He offers a plan for nuclear disarmament and world peace fashioned by the Prince of Peace.
Following is the text of Billy Graham’s address, “The Christian Faith and Peace in a Nuclear Age,” which he gave in Moscow on May 11, at the world conference, “Religious Workers for Saving the Sacred Gift of Life from Nuclear Catastrophe.”
Your holiness Partriarch Pimen, Your Eminence Metropolitan Filaret, honorable representatives of the government of the USSR, esteemed delegates, observers, guests, and friends.
I am deeply honored and humbled by the gracious invitation of His Holiness Pimen, patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, and of the International Preparatory Committee and its chairman, His Eminence Metropolitan Filaret, to give this summary address on “The Christian Faith and Peace in a Nuclear Age” to this important world gathering of religious workers, following the panel discussion this morning on “The Responsibility of Religious Workers in preventing Nuclear Catastrophe.”
I recognize that we come to this conference from many different backgrounds—culturally, politically, and religiously. But in spite of many fundamental differences between us, we come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and concern because we share at least two things in common.
First, regardless of our background, we are all members of the human race, and the problem we are dealing with is one that affects every human on this planet, no matter what his cultural or political or religious views may be.
Second, although we have various religious differences, we share a basic conviction about the sacredness of human life and the need for spiritual answers to the problems that confront humanity.
I speak to you today as a follower of Jesus Christ. I shall never forget when Mr. U Thant of Burma departed as secretary general of the United Nations and a banquet was given in his honor. When the time came for him to speak, he stood and said simply, “Everything I have ever been, or am, or ever hope to be, I owe to Buddha.” Not very many of those at the banquet shared his religious beliefs, but they all understood and accepted his commitment. They admired his humble and bold dedication to his religious faith.
I would make a similar statement to you as a Christian, declaring that everything I have ever been, or am, or ever hope to be in this life or the future life, I owe to Jesus Christ. I am sure my fellow Christians at this gathering would say the same. In these few minutes, therefore, I would like to present what I believe to be the Christian’s responsibility for peace in a nuclear age as it is found in the Bible.
There is a farm in the central part of the United States. On that farm is a monument marking the exact point of the geographical center of the nation. It is a fixed reference point from which, I understand, all other geographical points in the nation can be measured. Each of us has his reference point, and as a Christian, the reference point by which I measure my life and thought is the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
There is no doubt that the world is facing the most critical moment since the beginning of human history. We live in a time that is without parallel, because never before has humanity held in its hands such awesome weapons of mass destruction—weapons that could destroy life on this planet within a matter of hours. The quantum leap in technology has resulted in a quantum leap in our ability to destroy our entire planet. Every thinking man knows that the world is like a powder keg, and if we cannot soon find a way to eliminate this danger of a nuclear catastrophe then we may be writing the obituary of much of humanity. The whole human race sits under a nuclear Sword of Damocles, not knowing when someone will push the button or give the order that will destroy much of the planet.
The possibility of nuclear war, therefore, is not merely a political issue. We must understand, of course, that there are underlying causes and problems that must be removed before the nuclear arms issue will be completely solved, and these issues must be addressed also. These underlying causes have brought about serious political conflicts between nations, and this is not God’s intention.
The nuclear arms race is primarily a moral and spiritual issue that must concern us all. I am convinced that political answers alone will not suffice, but that it is now time for us to urge the world to turn to spiritual solutions as well. We need a new breakthrough in how the problem of the nuclear arms race is approached. The vicious cycle of propaganda and counterpropaganda, charge and countercharge, mistrust and more mistrust among nations must somehow be broken. The unending and escalating cycle of relying on deterrents, greater deterrents, and supposedly ultimate deterrents should also be defused. Policies which constantly take nations to the brink of nuclear war must be rejected. We need to turn from our political and ideological conflicts on all sides and moderate them for the sake of the sanctity of human life.
I agree with Albert Einstein, who said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” Perhaps a conference like this, stressing the spiritual nature of man and the need for spiritual answers to the problems we face, can help bring about that new way of thinking.
Pope John Paul II has stated: “Our future on this planet, exposed as it is to nuclear annihilation, depends on one single factor: humanity must make a moral about-face.” But the question that confronts us is, How can this happen? Technologically, man has far exceeded his moral ability to control the results of his technology. Man himself must be changed. The Bible teaches that this is possible through spiritual renewal. Jesus Christ taught that man can and must have a spiritual rebirth.
This leads me to some specific comments about a Christian understanding of peace in a nuclear age.
