Nineteen Church of England bishops have joined a growing chorus of church voices including Methodists, Roman Catholics, Quakers and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, in urging Prime Minister Tony Blair to halt plans to replace Britain's ageing fleet of Trident nuclear-armed submarines.
The Rt Rev Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells; Dr David James, Bishop of Bradford; Jack Nicholls, Bishop of Sheffield; and Colin Bennetts, Bishop of Coventry are among the senior church leaders who published their plea in The Independent newspaper - making a powerful theological case against weapons of mass destruction as sinful and contrary to the purposes of a loving God.
The letter declares: "Trident and other nuclear arsenals threaten long-term and fatal damage to the global environment and its people. As such, their end is evil and both possession and use profoundly anti-God acts."
It continues: "The costs involved in the maintenance and replacement of Trident could be used to address pressing environmental concerns, the causes of terrorism, poverty and debt."
Chancellor Gordon Brown, who like PM Tony Blair is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, has recently publicly supported the replacement of Trident.
Home Secretary John Reid and other Labour leaders have argued that that a UK nuclear weapons system is needed as an insurance policy against future threats. But Christian and other anti-nuclear weapons campaigners say that this argument is flawed.
"To embark on a new nuclear-arms race - which is how replacing Trident would be seen abroad - would send the worst possible signal to [other] countries already impatient with the nuclear-weapons states for failing to comply with their obligation, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to begin the process of disarmament," according to CND chairperson Kate Hudson.
She adds: "Inevitably this will lead some countries to believe they, too, need nuclear weapons as 'deterrent' protection. Policies of nuclear first use and the practice of pre-emptive war, sadly espoused not only by the US but also by Britain, can only contribute to that very real danger."
Declares Hudson: "Replacing Trident is a major step down the road to nuclear disaster. It must be stopped now. The debate must take place. The arguments for a shift to policies which will begin genuinely to resolve the world's complex problems must be heard."
Her arguments are echoed by Christians from many quarters of the church. In June 2006, Pax Christi (the international Catholic peace movement) urged its members to take action to counter the proposed Trident replacement plan at its Annual General meeting in Birmingham. This campaign has the support of Bishop Malcolm McMahon.
The Methodist Church in Great Britain also passed an anti-Trident motion at its recent Annual Conference, as did the Church of Scotland. And Quaker Peace and Social Witness have produced a detailed briefing pack along with resource materials on the case against nuclear weapons.
The Rev Alan McDonald, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, President of the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, recently declared that the deployment and use of nuclear arms is theologically and morally wrong.
Meanwhile, former environment minister Michael Meacher has put down a House of Commons motion calling for a vote on Trident replacement. It has so far attracted signatures from around 125 MPs.
Says Meacher: ìI support the arguments by the [church leaders], but I would add to them - it is not an independent nuclear deterrent because if the Americans don't approve it, we cannot use it; and on non-proliferation grounds - it is impossible to say to countries like Iran you should not have nuclear weapons but we must have ours.î
Mennonites, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Christian CND are among the other church groups that have spoken out strongly against nuclear weapons.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the official ecumenical body, has produced an on-line study guide to the issue, though it has not taken a stance itself - as its role is to encourage common reflection among the churches and not to speak on behalf of them, its says.
[Also on Ekklesia: Methodists back peacemaking and reject Trident 27/06/06; Scottish church leaders denounce Trident nuclear weapons 25/06/06; Scottish bishops signal Christian case against Trident nuclear weapons; Scottish churches in anti-nuclear petition; Christian allegations about secret nuclear weapons substantiated; Church leaders urge statement on UK's nuclear plans; Christians to mark Ash Wednesday with civil disobedience; Churches urged to tackle nuclear 'ignorance and complacency'; Plea for armed forces chaplains likely to be rejected; British Christians call for end to nuclear weapons; Catholic call to uphold nuclear non-proliferation;Who would Jesus bomb? products]