Nuclear disarmament a key issue for Project Ploughshares
The Cold War was at one of its many heights in 1982 when Phyllis Creighton’s essay “The Ethics of Death” appeared in Voice from the Mountain, a series of reflections from Anglicans on the Ten Commandments.
In her essay, Creighton described nuclear policies pursued by the world’s superpowers as resting on “the willingness to unleash hideous, incalculable poisoning of the earth and mutation of the human species—apocalyptic terror.” She warned that the world stood “more in danger of war, and annihilation, than at any time since 1945” and that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists had recently moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock from 12 minutes to midnight to four.
Much has changed since Creighton’s essay was published. The Cold War officially ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Creighton went on to serve as the Anglican Church of Canada’s representative to Project Ploughshares, the peace research institute of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), from 1987-88 and from 1990-98. And since 2018, the Doomsday Clock now stands at two minutes to midnight.
The forward march of the clock suggests humanity is closer than ever to global destruction caused by its own technologies. In response, many Christians have sought to challenge the weapons and dealers of death. Through participation in Project Ploughshares and activism in their churches and communities, Canadian Anglicans are living out the call of the Marks of Mission “to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.”
At the October meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, representatives of Project Ploughshares were present for the annual gathering of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security. As a founding member of the CCC, the Anglican Church of Canada has a major presence on Project Ploughshares, which seeks to work with governments and civil society to advance policies for peace.
Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, described a “somber” mood and “acrimonious tone” at the UN committee, characterized by mutual accusations traded between nations such as the United States and Russia, Israel and Iran, and Turkey and Syria.
He cited “confrontational” moves by U.S. President Donald Trump, such as withdrawing the United States from treaties with Russia and Iran, as a major factor in creating that atmosphere. Such circumstances may bode ill for next year’s conference to review the 1970 Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. (The treaty stipulated that the parties to it meet every five years.)
“I don’t know how one can measure human gloom,” Jaramillo says. “But there is that sense of urgency around the [perception] that [things] seem to be getting worse, rather than better.”
Nuclear disarmament has long been a major focus of Project Ploughshares, founded in 1976. The organization currently engages with governments to push for a renewed focus on disarmament and plans to attend the upcoming review conference for the non-proliferation treaty. But the church also has a history of advocating for nuclear disarmament through its own institutional structures.
Creighton has played a significant role in these efforts. At the 1983 General Synod, she presented a motion for the church to take an absolute stand against nuclear weapons. General Synod carried the motion, which declared that the church considered “the development, production or use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction” as being “contrary to the will of God and the mind of Christ.”
Creighton’s stand against nuclear weapons dates back to 1945, when she was 15 years old and “horrified” by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As the Cold War intensified, Creighton gravitated towards peace activism inside and outside of the church. The same year she presented the General Synod motion opposing nuclear weapons, Creighton joined protests against a decision by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau to allow cruise missile testing by the U.S. in Alberta.
Shortly thereafter, Creighton joined a group called the Toronto-Volgograd Initiative. For a decade, she participated in a citizen exchange with Volgograd, the Russian city formerly known as Stalingrad. Over three visits, she learned how much people on both sides of the Cold War divide shared in common. “We met with citizens who, like us, were scared stiff about nuclear weapons,” she remembers.
Continuing to move motions at General Synod against nuclear weapons in consultation with Project Ploughshares, Creighton also supported motions on non-nuclear issues related to peace. In 1989, General Synod passed a resolution calling on NATO to stop low-level flight training by bombers over the unceded lands of the Innu and Inuit.
In 2007, at her ninth General Synod, Creighton moved a motion committing the Anglican Church of Canada to support the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, founded only months beforehand. General Synod carried the resolution and became an early supporter of the campaign, due in part to the influence of Project Ploughshares. Ten years later, the campaign received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Creighton views the commitment to peace and disarmament as a central message of Christianity.
“I think our Lord made very clear that the path of Christ is non-violent,” she says. “It’s a path that believes that love is the way forward, and love entails respect for other people. It entails respect for humanity, mercy and a belief that we have the power to create a world in which peace is possible.”
Project Ploughshares is driven by a similar vision, which Jaramillo describes as “reducing human suffering.” The organization seeks to accomplish this goal by working with NGOs, churches, ecumenical organizations and governments to enhance policies and regulatory frameworks aimed at promoting peace.
Along with nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, Project Ploughshares focuses on protection of civilians and reducing the international arms trade. Representatives of Project Ploughshares recently attended an international conference in Vienna hosted by the Austrian government to develop a political declaration in which states would refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.
Though Jaramillo expresses respect for individuals at Global Affairs Canada, he criticizes the Canadian government, along with other states, for the distance between “lofty rhetoric” of peace and human rights and their actual policies.
In practice, he says, Canada has tended to side with nuclear-armed NATO allies to fight any moves towards abolition of nuclear weapons. The federal government also sells arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which Jaramillo calls “one of the worst human rights violators in the world.” He draws a direct link between the arms trade and global human rights violations.
While Project Ploughshares offers a vehicle for Christians to reduce violence— and financial support is always welcome— Jaramillo says Anglicans can also support these efforts by becoming better informed around issues of war and peace.
Many Anglicans have sought to raise awareness in their own communities. David Fletcher, rector of the parish of Lantz in Nova Scotia, participated in the protests against cruise missile testing in the 1980s as a student.
Around the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fletcher helped students at a Halifax school make origami paper cranes based on a story popularized in the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. The story details the experience of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was caught in the bombing of Hiroshima and developed radiation poisoning. She decided to make 1,000 paper cranes based on a legend suggesting happiness or good fortune for anyone who could fold that number, but she died before she could reach her goal.
In August 2019, Fletcher started making paper cranes at his church in Lantz. At parish council, Anglican Church Women gatherings and sometimes at Sunday worship, he will spend a few minutes alongside members of the congregation folding paper cranes with the goal of eventually making 1,000.
Having served in the Canadian military for five years, Fletcher is of two minds about the necessity of war. He says that “there are probably circumstances where war may be unavoidable. I don’t like to think about that. It’s not my best possible alternative. But I also recognize that we still live in an age where the military may be called upon to do things that are not peaceable.”
Yet, in pondering the Christian attitude towards war and peace, Fletcher finds himself returning to “the notion that peace as a state of mind is kind of a starting place.” He recalls a collect about “peace in our world, peace in our country, peace in our church, peace in our family, peace in our hearts.”
When it comes to peace, Fletcher says, “if it doesn’t start in our hearts, it’s not going to go anywhere else.”