First, the Christian begins with the Bible’s affirmation that life is sacred. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the Bible declares (Gen. 1:1). The world is not here by chance, nor is human life a biological accident. God brought it all into existence. Furthermore, man occupied a very special place in God’s creation, because man alone was created in the image of God. He had within him the character of God himself, and one reason for this was so man and God could have fellowship with each other. Human life is sacred not only because God created it, but because he loves us and desires to have a personal relationship with us. Life is a sacred gift of God, and the taking of human life is an offense to God’s original design of his creation. The individual person has dignity before God, and this is a fundamental fact that stresses his uniqueness and underlines his value within society.
Second, the Bible also teaches, however, that man, the creature, has turned his back on God, the Creator. Our first parents deliberately chose to rebel against God, and this has caused chaos in God’s world ever since. This rebellion against God is what the Bible calls sin. It cuts man off from God, but it also cuts man off from other men and even brings disorder into his own individual life. Hate takes the place of love; greed takes the place of sharing; the lust for power and domination over others takes the place of service and humility. Instead of peace there is war. The first son of Adam and Eve committed the first act of violence by killing his brother.
We live in a world, therefore, that is distorted and warped by sin. We may not fully understand why God—who is all-powerful and loving—permits evil in this world. But whatever else we might say, it must be stressed that man, not God, is guilty of the evil in the world. It is man who bears the responsibility, because man was given the ability to make free moral choices, and he chose deliberately to disobey God. The world as it now exists is not the way God intended it to be.
From a biblical perspective, therefore, I am convinced that the basic issue that faces us today is not merely political, social, economic, or even moral or humanitarian in nature. The deepest problems of the human race are spiritual in nature. They are rooted in man’s refusal to seek God’s way for his life. The problem is the human heart, which God alone can change.
During World War II, Prof. Albert Einstein helped bring a German photographer to the United States. They became friends and the photographer took a number of pictures of Einstein. Einstein never liked photographers, and he never liked any picture of himself. But one day he looked into the camera and started talking. He spoke about his despair that his formula, E=mC2, and his letter to President Roosevelt had made the atomic bomb possible, and his scientific research had resulted in the death of so many human beings. He grew silent. His eyes had a look of immense sadness. There was a question and a reproach in them.
At that very moment the cameraman released the shutter. Einstein looked up and the cameraman asked him: “So you don’t believe that there will ever be peace?”
“No,” he answered. “As long as there will be man, there will be wars.”
The Bible says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:1–2, NIV). Jesus declared, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts … murder … greed, malice, deceit … arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21–22).
I am convinced one of the most vivid and tragic signs of man’s rebellion against God’s order in our present generation is the possibility of a nuclear war. I include here the whole scope of modern weapons that are able to destroy life—conventional, biochemical, and nuclear weapons. I know that the issue of legitimate national defense is complex. I am not a pacifist, nor am I for unilateral disarmament. Police and military forces are unfortunately necessary as long as man’s nature is the way it is. But the unchecked production of weapons of mass destruction by the nations of the world is a mindless fever which threatens to consume much of our world and destroy the sacred gift of life.
From a Christian perspective, therefore, the possibility of a nuclear war originates in the greed and covetousness of the human heart. The tendency toward sin is passed on from generation to generation. Therefore, Jesus predicted that there would be wars and rumors of wars till the end of the age. The psalmist said, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” Thus, there is a tragic and terrible flaw in human nature that must be recognized and dealt with. That is why I have come to see that the nuclear arms race is not God’s will, and that as a Christian I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to work for peace and against nuclear war.
I have said that life is sacred because God has made it that way, and that man has perverted the gift of life by rebelling against God’s will. But does that mean peace is not possible? No! Peace could be possible if we would humble ourselves and learn again God’s way of peace.
That brings me to a third point: the word “peace” is used in the Bible in three main ways—much different from the way peace is used in some places.
First, there is spiritual peace. This is peace between man and God.
Second, there is psychological peace, or peace within ourselves.
Third, there is relational peace, or peace among men.
Sin, the Bible says, has destroyed or seriously affected all three of these dimensions of peace. When man was created he was at peace with God, with himself, and with his fellow human. But when he rebelled against God, his fellowship with God was broken. He was no longer at peace within himself. And he was no longer at peace with others.
Can these dimensions of peace ever be restored? The Bible says “Yes.” It tells us man alone cannot do what is necessary to heal the brokenness in his relationships—but God can, and has.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was God’s unique Son, sent into the world to take away our sins by his death on the cross, therefore making it possible for us to be at peace—at peace with God, at peace within ourselves, and at peace with each other. That is why Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. By his resurrection from the dead, Christ showed once for all that God is for life, not death. The Orthodox tradition and its Divine Liturgy especially make central this jubilant and glorious event. The Bible states, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The ultimate sign of man’s alienation is death; the ultimate sign of God’s reconciling love is life.
