Living Together as Brothers in a World With Nuclear Weapons

By Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and Jonathan Merritt

We don't look alike. We don't talk alike. We don't vote alike. And, separated in age by more than six decades, we certainly don't walk alike! Then why are we joining together now?

Because nuclear weapons are an indiscriminate threat that transcends identity politics, and because, as Georgians, we have a surprisingly important role to play in reducing that threat. When considering this danger, as Christians of conviction, we echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s saying: "We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools."

There are over 20,000 nuclear weapons in existence worldwide that threaten the lives of our children and the children of our global neighbors. On average, each one has 30 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Russia and the United States hold 95 percent of the global total, and we need to continue the process initiated by President Ronald Reagan of verifiable, bilateral reductions in our stockpiles. But how can this happen?

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is currently considering the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) -- a treaty that will make a practical and immediate difference in reducing the nuclear danger. The treaty, signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year, is conservative but important: It reduces deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides to 1,550, and deployed delivery vehicles to 800 -- a cut of about one-third from current, bloated, Cold War levels.

Perhaps most importantly, it will re-establish on-the-ground verification measures that have built trust for nearly two decades. For the 270-plus days since the last START agreement expired on Dec. 5, 2009, both sides have been without that critical intelligence. Unless the U.S. Senate acts soon, we stand to lose the latter half of Reagan's "trust but verify" maxim.

For these reasons, New START has an extraordinary level of bipartisan support from national security experts at a more than 10-to-1 ratio. Our national military leadership, including the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the uniformed commanders of our nuclear arsenals and missile defense programs, are unanimously and urgently supportive of the treaty. Policy experts and respected security advisers representing the past seven administrations have all endorsed New START, including former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell.

Moreover, as Georgians, we can play an important role. Sen. Johnny Isakson is positioned to make a crucial difference with the committee's scheduled vote on New START Thursday. He is currently undeclared. But Isakson -- like us -- is a person of faith, which is why we are appealing to him to begin applying those faith principles to this issue.

New START has attracted significant support from faith communities, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the World Evangelical Alliance, the National Council of Churches and the Two Futures Project, among other groups. It is even consistent with existing resolutions of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, which support "mutually verifiable" steps toward disarmament. And, perhaps most significant for Sen. Isakson -- a lifelong and committed Methodist -- is the fervent support for New START from the United Methodist bishops.

Unfortunately, we live in partisan times heightened by this election season. But it is precisely times like these in which Christian statesmen are called to rise above the fray and do what is right. Faith-filled public servants like Isakson must still exhibit the same independent, informed, and compassionate qualities that first vaulted them into higher office.

We do not minimize or ignore the dangers of the world we live in. Indeed, it is the very nature of those dangers that make New START mandatory. We again return to the words of Dr. King: "If modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could not imagine."

For those called to seek the kingdom of God before all other things, the quest for peace is never optional. While this treaty will not end the nuclear danger, let alone end war, it is a step in the right direction -- and a measure deserving the support of all who wear Christ's gentle yoke.

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, was the successor to Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer, author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, and a Southern Baptist minister in Duluth.