What’s a Christian Response to Climate Change?
Let’s talk about Climate Change.
The issue of Climate Change has risen to become one of the most important for Americans. Over half of the American people rate as very important to deal with. Among younger people that level of concern rises to over 80%. On this important issue, many churches are in denial, and leadership for that movement is largely secular.
What is a Christian response to Climate Change?
For purposes of this sermon, I’m not going to debate whether Climate Change exists, I’m going to start with the premise that it does. By that I mean the world’s climate is changing dramatically and heating up for a variety of reasons and one being the last two hundred years of industrialization, particularly our use of fossil fuels.
If you disagree with that please feel free to share your view in our discussion time.
As we go to Scripture for guidance, we return to the Genesis reading today where God grants humanity dominion over the earth. This verse has been used by Christians who believe that the earth, animals, and all the creation it produces are here to be used by humanity for our own goals. It presents a transactional relationship with nature. This viewpoint has dominated most of the mindset of Christians and Americans. We didn’t ask a lot of questions about our own pollution.
Most scholars interpret that passage from Genesis to mean God gave humanity the responsibility and stewardship of taking care of God’s creation.
In the next passage, we read from Genesis, God invites humanity to name the animals which represent God inviting us into co-creating the world we live in. We have a role to play in creation for good or bad.
Taken together I think these Genesis passages call us to be good stewards of the planet with a recognition that all things are evolving and we have a co-creating role as well.
Does Swedenborg offer an insight that helps us understand the future of our planet?
I think so. First, he’s an unusual mystic as he was also one of the greatest scientists of his time. His drawings of a flying machine are on display in our Smithsonian. In his worldview, there is no divide between science and faith. Science helps us understand and navigate the natural world. It is a good thing and gives us the ability to do more.
He teaches that all of nature is a reflection or correspondence of a spiritual principle. This concept inspired one of America’s greatest environmentalist, John Chapman, known today as Johnny Appleseed.
Swedenborg makes the point that earth serves a cosmic role as a seminary for heaven. It’s a critical part of a large cosmological system. No spiritual high school, no graduation to heaven. I get the impression from this that despite humanity’s errors we won’t be able to wipe out the earth. However, in other places, he suggests that there are other civilizations out there in the universe with life that graduated toward heaven. Does that mean that if we screw this place up there are other high schools leading toward heavenly graduation? I’m not sure, but my sense is that God won’t allow us to destroy the planet.
At the same time, we are supposed to be useful in using our knowledge for good. We have a responsibility to this planet and to each other. If we allow others to suffer because of our behavior that exacerbates flooding, fires, and hurricanes, we are not loving our sister and brother.
Jesus does not speak specifically about taking care of the planet in those words. He does tell us to take care of each other. Climate Change is also an issue of compassion for others and those not yet born. The poor will suffer the worst. The rich can move, get insurance and remodel, the poor will be stuck with the chaos. As Christians, we must act to mitigate suffering.
The reason I chose a passage from Pope Francis encyclical on the environment is that I appreciate how he takes an abstract an issue like Climate Change and translates it directly into Christian teachings about compassion for the poor.
We have an obligation to act and lead as Christians on the issue of the environment using the best science and our compassion.
Our broken world will continue to bring us challenges in terms of our environment. There will be increasingly weather-related issues. In the midst of this chaos, Jesus says we can find peace.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us not to be anxious. We are able to tap into the peace that passes all understanding. It is very reassuring and humbling. There’s much we can do and much outside of our control.
In our theology, both our world and our own individual lives are evolving. Creation is in motion and we are in motion. It’s important to remember that our time of struggle is not unique and there are things beyond our control in nature. Though 2020 might feel like the worst year ever, that award goes to 536 AD
Medieval historian, Michael McCormick has stated that “it was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.” He points that after a volcano erupted in Iceland there came a, and I quote: “dense fog that stretched across the world which plunged Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia into darkness 24 hours a day, for nearly 2 years. Consequently, global temperatures plummeted which resulted in the coldest decade in over 2,000 years. Famine was rampant and crops failed all across Europe, Africa and Asia… This period of extreme cold and starvation caused economic disaster in Europe and in 541 A.D. an outbreak of bubonic plague further led to the death of nearly 100 million people and almost half of the Byzantine Empire. This part of the sixth century has widely been referred to as the Dark Ages, but the true source of this darkness had previously been unknown to scholars.”
Maybe 536 also helps keep 2020 in perspective.
Today, our world has evolved with the power of science we are able to predict and understand. This can help us address Climate Change. But here’s the catch, to address Climate Change will require a spiritual evolution for humanity to realize that we are all connected. Action will need to be taken globally. The response to this issue is beyond cities and states and countries but will require global cooperation. It will be hard to convince rapidly developing countries like India and China to slow down their growth after those of us in the west have not operated with those rules as we grew our economies. We will have to create win-win-win scenarios for the entire world.
This requires new leaders who can facilitate diverse parties toward a common goal.
Four years ago, I spoke at the Breakthrough Institute an international gathering of Climate Change leaders. In my presentation, “What Green Can Learn from Pink,” I made a case that the reason gay rights advanced was that we built a large coalition of people with diverse political world views working within all political parties. Meanwhile, the environment movement that used to be bipartisan became polarized with little chance for progress. I believe Christian leaders can help foster that broader coalition.
We do have an obligation to be good stewards of the earth and play role in the co-creation of the future of our planet. We must address Climate Change and our own excess and consumerism in our personal lives, the lives of the communities we live, in the nation that we live in and the world in which we live.
There is hope on the innovation front. My work in the social impact, space gives me hope as young investors and start-ups are bringing new innovative solutions to this challenge.
In the midst of this important work, we can rest assured that the Lord is working in our life and our world knowing all material things will pass away but our connection to a loving God is eternal.
There’s always a temptation to stress out, but in the midst of work we can remember the words of Jesus:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
In times of global challenge, that’s a reassuring message.