limits to war. Until recently, apart from a minority of voices, the weight of theological opinion accepted weaponry as a necessary evil in a violent and brutal world.

Such acceptance of warfare has often been qualified by an awareness that war is endorsed only as the last resort and as a means for achieving a just peace under strict conditions, namely, that warfare should be restricted to combatants.

Mass warfare, as witnessed this century, and the impact of nuclear weapons, has changed the very nature of war. It cannot be limited. Indeed, war strategies and theories of deterrence include civilian populations by design.

The planned, indiscriminate slaughter of mass warfare has caused a re-evaluation of the church's stand on war. There have been many church voices calling for complete disarmament. For example, the Nairobi Assembly of the World Council of Churches called upon people to pledge themselves to live without the protection of weapons.

These calls have been based upon the recognition that modern warfare is no longer tolerable. Nuclear weapons and the issues they raise are so different that it is the claim of this Statement that they are no longer to be judged as issues of strategy but as issues of faith.

The Assembly believes that nuclear weapons and the security offered by them is false and is in direct contradiction to Jesus Christ's promise of life.

At various times the church has found it necessary to declare rulers of political systems contrary to faith. The early church resisted caesar-worship; slavery was abolished; the confessing church in Germany opposed Hitler; racism (especially apartheid) and anti-semitism have been declared sinful. In each case, Christian opposition was based on the claim that the confession "Jesus Christ is Lord" would be contradicted by acceptance of, and reliance upon these rulers or political systems.

In the light of the claim made on human life by nuclear weapons, and because of their destructive power which threatens all life on this planet, we believe that reliance on nuclear weapons to attain peace and security is sinful.

Moreover, the Assembly judges that there is no distinction to be drawn between production, possession, threatened use or use of nuclear weapons. Nor is there any valid distinction to be made between preparation for or fighting war. The Assembly rejects any distinction between the intention to use or the actual use of nuclear weapons. It rejects any distinction between possession of such weapons ourselves for security and their possession by others for our security, or any distinction between preparing for their use and assisting others in that preparation.

This is not to be understood as a merely strategic judgement. It deals with the basic question of faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to him.

We believe therefore that production, possession, threatened use or use of nuclear weapons is a sin.

The requirement of confession

The Assembly confesses that, as a people of God:

  • we are implicated in sin by our reliance upon nuclear weapons;
  • we have sought security in nuclear weapons and nuclear systems;
  • we sustain our wish for nuclear defence because of our fear of enemies and the belief that the means of terror will keep the peace;
  • we refuse to bear the cost of loving our 'enemies': we employ terror instead of seeking reconciliation;
  • we have been silent and apathetic in the face of threatened nuclear annihilation, the ravages of the arms race, regional wars and economic exploitation, and have been unwilling to give up our dependence upon this system;
  • we have been faint-hearted and have refused to encourage our leaders to seek radical solutions to the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The requirement of obedience

The Assembly believes that:

  • Jesus Christ calls for obedience in seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons.

This requires that we examine our own involvement and investment in industry and commerce and withdraw support for the nuclear arms race;

  • as a church, we are required to encourage governments and citizens to act more boldly for an end to the nuclear arms race;
  • as a church we are also required to create the conditions whereby citizens and governments are able to recognise the impact of the nuclear arms race upon our globe, are enabled to act for peace, and are encouraged to take unilateral initiatives which signal a readiness for disarmament and cooperation;
  • it is time to move beyond words and statements to actions, and therefore encourage workers, trade unions, industry leaders and governments to act to withdraw support of the nuclear arms race. As a church we commit ourselves to examination of our involvement in the need to withdraw support for the nuclear industry, and to explore ways in which governments may be moved, including various forms of resistance, such as refusal to pay taxation for nuclear armament purposes and other particular forms of civil disobedience.

Recognising that the arms race is fuelled by fear and a sense of threat which breeds insecurity, the Assembly will work to find new ways of ensuring that nations in a divided and hostile world can live in relative harmony and mutual cooperation.

