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George Shultz’s New Evangelical Left Friends

Nuclear disarmament advocates make common cause -- or is Reagan's former secretary of state being used?

By 7.17.09

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A new Evangelical Left group has enlisted George Shultz in promoting nuclear disarmament. The Two Futures Project (2FP) was unveiled in late April with a media conference call involving Reagan's Secretary of State. Two Futures advocates a "multilateral, global, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, as a biblically-grounded mandate and as a contemporary security imperative."

According to Shultz, the Two Futures Project is a "vital new movement to build popular support" for nuclear abolition "from a rising generation of American Christians" that he "strongly" supports and whose message should be "heard loud and clear, from campuses and churches to the halls of power alike."

Shultz may simply be echoing Ronald Reagan's original idealistic vision of a world free from nuclear weapons. Two Futures may have a more complex agenda than he realizes.

Enlisting evangelicals in political causes of the left is now de rigueur. Evangelicals are now America's largest religious group, perhaps 30 percent of the population. And because evangelicals are overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, an otherwise liberal cause that can tout evangelical support automatically broadens its perceived base.

Evangelicals whose endorsement Two Futures prominently advertises include National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) President Leith Anderson, evangelist Tony Campolo, Emerging Church guru Brian McLaren, Christian ethicists David Gushee and Glenn Stassen, Evangelicals for Social Action chief Ron Sider, Christianity Today editor David Neff, Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels, monastic activist and author Shane Claiborne, and former NAE lobbyist Richard Cizik.

Two Futures prominently features a seeming endorsement from Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, whom some media have cited as a Two Futures supporter. But Colson's quote, although used with permission, dates from last fall, when he praised Shultz's views on nuclear disarmament, as first expressed in a 2007 Wall Street Journal column, before Two Futures was founded.

The Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who calls nuclear weapons "enacted blasphemy," is the young Baptist minister who heads Two Futures. He professes to have "dedicated much of his adult life to the abolition of nuclear weapons." Formerly he worked for and still serves on the board of the anti-nuclear Global Security Institute, founded by former California Democratic Senator Alan Cranston. And he counts the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the 1960s era anti-war activist and outspoken Yale chaplain, as a formative influence. Wigg-Stevenson, who's in his early thirties, himself attended Yale Divinity School and worked for the chapel there.

Besides heading the newly formed Two Futures, Wigg-Stevenson also until recently headed Faithful Security, another religious anti-nuclear group comprised of more overtly liberal Mainline Protestants and Unitarians, and based out of United Methodist Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C. He remains as a volunteer Policy Director for Faithful Security.

What Two Futures and Faithful Security advocate and what Shultz advocates may diverge. Shultz has hosted a symposium at the Hoover Institution and has co-authored two Wall Street Journal op-eds with Henry Kissinger, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Defense Secretary William Perry, espousing Reagan's dream of a de-nuclearized world. Most recently, all four retired statesmen met with President Obama at the White House. Practical steps they are urging include enhanced security for nukes, reducing forward deployed missiles, strengthening the Non-Proliferation and Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaties, and seeking multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning systems, especially to guard against Middle East nuclear proliferation.

Missile defense was central to Reagan's dream of a nuclear-free world. No utopian, Reagan believed his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) ultimately could obsolesce most nuclear missiles. Shultz et al. frequently cite Reagan's nuclear free vision laid out at the 1986 Reykjavik summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. But the summit famously failed to produce agreement because Reagan refused to abandon missile defense.

Two Futures seems not directly to talk about missile defense, instead emphasizing the diplomacy requisite for global nuclear disarmament. But Wigg-Stevenson, and his other group, Faithful Security, seem hostile to missile defense. In 2000, he criticized President Bill Clinton's plans for National Missile Defense (SDI's successor), deriding it as a "Maginot Line," a frequent allegation against Reagan's SDI.

Faithful Security includes the Episcopal Church, United Methodists, Quakers, liberal Catholic orders like Pax Christi, the Islamic Society of North American, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the National Council of Churches. It has warned against assertive U.S. policies against Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs and urged diplomatic solutions. Such a predictably left-wing coalition, comprised mostly of declining religious groups, would not generate media attention or gain endorsements from former secretaries of state.

So Two Futures has stepped forward as the ostensibly evangelical voice for nuclear disarmament, though how it substantively differs from Faithful Security is not clear.

Two Futures, since its launch in Austin in April, has gained attention in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Tennessean, and the Dallas Morning News, among others.

"I know when most people think of the elimination of nuclear weapons, they think of tie-dyed activists," Wigg-Stevenson told the Tennessean. "It's not about conservatives becoming in favor of a liberal issues. It's about evangelicals raising an authentically Christian voice about a nonpartisan issue." He predicted: "The generation of Evangelicals currently coming into maturity, however, will decreasingly understand itself in contradistinction to more progressive politics, as the previous generation has largely done."

Wigg-Stevenson has positioned Two Futures as centrist and theologically orthodox, even including a statement of faith. But the evangelical endorsers are almost entirely on the political left. Several are pacifists and oppose ALL weaponry. One, Shane Claiborne, portrays the U.S. as ancient Rome incarnate and the Biblical Beast. Richard Cizik lost his job last as an evangelical lobbyist after touting same-sex unions on National Public Radio and now works for Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation.

The 88-year-old Shultz, who is Episcopalian, is probably unaware of such distinctions among evangelicals. Recently while in Rome with Mikhail Gorbachev, Shultz approvingly recalled evangelicals approaching him with support. "It's interesting what comes out of the woodwork when it's known what we're working on," he enthused. Shultz might be a little surprised by evangelicals like Jonathan Merritt, a Baptist environmental activist, who hailed the Two Futures nuclear disarmament plan, saying, "As Christians, our decisions must be made on morality, not plausibility."

Shultz instead probably remembers Reagan's concerns about plausibility. "We all know how to make nuclear weapons," Reagan told Gorbachev at Reykjavik. "Even if we all agree that we are never going to use them, down the way there could be another Hitler who could end up with nuclear weapons." Reagan, in defending missile defense, added: "We went through World War II and nobody used poison gas -- but we all kept our gas masks."

Two Futures and its Evangelical Left supporters are not too interested in gas masks. Shultz may need to get better acquainted with his new religious allies. 

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.