If you’re a religious conservative, it’s hard not to feel a little unwanted.
Every day, it seems, another state accepts gay marriage as a social reality. The national Republican party is locked in a life-and-death debate over whether your principles should remain the foundation of its platform.
Your influence over U.S. Supreme Court decisions may be at the high-water mark, with prospects of a drought to come.
But you have friends. Some people — new allies, in fact — have begun to seek you out, because they know your participation and support is essential.
They are semi-official emissaries from the gray world of U.S. foreign policy — advocates of an effort to rid the world of its nuclear weapons before some terrorist gets his hands on one.
Sam Nunn, the former Georgia senator, is a part of the new diplomatic effort. His Washington organization, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, is underwriting an effort to put the message in front of as many evangelical leaders and congregations as possible.
The Two Futures Program is Nashville-based.
Nunn has also, over a recent breakfast, raised the matter with the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California — the conservative evangelical who gave the invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
“He’s very interested in this subject,” Nunn said. Chuck Colson, the former Nixon man, Watergate figure and, now, conservative Christian commentator, has already signed on.
“There’s a lot of [need] for the evangelical community and the general religious community — right or left — to understand the direction we’re headed in now,” Nunn said. “I think it’s very important [not only] to change the language, but to also make it much more politically possible for the younger generation to really begin to think and talk about this.”
Jonathan Merritt, a 26-year-old from metro Atlanta, is involved as well. A self-described “faith and culture” writer, he is the son of James Merritt, former president of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.
The younger Merritt says he’s been quietly arranging one-on-one conversations between ranking Southern Baptist leaders and George Shultz, the former secretary of state for President Ronald Reagan — whose conservative credentials remain beyond reproach.
“George Schultz is certainly not a pacifist,” Jonathan Merritt said. But Shultz was by the president’s side in Iceland in 1986, when Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came within a hair’s breadth of an agreement to liquidate their nuclear arsenals.
By definition, religious conservatives do not adjust their outlooks to suit the times. Only last week did a Southern Baptist agency issue a statement declaring torture, waterboarding included, to be unethical under any circumstance.
The concept of nuclear disarmament has been around much longer. Fervently anti-communist denominations have long ignored the topic as leftist claptrap. Southern Baptists haven’t touched it in 25 years or more.
But communism is dead. The new danger is the suicidal terrorist who laughs at the very concept of mutually assured destruction. For instance, those very real Taliban boys who are out to overthrow a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Two years ago, Nunn, Shultz, plus former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and ex-secretary of defense William Perry — all decorated veterans of the Cold War and nary a dove among them — published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that declared the logic behind nuclear stockpiles all but dead.
The age of terrorism, the bipartisan quartet declared, required a slow, multi-lateral and verifiable abandonment of atomic weaponry.
In elite circles, the message has penetrated. Last year, Republican presidential nominee John McCain all but declared himself in agreement. On Palm Sunday, in a speech in Prague, Obama wrapped his arms around the idea — Nunn, remember, was one of his security advisors during the campaign.
However slowly it may come, nuclear disarmament will require a bipartisan understanding by the public that nuclear weaponry no longer the security blanket that it once was. “It’s important that these leaders see a broad amount of support,” Shultz said in a recent conference call with a group of evangelical leaders — all under 40.
Hence the outreach to conservative Christians and the offer of a kind of Obama-Reagan alliance.
“I trust that this issue has broad political appeal,” said Tyler Wiggs-Stevenson, director of the Two Futures Project in Nashville. “I think it can appeal to the most conservative just-war theorist, I think it can appeal to the most radical pacifist.”
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