"Are We Safe Yet?"

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 Conference addresses questions of vulnerability & security in an anxious age
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Christian perspectives on vulnerability and security

written by our guest editor, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson,

Director, Two Futures Project
Policy Director, Faithful Security
Greetings!

In late September, the Yale Center for Faith and Culture hosted its annual Sarah Smith Memorial Conference on Moral Leadership, addressing the provocative title, "Are We Safe Yet? Security and Vulnerability in an Anxious Age." Given the extent to which "threat level orange" and a department of homeland security have become part of our collective vocabulary since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one might imagine that there would be a wealth of Christian reflection on the topic of security.  But, as Miroslav Volf noted in his opening remarks to the conference's first panel, this has been a strangely neglected topic in Christian discourse of late.
 
At the recent conference, we engaged the twin topics of security and vulnerability through the lens of another, strangely neglected topic: nuclear weapons.  This seemed fitting.  During the 1980s, religious groups in general, and Christian groups in particular, were key participants in the national conversation about the arms buildup at the heart of the Cold War.  Yale's own William Sloane Coffin, from his pastorate at Riverside Church, helped galvanize a national movement during the 1980s that mobilized thousands of faithful Americans.  
 
The religious community's participation in this Cold War discussion was vital: the existential nature of the threat from nuclear weapons, which held in the balance all life on the planet, could not be fully engaged without the rich resources of America's faith traditions.  But, like much of the American public, many Christians breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of the Cold War, assuming that the weapons with which it was waged would vanish along with the conflict.
 
Unfortunately, the threat posed by nuclear weapons is all too contemporary, given the confluence of global proliferation and a geopolitical security climate marked by non-state actors and terrorist groups.  The threat of nuclear weapons has not gone away - it has just changed, as a committee of former Cold Warriors noted in
a recent call for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
 
That is why it is so welcome to see Yale Divinity School once again pledging the resources of the Christian tradition as a critical part of any morally coherent solution that we might seek to find.  At the recent conference, Sergio Duarte, the United Nations' Representative on Disarmament, spoke to participants about the nature of the moral leadership that our present situation demands. Canadian Senator Douglas Roche addressed the challenge of forming a culture of peace.  An esteemed panel of scholars, activists, and government officials unpacked the complex issues at the core of our quest for security.  And the conference participants brought a broad concern for what it means to achieve security in our day.
 
The September conference was an important first step in what will hopefully be a renewed attention from both Yale and the American religious community to the problem of security, vulnerability, and nuclear weapons. Perhaps most immediately, we can look forward to a nuclear-focused edition of the Yale journal, Reflections, coming in Spring 2009, which will represent the most comprehensive examination of the nuclear issue from a faith perspective since the end of the Cold War. And hopefully we will see the discussion of the twin topics of security and vulnerability on the rise, so that Christians might have the tools to live all the more faithfully in an anxious age.

Peace to you,
 
Miroslav Volf
Founding Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale University Divinity School
 
The mission of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture is to promote the practice of faith in all spheres of life through theological research and leadership development.