Throughout all Christendom you will notice there is one symbol common to all believers—the cross. We believe that it was on the cross that the possibility of lasting peace in all of its dimensions has been made. The Bible says about Christ that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things … by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19–20). The Bible again says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.… He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (Eph. 2:14, 17).
The Christian looks forward to the rime when peace will reign over all creation. Christians all over the world pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Only then will the spiritual problem of the human race be fully solved. Both the Bible and the Christian creeds teach that there will be a universal judgment. Christ will come again, in the words of the ancient Apostles’ Creed, “to judge the quick and the dead.” But then the kingdom of God will be established, and God will intervene to make all things new. That is our great hope for the future.
Several weeks ago I was at the headquarters of the United Nations. On exhibit there is a magnificent and spectacular statue, which was a gift to the United Nations from the Soviet Union. It shows a man with a hammer, forging a plowshare from a sword, and it is an illustration of the biblical hope found in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). This ringing hope was also the basis of Patriarch Pimen’s July 1981 appeal on nuclear disarmament, which led to this conference.
But in the meantime, God is already at work. The kingdom of God is not only a future hope but a present reality. Wherever men and women turn to God in repentance and faith, and then seek to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven, there the kingdom of God is seen. And it is in obedience to Jesus Christ, who is called in the Bible the Prince of Peace, that Christians are to cooperate with all who honestly work for peace in our world.
When Christ was born, the Bible tells us, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men” (Luke 2:14). Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). The New Testament urges Christians, “Live in harmony with one another.… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge” (Rom. 12:16, 18–19). We are to pray for peace, and we—both individually and collectively—are to work for peace in whatever ways God would open up for each of us. Christ came to bring peace, and we are to proclaim the possibility of peace, which the Christian believes is found in Christ.
But some people ask pessimistically, “Can anything really be done for international peace? Is it not already too late?” I would suggest that our responsibility in the world is clear no matter what conditions might be or how late the hour might seem. We must not join with those who stand by and wring their hands, saying all is hopeless. I believe that in spite of the chaos threatening our world there can be hope for our generation and generations to come. We must be realists, but we must also be optimists. When ancient Nineveh was on the verge of destruction, it was saved when the people repented and turned to God.
As a Christian, I have hope for several reasons. For one thing, as a Christian I believe that God is the Lord of all history. He is sovereign and he is able to intervene in human affairs to accomplish his saving and reconciling purposes, no matter how difficult things may seem. We do not live in a world of blind chance. My confidence is in the living God who remains faithful to his purposes and will ultimately accomplish his will for this world which he has created.
I also have hope, however, because I believe it is still possible for us to turn to God and grapple with many of our problems and begin to solve them—as long as there are responsible leaders in the international arena from every area of life who have the dedication and the vision to provide moral and spiritual leadership for our generation. Yes, man often fails, and agreements that are solemnly made in one generation are often broken in the next generation. But that must not lead us to despair.
One of the horrors of World War I was the development and use of deadly poisonous gases that killed and maimed vast numbers of people. Afterward, the nations of the world agreed to ban such weapons, and during World War II the warring parties refrained from using those weapons of mass destruction on the battlefield. Thus it is possible to reach international understandings. And I believe it is the special responsibility of religious leaders who see life as sacred to work toward an international negotiated treaty to vastly reduce or ban today’s weapons of mass destruction.
But what specifically can we do? What are the steps people who consider life as sacred can take to be peacemakers in our world, especially those of us who are gathered here today?
It is not my intention today to present a comprehensive plan or procedure for disarmament, for I do not consider myself competent to deal with such a highly technical matter. I also know that any specific remarks on this which I or anyone else here might make could easily be misinterpreted as being biased or political in nature. Our purpose is to rise above narrow national interests and give all of humanity a spiritual vision of the way to peace. All too often religious leaders have accepted war without question as a fact of life by which international disputes are too often settled. In the present nuclear age, however, we must not fall into this psychological trap.
With this in mind, let me suggest five steps that I believe we can and must take if we are to do our part in saving the sacred gift of life from nuclear catastrophe.
1. Let us call the nations and leaders of our world to repentance. In addition to personal repentance, which we all need if we are to be accepted by God, we need to repent as nations and peoples over our past failures—the failure to accept each other, the failure to be concerned about the needs of the poor and starving of the world, the failure to place top priority on peace instead of war, the failure to restrain the international arms race. No nation, large or small, is exempt from blame for the present state of international affairs.
