Jesus seemed to be aware that religion and politics must be kept separate. In his world, evil came from the power of the Roman Empire. Big Evil came when religion and the empire locked arms. Our role is to watch, to keep the powers from living a lie.
Earlier in this new century it was still argued that climate change may or may not be happening. Neither a scientist nor a Christian church member can any longer say such a thing responsibly. And yet there are perspectives from which this shift of understanding can be seen. The mountain top is the biblical place, and the modern metaphor, of the spiritual experience.
Eli Wiesel’s Jewish community began by denying that anything so painful as the Holocaust could really be happening. Nobody could be so cruel as to annihilate children! And the denial was one factor that made it so much easier to slip it all under the radar.
There are two ugly factors in our denial. The one is that it is not we ourselves that will suffer from global warming but our grandchildren. The other is age-old and is as alive today as it was in Jesus’ day. The poor will suffer first from climate change, while the rich will be able to dodge it for a while. Both factors should shake Christian sensors.
Together with the God who made us, and daily labours to save us, we must resolve this difficult threat. In the past the church has found ways to help the ailing creation. At other points in its story it has failed to do so. The created world needs our focus, our loving heart, and our conviction that this world belongs to God. It does not belong to the empires that would enslave us. We must not waste our energies in squabbling but work together to bring in the empire of God.
The Church of Scotland’s website is rewarding. Search for “Care for the Earth.” In addition to the various studies and statements the church has made, there is an opportunity to register as an “eco-congregation.” Registration does not demand past commitment but it encourages the congregation to outline where it plans to go in environmental leadership. The network is ecumenical in that congregations that do not belong to the denomination can join. Collectively they have found ways to explore and change the way the country cares for creation.
The mainline Presbyterian Church in the United States has a similar approach. In addition to all the work it has done as a church, an arms-length group has sprung up: presbyearthcare.org . Congregations and individuals may sign up as members and they don’t have to be a part of the denomination. (In my conversations with the moderator of this organization, I, of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, was invited to join.) I talked to a congregation just across the line from our home and was surprised at the economic and legislative change they had brought about.
Both these denominations acknowledge that their whole membership is unlikely to become engaged in participating in an enthusiastic way. And that’s just the way it is in our postmodern, free-thinking society. Here are models, suitable to us in Canada, whereby we can band together with like-minded people for more effective work in the struggle to be faithful stewards of creation.
There is a cost to discipleship. In its opening gambits it can even be divisive, as Jesus warned. It is often wise to find a way to move forward that displays no offence or hatred toward those who see life differently. It may be necessary to have different teams working on a variety of issues, until life gets clearer. As both models have shown, it can be ecumenical. We could work with all stripes of Christians to bring in the Realm of God, God’s Empire, the Kingdom.
Environmental theologians are calling us to be aware that there may be a very large implication of seeing the earth as God’s garden, and we the gardeners. Either creation, all of it, will be saved, or we will all be destroyed. That’s a shift! But so was Peter’s sharing the gospel with Gentiles.