Given what Jesus had to say about peacemakers, the words ‘Christian’ and ‘peacemaking’ should be inseparable.
But we live in sometimes dark and unsettled times. What being a ‘peacemaker’ means is obviously open to interpretation but it is clear that making peace is different to making or preparing for war, and even for those who support military defence some aspects of warfare cannot be reconciled with being a peacemaker.
On 22nd January there is an important event for humanity when nuclear weapons become illegal in international law with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) coming into force – the treaty explicitly bans the use, development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, threat of use and deployment of nuclear weapons. This has been a long time coming. The ban has been welcomed by both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland and Pope Francis has previously, in relation to this treaty, “firmly condemned” the possession of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. If we consider the number of ‘near misses’ during the Cold War, the number of nuclear accidents, and the fact that they can be in the hands of leaders who can be volatile at the best of times, it is also clear that the existence of nuclear weapons is a cause of instability. They are also no defence against the kind of attacks and wars which are likely today. And how can we love our enemies by obliterating them with a nuclear bomb?
Even if such weapons are never used they are massively expensive, depriving countries and their citizens of many things which they actually need, and leaving the world as a whole in need and without the medical and social care so desperately needed.There is an opportunity for churches to celebrate the fact of nuclear weapons becoming illegal by the ringing of church bells at 12 noon on 22nd January 2021. There are various initiatives on this and a quick word search should tell you more, e.g. search for ‘nuclear ban church bells’. Of course not everyone has bells to ring or that they can ring so this time may also be an opportunity to reflect on peace and peacemaking including sharing this news through social media, homilies and in other ways.
Sometimes terrible things happening in the world dominate the news. But good news happens and humanity can make advances. Relative peace in Northern Ireland is one success story. The banning of nuclear weapons is another success story written on the larger, global stage which deserves the attention of Christians and faith communities.
Rob Fairmichael worked as an associate secretary of the Irish Council of Churches from 1992–2010. He is coordinator of INNATE, an Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education. http://www.innatenonviolence.org/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland