They reject the government’s policy of deterrence; their pastoral letter may affect evangelical thinking.

The nation’s Catholic bishops probably will boldly denounce nuclear war and the arms race at a May meeting in Chicago. At about the same time, evangelicals will convene in Pasadena, California, to discuss the same issue.

These two events may have more in common than timing; the bishops have tied their nuclear position to their antiabortion stance. At a November meeting in Washington, D.C., the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop John R. Roach of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, said the two issues are inseparable.

Evangelical author and educator Ronald J. Sider believes the Pasadena meeting may be influenced by the bishops’ action. “Their conscious linking of these two issues is quite significant” and will compel evangelicals to consider the theological and moral questions the bishops address, Sider said. But he cautioned that the evangelical meeting, hosted by two Fuller Theological Seminary graduates, will produce no statement. “We will just bring together a whole range of evangelicals. We need to talk and we need to pray about the issue without forcing anyone to change his thinking.”

That is how the bishops approached the issue when they started on it two years ago, but they decided to draft a pastoral letter to the nation’s 51 million Catholics. The letter probably will call for a freeze on development of nuclear weapons when it is formally approved in May. Its purpose is to provide a coherent foundation for church teaching on the issue, but not to dictate a binding opinion. The advent of nuclear weapons, say the bishops, presents a “new moment” for which traditional alternatives ...

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