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Synod votes against nuclear weapons

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 of the Church of England 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. 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.
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 Ven. Ian Wheatley QHC (Forces Synodical Council), 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 (Forces Synodical Council) 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.

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