The following exchange is between myself and Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, founder of the organization Two Futures Project – a movement of American Christians for the abolition of nuclear weapons. We hope and pray that this post sparks dialogue amongst a broader audience, strengthening the call and desire for a world without nuclear weapons.
I’ve been aware of the work y’all are doing at Deeper Story, and I have been really appreciative for your help in promoting 2FP on Twitter and the like. But I have to confess that I am also (gratefully) mystified by it – because it is frankly hard to get young Christians to pay attention to nuclear weapons, especially two decades after the Cold War’s end.
As someone who works full-time educating the church about the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons, one challenge that I continually encounter is that 1) the threat feels too big, and/or 2) the threat feels unreal. As in, sure, I’d really like a giant asteroid to not hit the earth, but this rather abstract feeling doesn’t motivate me to drop regular #FF shoutouts for @stopasteroidsnow.
I’m convinced that a bit part of this challenge is the sheer inhumanity of nuclear imagery: the iconic image is a mushroom cloud, which by definition is an image taken far enough way for the photographer to have captured the sight and lived. And this physical distance maps onto the emotional distance we have to the immolated human lives rising in that diabolical cloud. Contrast this with the photograph of a needy kid that a (terrific) group like Compassion is able to provide – there’s no question which is the more approachable issue for evangelically-minded Christians. It’s just hard to get personal with nuclear weapons, and even harder to make a difference. And that hurts our activism. So I have to ask: how did you get so passionate about this? What makes it more than another cause to you? And how do you sustain such interest?
With holy gratitude for your support,
I think I was in high school when I first connected the mushroom cloud to the human experience. I was a junior, I think, and we were learning about the US involvement in WWII. I can still feel the frayed cover of my textbook as I opened the pages to learn about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even in the stark black and white pictures, I could see. I could see the burns on skin, the pictures of children missing limbs and the devastation. It wasn’t even devastation, it was obliteration. The areas around ground zero ceased to exist. Returned to dust and nothing. I couldn’t stop staring at the pictures.
Those photos burned into my memory and the presence of nuclear weapons always made me a bit uneasy. But, that all changed with the birth of my son. Now, when I think of the threat of a nuclear attack, those black and white pictures flash hauntingly and the picture of the little boy with the maimed body and radiation skin pulls the lump up in my throat. I hold my boy a little tighter and touch the smooth skin on his face and the threat of a future with nuclear weapons becomes very. very. real.
So, to answer your first question, my passion comes from my desire for a better future for my son. And it also comes from a deep desire to change the dialogue from fear, to hope. The public discourse in everything in this country, from the federal budget to gay marriage to foreign policy has been solely dictated by a Gospel of Fear. What if we didn’t HAVE to fear nuclear weapons? How can we achieve that end? Well the only acceptable answer is nothing short of complete abolition. By pushing into hope, and pushing toward the future without nuclear weapons, we are making way and creating a culture that helps God’s kingdom break through, here on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
That’s not to say that organizations like Compassion, World Vision or IJM aren’t doing their part to bring forth God’s kingdom. They certainly are, in bold, powerful and redeeming ways. Praise God! And you’re right, it’s absolutely easier to connect to those organizations because we’re seeing human faces wracked with the devastating realities of poverty, sickness and slavery. I think the reason for this is two fold, particularly in American culture. The first being, we live in a culture of immediacy. If we want something, we want it now. Instant gratification. This mentality spills out into our contribution to charity. We can look at a child on a piece of paper that needs sponsorship and immediately feel like we’re contributing by pulling out our checkbook or credit card. And the glorious thing is we ARE contributing! It’s immediate! The money that we donate goes directly to a child being rescued from poverty or water-borne illness or slavery. It’s instant emotional and charitable gratification. Which leads me to my second reason: We live in a culture of money. For decades, our way of contributing to solve the world’s problems has been money. It’s easy to do, it’s not a lot of skin off our backs to throw in $30 a month, and money can always help lead us back to our first desire: instant gratification.
Advocacy for the eradication of nukes is quite different. There isn’t a human face connection to the cause. There is no immediate gratification. The U.S. will not immediately give up one of its 5,113 nuclear weapons because you decide to finally call your Senator. And this isn’t an issue that the common civilian can throw money at and expect it to be solved. It operates on a completely different paradigm. To use the example of Compassion again, when you sponsor a child, you’re partnering with God on mission to further His kingdom NOW. When you jump on board to pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons, you’re partnering with God on mission to further His kingdom in the FUTURE. For the next generation… or maybe even for ours.
So to answer your second question, I’m not sure that nuclear disarmament is “more” than another cause to me. I think it’s equal to my involvement with Compassion and sponsoring a child. I believe we’re called to make a difference and parter with God in the here and now. But we (and myself especially, as a mother), have a responsibility to be stewards of the time we are given. To do the best we can to make history a little bit brighter for those that will come after us. By pushing for the eradication of nuclear weapons, I believe we’re cultivating the ground for a hopeful future.
And how do I sustain my interest? I’d have to say that I’m sustained by hope. I know that evil exists. I know that it comes into the world and has already, in the form of nuclear weapons. I know that even if we work tirelessly and achieve total eradication, the threat might always loom overhead because the creation technology is known. But, I’m willing to take that chance and bet on hope. I have to hope that a world without these weapons is better than a world with them.
Commander Robert Lewis, who was on the crew of the Enola Gay, the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, looked on as the entire city disappeared. He later wrote in his log, “My God, what have we done?” I don’t want to be part of a generation that looks back to say, “My God, what have we NOT done?” as a result of our apathy and inaction toward one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Nuclear war would create a hell on earth that nobody is able comprehend. I don’t want to be apathetic about that, Tyler. I can’t be apathetic. I have to play my part in making our world a little bit less like hell, and a little bit more like heaven. For you. For me. For my child.
Thank you, Tyler, for your tireless work and effort toward opening the skies and giving us a clear picture of a hopeful future. Heaven on earth, indeed. And may Heaven come down.
Encouraged by your passion and vision,
Now, it’s your turn. If you would like to draft your own response to Tyler’s questions and the pressing issue of nuclear weapons, I encourage you to do so! If you choose to write a post, would you mind linking back here and sharing it with us? We’d love to continue the conversation. And as always, we look forward to the discussion in the comments.