The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) on November 8 released a new policy that falls just short of urging total nuclear disarmament while surmising that reliance on nukes might be idolatrous.
NAE was founded in the 1940’s to counter the liberal and then influential National Council of Churches, and was historically a conservative bulwark. Its most famous public moment was likely President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech to NAE.
But a new generation has ascended to leadership of NAE, which reports membership of 40 denominations that include about 45,000 local churches. The new NAE has distanced itself from the old religious right with more liberal stances on the environment, U.S. enhanced interrogation techniques, federal budget policy and immigration. During its October board meeting in Washington, D.C., NAE officials met with President Obama. And the NAE board also approved the new anti-nuclear weapons statement. It notes that a “growing body of Christian thought calls into question the acceptability of nuclear weapons as part of a just national defense, given that the just war theory categorically admonished against indiscriminate violence and requires proportionality and limited collateral damage."
NAE’s new nuclear weapons stance suggests that “continued possession undermines the nonproliferation regime and commitments by the nuclear powers to actively pursue nuclear disarmament.” It also observes: “Many argue that they [nukes] weaken rather than strengthen our security.” And it warns: “Scripture shows that national military might too often takes the place of trust in God.”
Over the Summer an initial NAE nuclear discussion group included Tyler Wigg-Stevenson of the Two Futures Project, a group aimed at persuading evangelicals to back complete nuclear disarmament. A former protégé to the late Democratic Senator Alan Cranston, Wigg-Stevenson helped present the draft nuclear statement to the NAE board in October, though he himself is not a board member. During the Summer discussion, NAE President Leith Anderson, a Minnesota megachurch pastor whose flock includes former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, reportedly insisted NAE would not explicitly advocate complete nuclear disarmament. But the new NAE stance almost certainly will be widely interpreted in that direction.
The new nuclear stance also comes in the wake of the NAE’s having joined liberal religious activist Jim Wallis’s “Circle of Protection” to protest limits on social welfare and entitlement spending. An NAE representative joined Wallis and others in a visit with President Obama during the July debt ceiling crisis that seemingly aligned NAE against Congressional Republicans. Although widely criticized outside the NAE, the “Circle of Protection” apparently was not debated at last month’s NAE board meeting, whose sessions were closed.
In special public policy briefings, the NAE board did hear from former Democratic Congressman and ambassador Tony Hall, a “Circle of Protection” supporter who conducted his own hunger fast to protest potential limits on social welfare spending. Hall reportedly expressed some chagrin that the Circle had not more effectively energized churches on federal budget issues. NAE also heard from Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who offered a very different perspective on budget issues. Another congressional Republican, Frank Wolf, spoke to NAE about international religious liberty. On the more liberal side was Cecilia Muñoz, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, and a former senior official at National Council of La Raza. Muñoz reportedly commended NAE’s recent activism for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. NAE sponsored an October 20-22 conference for liberalized immigration policies, featuring speakers such as Jim Wallis, evangelical left activist Shane Claiborne, and more conservative voices for Comprehensive Immigration Reform such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.