2. Let us call the nations and leaders of our world to a new and determined commitment to peace and justice. For the last several decades the world has witnessed an unprecedented arms race. Would it not be wonderful to have a new race among the nations of the world—a disarmament race—one which is equal on both sides, verifiable, and leads to at least a few generations of peace.
As a Christian, I believe that lasting peace will only come when the kingdom of God prevails. However, let the leaders of our world face the fact that the overwhelming desire of the peoples of the earth is for peace, not war. If a poll were taken of the peoples of the world today you would find, I am convinced, that over 95 percent of the peoples of the world would vote for peace in a nuclear age. Let us urge the leaders of the world to act in accordance with the wishes of the peoples of the world and set nuclear disarmament as the top priority for the rest of this century.
3. Let us call the nations and the leaders of the nations to take specific steps that will lead toward peace. Talk about peace must never become a substitute for actions that will lead to peace. In this connection I would urge three things.
First, I would urge the leaders of the nations, especially the major powers, to declare a moratorium on hostile rhetoric. Peace does not grow in a climate of mistrust in which each side to a greater and greater degree is constantly accusing the other of false motives and hidden actions. Yes, there are fundamental differences of ideology separating our world, and it is unrealistic to assume that these ideologies will be surrendered anytime soon by those who hold them. But the cause of peace is not served when nations refuse to listen to each other’s views and to take seriously what is being expressed by the other side. I am encouraged that recently there has been some hint of a lessening in that rhetoric that can only lead to greater suspicion and heightened tensions.
Second, I would urge the leaders of the world to take specific steps to increase trust and understanding among nations and peoples. Often we are suspicious of each other because we do not know each other. Expanded cultural exchanges, student exchanges, educational exchanges, trade relations, tourist travel—all of these can help us get to know one another as people and lead over the years to greater understanding and trust. I include, as a major part of this, opportunities for religious contacts such as we are sharing in the conference. I also think we need to reaffirm our commitment to mutual respect among religions, such as we are practicing here.
In connection with this, we should urge all governments to respect the rights of religious believers as outlined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must hope that some day all nations (as all those who signed the Final Act of Helsinki declared) “will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience” (Final Act of Helsinki, section VII).
I also feel it is important for the leaders of the world to get to know one another personally through personal contact. Is it too much to hope for a summit meeting in which the leaders of the major powers do not come together just to sign a prepared document, but simply to get to know one another as human beings?
Third, i would urge the leaders of the world to take specific steps for meaningful negotiations leading to major arms reductions. We should pray for the success of every effort that is made in this direction. We should encourage every intitiative that honestly seeks mutual, balanced, verifiable arms reductions among nations. But more than that, we should set before the world the ultimate goal of eliminating all nuclear and biochemical weapons of mass destruction. Several years ago, when I saw the apparent futility of so many negotiations and conferences about disarmament. I came out for what I have called SALT 10—the complete destruction by all nations of the world of all atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs, biochemical weapons, laser weapons, and all other weapons of mass destruction. I know this may be impossible to achieve, but it can be our ultimate goal.
4. Let us call the peoples of the world to prayer. If the peoples of the world would turn to God and seek his will in prayer, it would have a tremendous impact on the issues that face us. As God promised through the prophet Jeremiah, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3).
5. Finally, let us who are assembled here today rededicate ourselves personally to the task of being peacemakers in God’s world. As we call upon others to a determined commitment to peace, let us also rededicate ourselves to that same commitment. As we call upon others to take specific steps to work for peace, let us also decide what we can do within our own nations to work for peace. As we call upon others to pray, let us also pray. Let the leaders of our own nations, and the peoples of our own nations, hear our voices as we speak for peace in our world.
I would like to close with this observation. Last Sunday morning His Holiness Patriarch Pimen graciously invited me to attend the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Cathedral and say words of fraternal greeting to the congregation and proclaim the gospel. I could not help but recall in my remarks that the date was May 9, the thirty-seventh anniversary of the unconditional surrender in Berlin of the forces of nazism to the Soviet Union and its allies, bringing World War II to an end. I recalled the Soviet Union, more than any other nation in that terrible conflict, experienced death and incredible devastation as a result of that horrible war. I also noted that during the war the great peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States of America were allies, fighting side by side against the common enemy of nazism. We did not agree at that time in our basic ideology, but we united as allies because we faced a common enemy—an enemy so great that our differences faded.
Today, I would suggest we—not only the two great superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, but every nation on earth—again face a common enemy. Our common enemy today is the threat of impending nuclear destruction. Is it too much to hope and pray that we can unite in a dedicated alliance against this enemy which threatens to destroy us? May all of us, whether we are from large nations or small nations, do all we can to remove this deadly blight from our midst and save the sacred gift of life from nuclear catastrophe.
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