Why Evangelicals and Catholic Bishops Support New START

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A report from our colleague Elizabeth Dias:

It’s not often that the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops hold a joint press conference. But Tuesday afternoon they came together to tell Congress to ratify the New START Treaty.

This united voice for New START reveals ratification’s urgency for faith communities. While the USCCB and NAE have previously shared efforts on immigration reform, climate change, and other sanctity-of-life topics, yesterday appears to be the first time the two have spoken out together on nuclear issues. (Neither press office could recall any such previous meeting.)

With Senate Republicans stalling ratification, the Two Futures Project, a movement of American Christians for the abolition of nuclear weapons, decided to step in and organize yesterday’s meeting. “This is not simply a matter for politics, but is really a conversation that has to be infused with a sense of moral seriousness,” Director Tyler Wigg-Stevenson told TIME. For Two Futures, killing the treaty threatens Christian morality. “Is that a world conducive to life and human flourishing? Is that something that Christians can support? I think the answer is just flatly no,” Wigg-Stevenson says.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, adamantly agreed. “It was 45 years ago this very day that Vatican Council issued its condemnation of any type of war that would target entire cities of expansive areas. That type of war–which would include certainly nuclear weapons–we said is ‘a crime against God and against humanity itself,’ and it deserves unequivocal condemnation,” Hubbard told TIME on Tuesday.

A biblical mandate similarly drives evangelicals to ratification. “‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,’” National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson affirmed, quoting the New Testament. “And so we are always looking for possibilities, for ways to move toward peace.” For both groups, sanctity-of-life principles reach much farther than just abortion.

Their announcement came on the heels of Condoleezza Rice’s WSJ op-ed supporting ratification earlier yesterday. Former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz have also all endorsed the Treaty.

In fact, a meeting with Shultz and evangelical leaders to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in 2008 birthed the Two Futures Project. Since then, many church leaders have been picking up the message. Lynne Hybels, wife of Chicago pastor Bill Hybels, attended the Shultz meeting and actively supports their mission. She tweeted Monday, “Read this post by my friends at @2FP […] Then call your Senators & encourage them to ratify the treaty ASAP!” And when former Secretary of Defense William Perry supported New START at a recent NAE board meeting, evangelical leaders gave him a standing ovation.

Hubbard suggested that similar nuclear partnerships with other Protestants, Hindus, and Buddhists are likely on the horizon. If so, it looks like Congress will not be able to avoid this faith voice any time soon.