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Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Headshot

Politicking With Armageddon: No Iran Sanctions in Nuclear Deal

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A hard won nuclear deal with Iran will take effect January 20, that is, unless a group of Republicans and Democrats in Congress succeed in pushing through a sanctions bill that could sabotage the whole thing.

These members of Congress need to realize you do not play politics with Armageddon.

Now, the six-month temporary truce agreement is not, of course, the end of nuclear threat in our time, but it is a concrete reduction of the threat of nuclear confrontation in the Middle East. Iran has agreed, in exchange for relief from certain debilitating financial sanctions, to reduce its stores of enriched nuclear materials and open its nuclear program up to greater scrutiny.

The Iran Sanctions Bill, however, raises pressure on Iran and on the administration and is unwise from a policy perspective, as it is a "threat to the talks" at a delicate stage.

But even worse, perhaps, it is a profoundly immoral bill as it plays politics with the nuclear threat.

The denunciation of the nuclear weapons by faith communities is so strong and far reaching that the argument has been made that nuclear opposition is one of the most widely shared convictions across faith traditions, and among Christians, Muslims and Jews as evident among contributors to Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War.

Why?

In A Shuddering Dawn: Religious Studies in the Nuclear Age, Religious Studies professor Ira Chernus calls the nuclear age "The Age of Apocalypse."

Apocalypse. Armageddon. These are terms that mean the 'end of the world' in religious terms, evoking a power that has been reserved for God alone. But what is so perverse about the nuclear threat is that it usurps the power of God and gives it to frail and faulty humanity.

From the first moment of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons have been seen as having divine power, as I have written in A Shuddering Dawn. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Director of the Los Alamos laboratory where the bomb was finally developed, named the first test "Trinity" after the Christian Trinity in one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets. Winston Churchill called the bomb "The Second Coming in Wrath." Christian fundamentalists have specifically seen the end of the world in a nuclear conflagration in religious terms.

But consistently, many religious leaders have said 'absolutely not' to the use of nuclear weapons, and even to the much vaunted deterrence theory.

It was in the 1980s that faith communities began to take the lead in anti-nuclear protests throughout the United States. Beginning with the American Catholic Bishop's powerful pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," and building momentum with the support of many protestant denominations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and other faith groups including the Buddhist Soka Gakkai International, a movement emerged in which rejection of the development, trade and use of nuclear weapons became a central conviction across faith traditions.

Although the 1990s saw a relative decline in anti-nuclear protest, after the attacks of September 11, 2001 the topic re-emerged as a central concern for faith communities. Muslim voices joined the opposition to nuclear weapons in June 2000 as the "Joint Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Statement" by religious and military leaders was issued in Washington D.C. At the release of the statement, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America noted, "we must say to ourselves first and then to the world that we want a total and universal ban on the possession and production of nuclear weapons" and argued for Islamic support of this view.

As a faith leader and participant in so many of these interfaith groups that have denounced nuclear weapons as an offense to God, I appeal to those in Congress who would push through this disruptive "Iran Sanctions Bill" to stop.

"Blessed are the peacemakers." (Matt. 5:9)

Let the peacemakers do their work.