Jr Burkholder has been described by MennoMedia as:
an ethicist, church leader, and social change agent whose life and work spanned and influenced dramatic changes in 20th century Mennonite peace theology and ecumenical engagements. He served as a missionary in Brazil and as a pastor in Pennsylvania before teaching for 22 years at Goshen (IN) College and another 12 years at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. He was co-founder of Goshen College’s peace studies program; founding director of the Dallas Peace Center; program administrator for Mennonite Central Committee and Fellowship of Reconciliation; coordinator of peace and social concerns for Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries; and a visiting professor at a Costa Rican seminary and a South African university.
In a piece called ‘The Bomb, the Cross, and the Enemy’, in Selected Writings of J.R. Burkholder: Prophetic Peacemaking edited by Keith Graber Miller (Herald Press, 2010) he writes:
‘If I had a projector, the first image would be the mushroom cloud, in all its terrible glory. The scenario, with its litany of destruction, is all too familiar.
The second image would be a series of concentric circles, showing the effects of a one-megaton bomb. There we would see Ground Zero, the epicenter, a pulverized crater. Then the fireball, the firestorm,. the burns and explosions, scorched earth up to fifteen miles out, and then the radiation fallout. Who knows how far the geographical limits would extend and how long the consequences would last?
It is indeed a horrifying picture, one that defies rationality, and yet it is the trademark of our times since 1945. As Albert Einstein said, the nuclear bomb has changed everything but our way of thinking’. (158).
In his challenge to nuclear weapons as a strategy – he argues that their use does not fit with any theory of Just War, that their impact would be indiscriminate, that one could not talk about ‘war’ as it would simply be destruction, and the most frightening people are not the military people who have seen the impact (reference to Hiroshima) but the politicians who simply do not understand what they are dealing with.
His rejection of nuclear weapons comes he says: ‘as a Christian witness’ whose own ethic is shaped by the love of Jesus (‘that may sound way too simple’)
‘The peace message of Jesus is found both in his basic teaching and in his life example. The Gospels include scores of texts about blessing peacemakers, loving enemies, not hating or killing, forgiving those who misuse you, and not returning evil for evil but doing good to those who hate you. In his own life, Jesus refused the devil’s offer of worldly political power, called his disciples to bear the cross of suffering, refused to call down fire from heaven as a punishment, entered Jerusalem as a servant on a donkey rather than a warrior on a charger, and willingly faced the cross’. (p. 161).