Much of the world has responded with “fire and fury” to President Donald Trump’s message to North Korea that continued threats will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”—an unmistakable allusion to using nuclear weapons. Given the gravity of this remark, it seems appropriate for onlookers to be unnerved by America’s apparent stance.
Still, not everyone was troubled by it, with some evangelical Christians actually cheering the President on (more on that in a bit). So we have to acknowledge that Christians are divided on nuclear weapons.
As a study by the Presbyterian Church in America (“Christian Responsibility in the Nuclear Age,” 1987) put it, “Given the dilemma of possible escalation to an all-out nuclear war on the one hand, and the near certainty of enslavement to a totalitarian power on the other, it is not clear that the nonuse of nuclear weapons is an absolute moral obligation.”
And further, “The thought of killing masses of helpless people who are themselves at the mercy of their own government is abhorrent. Only if there were no other way to prevent an even worse catastrophe could nuclear retaliation ever be justified.” The language is nuanced, but the point is clear: The use of nuclear weapons is, in extreme cases, morally just.
Others of us emphatically disagree: Under no circumstances would the use of nuclear arms be justified. Our reasons hinge on the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” and the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons. Simply put, they end up killing a great many more civilians than combatants, and therefore, their use violates one cardinal principle of just war: proportionality.
Sadly, every war will entail the death of civilians, but as one summary of just war theory put it, “The violence in a just war must be proportional to the casualties suffered.” Thus, “innocent civilians must never be the target of war; soldiers always avoid killing civilians.”