Christians have joined with other faith groups to issue a “call to repentance” over the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Protesting at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire yesterday (15 February), they declared that “the power of Trident is an affront to the power of God”.
They were participating in a multifaith liturgy. It formed part of a mass protest that saw the gates to the site brought to a virtual standstill.
Around 800 peaceful demonstrators of many religions and of none participated in the blockade, the largest protest that Aldermaston has seen for some years. It was timed to fall ahead of both the general election and a global summit on nuclear non-proliferation in May.
“Nuclear weapons represent a great idolatry that can only lead to destruction and chaos,” said Chris Wood of Christian CND, “Christians are called, in discipleship, to peace and social justice”.
Large numbers of campaigners sat on the road or chained themselves to gates to prevent vehicles passing in and out of the site. Others stood nearby, showing support for those risking arrest. They carried banners with slogans such as “No Trident renewal”, “Use your skills for peace” and “No more training for war”.
“We’re here to stop a crime” said Christian peace campaigner Chris Cole as he lay in the road, superglued to another activist.
The police struggled to keep at least one of the site’s seven gates open. Different gates became blocked, re-opened and re-blocked as police removed demonstrators who then returned or were replaced by others. Police used cutting implements to detach protestors from gates and each other, but only eleven arrests were reported.
The interfaith service at the Tadley Gate saw symbols of the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh religions on display.
Readings included a prayer of Thomas Merton, read by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon. The local Anglican Bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell, also turned up to show his support.
Other Christian leaders present included Bill Anderson, chair of the Birmingham District of the Methodist Church, who said that Britain could have no integrity in opposing the development of nuclear arms by Iran while going ahead with the renewal of Trident.
Protesters prayed that God would forgive them for “the tyranny of greed”, the “avarice of imperialism” and the “blasphemy of war”.
The blockade was organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Trident Ploughshares and the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign. It was conducted according to strict nonviolence guidelines which ruled out verbal as well as physical abuse.
The protest comes amidst a major political controversy over the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The Prime Minister is committed to renewing Trident and it is also supported by the Tory opposition. But a large number of churches, faith groups, trades unions and charities are against the plan, and polls show a majority of the public are opposed. The cabinet is widely reported to be split on the issue.
Many of the campaigners concentrated on the cost of Trident renewal, which CND estimate to be at least £76 billion.
“It’s shocking and saddening to think that in our current time we would want to spend so much money and resources on something so destructive” said Lorna Mundy, who belongs to Bradford Friends' (Quaker) Meeting.
Faith was clearly central to many of the protestors’ motivations. Methodist minister Knut Heim told Ekklesia that he regarded the blockade as “not only prophetic action but prophetic witness”.
Sitting in the middle of the road, Susan Clarkson of the Oxford Catholic Worker said “nuclear weapons are against the law of God”.
Not all those present were experienced activists. Helen Smith of London was attending her first demonstration. “I’ve been reading stuff [about nuclear weapons] on the internet for ages,” she told Ekklesia, “A blockade seemed a way to make a statement”.
The Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment declined to comment on the protest.