Scottish church leaders urge MPs to reject new nukes

By staff writers
13 Mar 2007
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Alan McDonald, visiting Faslane peace camp

The leaders of the main Christian denominations in Scotland have written a joint letter to MPs urging them to reject the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons system proposed by the UK government - which they have branded 'immoral'.

The House of Commons will debate the issue on Wednesday.

Signatories to the letter include the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Alan McDonald, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Scotland, and Dr Idris Jones, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The letter says that renewal of the UK's nuclear capability would be contrary to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of which the UK is a signatory. The treaty is an agreement between nuclear states, who undertake to reduce progressively their reliance on nuclear weapons, and non-nuclear states who undertake not to develop such a capacity.

"It would be the ultimate in hypocrisy" the letter says, "for the UK to argue that Iran, for example, should not be developing a nuclear weapons capability, while at the same time extending the UK capability in scope and in time."

In May 2006 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland restated its long-held view on the immorality of nuclear weapons and called on the Government not to renew Trident.

In April 2006 the Catholic Bishops of Scotland called for Trident not to be replaced but rather decommissioned and the money saved to be spent on programmes of aid and development.

A petition sponsored by the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church in Scotland, and supported by Christians from many denominations, stating that Trident should not be replaced was handed into the Ministry of Defence with around 20,000 signatures on 1st December 2006.

Alan McDonald of the Church of Scotland said: "£20 billion is an obscene amount to spend on nuclear weapons, but even if a Trident replacement cost nothing, we should still have nothing to do with it. Because it’s wrong, morally, and theologically wrong.

"There are currently four Trident submarines based at Faslane. Each can carry 16 missiles. Each missile can be armed with up to 12 warheads with a range of 6000 miles. One Trident submarine can carry the equivalent of 750 Hiroshima atom bombs.

"As Disciples of Christ, our calling is to be peacemakers in the world. There can be no place for weapons of mass destruction in the world that God loves so much."

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear MP

We are writing to you on behalf of Scotland’s major Churches to voice our opposition to the replacement of the Trident Nuclear Weapons System. We are urging you to vote against the Government’s proposals when they are debated in the House of Commons on 14th March.

The gravity of the issue and their unity of opposition led to an innovative joint message for New Year 2007 from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Right Rev Alan McDonald and the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Their message stated: "This year there is a wonderful opportunity for our Westminster parliamentarians finally to take steps to fulfil the obligations this country made many years ago to rid itself of nuclear weapons. We pray that our MPs will make a stand for the principles of peace, and will have the courage to refuse to endorse a replacement for Trident. Peace cannot be advanced by the commissioning of new weapons of mass destruction."

Many of Scotland’s Churches have a long history of opposition to nuclear weapons, rooted in their own social traditions:

"‘If it is immoral to use these [nuclear] weapons it is also immoral to threaten their use." Catholic Bishops’ of Scotland, 1982.

In May 2006 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland restated its long-held view on the immorality of nuclear weapons and called on the Government not to renew Trident.

In April 2006 the Catholic Bishops of Scotland called for Trident not to be replaced but rather decommissioned and the money saved to be spent on programmes of aid and development.

"To replace Trident would represent a further announcement to the world that safety and security can only be achieved by threatening mass destruction; this is to encourage others to believe the same, and thus to hasten proliferation." The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2006.

The objection of the Churches shares many of the arguments of those in civil society opposed to maintaining nuclear weapons. It is, we believe, contrary to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which is, in effect, an agreement between nuclear states (who undertake to reduce progressively their reliance on nuclear weapons) and non-nuclear states (who undertake not to develop such capacity). It would be the ultimate in hypocrisy for the UK to argue that Iran, for example, should not be developing a nuclear weapons capability, while at the same time extending the UK capability in scope and in time.

A petition sponsored by the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church in Scotland, and supported by Christians from many denominations, stating that Trident should not be replaced was handed into the Ministry of Defence with around 20,000 signatures on 1st December 2006.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Nancy Adams (Convener, Church in Society Committee, Scottish Episcopal Church); Rev Dr Graham K. Blount (Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office); Geoffrey Carnall (Religious Society of Friends); Rev John O. Fulton (General Secretary, United Free Church of Scotland); Rev John Ll. Humphreys (Moderator, Synod of Scotland, United Reform Church); The Most Rev Dr Idris Jones (Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church); Dr Richard McCready (National Secretary, Justice and Peace Commission, Bishops’ Conference of Scotland); The Right Rev Alan D. McDonald (Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland); Morag Mylne (Convener of the Church and Society Council of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland); Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien (Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, President of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland).

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