Common security: life lived in trust

As the Uniting Church in Australia we affirm that:

  • it is not appropriate to view the world in terms of a clear dichotomy of good and evil. There is a complexity of good and evil in all people and all nations. This should be dealt with and not distorted by images and alliances which commit us to see evil in others and only good in ourselves and our allies. Honesty is required if we are to constantly call ourselves to change and transformation.
  • love of the neighbour to which Christ calls us is denied by a desire to secure our future at the cost of others or to support unjust international relations because of our alliances and political allegiances. We cannot define ourselves and our way of life through the destruction of others.
  • We cannot relate to others out of fear of despair. We know God's love, we confess a Lord of history in whom we have the promise of the fullness of life. God's mercy is everlasting, and the Holy Spirit is moving among us, kindling the love which drives out fear, renewing our vision of peace, stirring our imaginations, leading us through the wilderness, freeing us and uniting us.
  • the task of peacemaker is one given to the community by the one who is our peace. It is the task of seeking shalom (wholeness), rather than the absence of conflict. Those who resort to arms must bear the onus to prove that such action is not only intended to put an end to conflict but will aid the search for peace for the whole community.
  • the peace brought by God is more than the absence of war or the removal of strife. The peace achieved through the cross of Jesus Christ means restored relationships of love, compassion and justice. This peace was announced in the ministry of Jesus as good news to the poor, release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberation of the oppressed and enactment of economic justice (Luke 4:18-19). Such peace is possible because, through the death of Jesus, all people are declared righteous and, being placed in a right relationship with God, are able to share in the renewal of human life.
  • to be declared righteous means to struggle no longer for power, privilege or wealth in order to justify ourselves; not to oppress others in the battle to claim righteousness over against others. Jesus Christ's gift of righteousness reconciles us both to God and to each other, especially our enemies (Galatians 3:28ff). So, reconciliation with God calls us to restored relationships with others. In affirming this we may not separate justice from the gospel, for reconciliation is with the whole person in all relationships. This affirmation of faith calls us to expose situations where the absence of conflict, achieved through oppression and injustice, masquerades as peace. Further, it is recognised that the present arms race saps the life blood of humanity, particularly by diverting essential resources away from those who live in poverty, are hungry and thirsty and without shelter. Obedience to Jesus Christ demands that each person should seek to use his or her resources for the enhancement and not for the destruction of life.
  • because the human community is interrelated, no section can pretend to be secure as long as others' legitimate right to sovereignty and security are denied.

The Assembly endorses the following W.C.C. statement:

"Human beings have a right to live in security. This implies economic and social justice for all, protection and defence of life with a political framework designed to ensure this. It is legitimate for each nation to seek its own security and protection from outside attack, without endangering the security of other nations.

"Current concepts of national security are to be challenged where they conflict with the demands of justice, exceed the needs to legitimate defence, or seek economic, political and military domination of others. Prevailing doctrines of national security lead to the preparation for war becoming an almost permanent way of life for nations and societies. Military conditioning of the population, including children, distorts priorities in political, social and cultural planning and often seeks to legitimise the systematic violation of human rights in the name of national security.

"This applies on the international plane also. So long as economic injustice prevails between nations, lasting international security cannot be achieved, either by collective defence systems or by negotiated weapons reduction alone. Only a common enterprise undertaken by all the nations of the world together can ensure dependable international security.

"No nation can achieve security at the expense of others, through seeking military superiority or interfering in the life of other nations. Deterrence or peace by error should give place to the concept of common security for all, which includes people's security in each nation."


If the church and nation are to act on these beliefs rather than a vision of 'realism', a new level of trust in Christ is required, and a desire to deal with sin in a transforming rather than controlling way. There is a need for an alternative understanding of the world, an understanding which is possible because the church believes that Christ is saviour, giver of peace, security and value, and the one who calls us to bear our cross.