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General Synod calls for ‘elimination’ of nuclear weapons

09 July 2018


Protesters hold banners declaring “No nuclear war” as they demonstrate against military intervention in Syria in Parliament Square, London, in April

Protesters hold banners declaring “No nuclear war” as they demonstrate against military intervention in Syria in Parliament Square, London...

THERE are “no circumstances” in which modern-day Trident missiles can be used to justify the destruction that these weapons would cause, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told the General Synod on Sunday.

Moving his motion on the ethics of nuclear weapons, which was carried overwhelmingly by the Synod after a debate, Bishop Cottrell said: “Therefore, the argument that they have worked as a deterrent is no argument at all. They exist. They could be used. We are prepared to use them.

“Others want to procure them. Our holding them only makes them seem more attractive to other nation states, often those with the most vicious and repellent governments.”

The Synod had not debated nuclear weapons for 11 years, he said, but it was fitting that the “moral issues” be discussed in the centenary year of the end of the First World War. “Even if Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s agreement does lead to the denuclearisation of North Korea — and this is something we all hope and pray for — it does not change, but sharpen, the Church’s responsibility to seek peace,” he said.

That the Government had not signed the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was “hugely disappointing” and “looks like complacency”, he continued (Comment, 9 February). He also questioned the billions of pounds spent on Trident, which would be better used elsewhere.

His motion called on the Synod to welcome the Treaty, lobby the Government to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons, and commit the Church to working with eccumenical partners to address regional and national security concerns.

An amendment from the Revd Dr Sean Doherty (London) to replace calls for the Government to “respond positively” to the Treaty with calls to sign the Treaty was lost after a short debate. He was not a pacifist, he said, but a believer in just-war principles. He told the Synod: “The reality is that we have not seen progress toward denuclearisation for decades.” The Treaty gave a framework for denuclearisation to take place, he said.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONThe Ven. Simon Heathfield, a former RAF pilot, speaks during the Synod debate on nuclear weapons, on Sunday

An early and unexpected point of order to move on to the next business, raised by Prudence Dailey (Oxford), on the grounds that it would be more topical and useful to debate contingency business on homelessness, was also rejected.

Members or former members of the armed forces were among contributors to the main debate. The Chaplain of the Fleet, the Revd Martyn Gough (Armed Forces Synod), described life on board submarines that were carrying the nuclear deterrent. They were a “foreboding” place, and there was a “very real danger” of never resurfacing. He asked the Synod to think of the people who worked there, and who sought to serve, leaving their families for three or four months at a time.

Lt Gemma Winterton (Armed Forces Synod) also drew the Synod’s attention to the sacrifice of the submariners and their families. She urged the Synod to recognise the human cost of nuclear weapons.

The Archdeacon of Aston, the Ven. Simon Heathfield (Birmingham), a former RAF pilot, said that a meeting on the impact of nuclear war had led him to leave the armed forces. Humanity was not drawn towards death and destruction irrevocably, he said, and voting for the motion was not a denigration of the work of the armed forces.

The UN Treaty was “de-legitimising” the idea of nuclear weapons, creating a new normality in the world, based on pacifism, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said. Since Pope Francis was also against nuclear weapons, he agreed with the motion that this was an issue to be discussed ecumenically.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) said that the world needed a “warm peace” rather than the “cold peace” that the ownership of nuclear weapons allowed.

Dr John Mason (Chester) described the “moving, gut-wrenching experience” of his visit to Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Park, two years ago. That the Japanese had no malice towards those who had carried out the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that there was a real desire for peace and the destruction of nuclear weapons, was ironic, he said, given the position of the UK.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, emphasised the urgency of abandoning nuclear weapons. He worried that society had become “less interested” in the “threat of imminent mass destruction”. He had never heard anyone say that the existence of nuclear weapons was good.

The following motion was carried, unamended, 260 votes in favour, 26 against:


That this Synod, mindful that a faithful commemoration of the centenary of the 1918 Armistice must commit the Church afresh to peace building; and conscious that nuclear weapons, through their indiscriminate and destructive potential, present a distinct category of weaponry that requires Christians to work tirelessly for their elimination across the world:

(a) welcome the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the clear signal it sends by a majority of UN Member States that nuclear weapons are both dangerous and unnecessary;

(b) call on Her Majesty’s Government to respond positively to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by reiterating publicly its obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty and its strategy for meeting them; and

(c) commit the Church of England to work with its Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners in addressing the regional and international security concerns which drive nations to possess and seek nuclear weapons and to work towards achieving a genuine peace through their elimination.

Read the full debate, here, and find reports on every other General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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