ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has been joined by 21 U.S. religious leaders in a Jan. 19 statement to President-elect Biden’s transition team calling for an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) agreement. This is a nuclear arms reduction treaty, jointly agreed to by the United States and the Russian Federation 10 years ago, that will automatically expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless the two parties agree to extend it.

In signing on to the agreement, Eaton recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah: “[The Lord] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Eaton also noted that, according to the 1995 ELCA social statement “For Peace in God’s World,” this church would give priority to “agreements among the leading nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear stockpiles and to decrease the possibility of nuclear confrontation or accident”—precisely what New START addresses.

In the statement, Eaton and the other religious leaders said:

“We call for an immediate five-year extension of the New START treaty, in order to avoid a nuclear crisis interfering with the other urgent priorities facing the nation and the world—from containing the pandemic to restarting the economy. Equally, a five-year extension would provide a period of predictability for new negotiations on further steps to reduce nuclear dangers.”

For the past 18 months, ELCA churchwide organization staff have been participating in informal discussions among leading U.S. and Russian arms control experts aimed at reducing the danger of nuclear war. The experts have encouraged initiatives by the religious leaders―such as the statement―as a first, important step toward restoring a basis for official, longer-term talks on reducing the respective nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. While some official U.S.-Russia talks have been held in recent months, they have not produced clear results.

“We hope this, and future, initiatives can lead to concrete steps by the U.S., Russia and, eventually, other nuclear powers to reduce the danger of an unimaginable nuclear confrontation and lay a path instead for meeting urgent human needs,” said Dennis Frado, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations. “It reflects the importance of moral leadership to promote confidence-building measures that help adversaries to re-create a basis for a more secure world.”

The informal discussions by arms control experts are a recent effort by the Global Priorities campaign, an interreligious group that aims to secure the common good of all people by reducing global military spending and redirecting resources to unmet human needs. The latest endeavor has involved representatives of the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. The campaign has previously been endorsed by the Lutheran World Federation (Eleventh Assembly, Stuttgart, Germany, 2010), Church World Service, the U.S. Committee of the World Council of Churches, and others. The ELCA has provided support to the campaign for several years.

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