• FAITH ... And God saw all that he had made ....

  • SCIENCE ... and behold, it was very good.

  • JUSTICE ... As you did for the least of these brothers of mine...

  • ACTION ... you did it for me.

  • RESOURCES ... books, videos and online tools for earthkeepers

Confessions of a Global Warming Alarmist

Last week, I was sobered to read a note of sincere concern from a close friend who – like me – belongs to the American evangelical movement. In reference to my increasingly shrill warnings about the consequences of climate inaction, this person wrote, in effect: “The only note you can sound right now is the Chicken Little note.”

Chicken Little. The sky is falling. Global warming alarmist.

Well, let’s be thankful for all God’s blessings, however they might sometimes seem to sting: It is rare to find a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth as he or she sees it. But if your friends don’t share your sense of alarm, it’s also important to recognize this truth: Like my honest friend, they probably believe you’re a little nuts. You’re a climate fundamentalist. Of course, they are kind enough to tolerate you – as one would with a conspiracy theorist or a grouchy old uncle. But you’re still an alarmist.

As you alone know, they don’t recognize the agony you’ve gone through not to yield to the hopelessness of the unfolding data. This is the tortured debate among climate communication experts: How do you speak the scientific truth without causing everyone to simply give up and wait for the end to come? You see it in virtually all climate reports. Regardless of the factual content, the final narrative will always be the same: We can still solve this! The time to act is now!

What’s the point of reporting the factual implications if they push us over the brink into tomorrow-we-die fatalism? So you try to soften the implications of your words. And yet, your witness seems impossibly dour to people who don’t spend their time digesting the implications of our abuse of the creation, as you do. Your friends and your family think you’re Chicken Little.

So, with my friend’s letter in hand, I read with renewed interest an article in last week’s New Yorker magazine by Pulitzer-Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert, dealing with the technical matter of “carbon dioxide removal” or “negative emissions” – the mostly theoretical idea of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it safely forever. (Note: This isn’t the same as carbon capture and sequestration [CCS], which pulls the carbon out of smokestacks. This is full-bore geo-engineering, where vast infrastructure parses through the entire atmosphere to hunt down and trap excess carbon, and store it away forever out of reach of the earth’s climate systems.) This is truly radical stuff.

Reading about “negative emissions,” my interest was piqued, not by the technology, cost or logistical hurdles, but by the unspoken hopelessness of the facts that served as the backdrop for the discussion. We are now discussing “negative emissions,” not because it’s a terrific – or even feasible – idea, but because we can’t imagine a survivable world without this technology. Consider with me a few of the facts presented by Kolbert:

“Catastrophe,” while once cited in hyperbole, now occupies a prominent place in the scientific lexicon. Kolbert recounts the facts: “This past April, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record four hundred and ten parts per million. The amount of CO2 in the air now is probably greater than it’s been at any time since the mid-Pliocene, three and a half million years ago, when there was a lot less ice at the poles and sea levels were sixty feet higher. This year’s record will be surpassed next year, and next year’s the year after that. Even if every country fulfills the pledges made in the Paris climate accord—and the United States has said that it doesn’t intend to—carbon dioxide could soon reach levels that, it’s widely agreed, will lead to catastrophe, assuming it hasn’t already done so.

“As the world warmed, it started to change, first gradually and then suddenly. By now, the globe is at least one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was [at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution], and the consequences are becoming ever more apparent. Heat waves are hotter, rainstorms more intense, and droughts drier. The wildfire season is growing longer, and fires, like the ones that recently ravaged Northern California, more numerous. Sea levels are rising, and the rate of rise is accelerating.”

In light of what we have already done, there is nothing we can do to stop the earth from warming at least to levels targeted as dangerous by every country under the Paris Acord: “Meanwhile, still more warming is locked in. There’s so much inertia in the climate system, which is as vast as the earth itself, that the globe has yet to fully adjust to the hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide that have been added to the atmosphere in the past few decades. It’s been calculated that to equilibrate to current CO2 levels the planet still needs to warm by half a degree [in addition to one degree already in the books]. And every ten days another billion tons of carbon dioxide are released. Last month, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped by a record amount in 2016.”

Few voices are telling us how radical are the personal and societal changes needed to salvage a world whose climate can support its species, including humanity: “When the I.P.C.C. went looking for ways to hold the temperature increase under two degrees Celsius, it found the math punishing. Global emissions would have to fall rapidly and dramatically—pretty much down to zero by the middle of this century. (This would entail, among other things, replacing most of the world’s power plants, revamping its agricultural systems, and eliminating gasoline-powered vehicles, all within the next few decades.) Alternatively, humanity could, in effect, go into hock. It could allow CO2 levels temporarily to exceed the two-degree threshold—a situation that’s become known as ‘overshoot’—and then, via negative emissions, pull the excess CO2 out of the air.”

The odds against us are more daunting than climate communication experts will ever advise us to admit: “The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the ‘positive’ emissions being produced today.”

Please, my friends, let that sink in. More than one thousand scientific models have been run. Only sixteen conclude that humanity can keep global warming to two degrees Celsius. Of those sixteen, only eight reach that conclusion without reliance on massive, arguably-fictional geo-engineering technologies that actually suck up and hide the pollution that we are emitting today. And, even those assume immediate Herculean efforts at every national and sub-national level – efforts that we are still refusing to adopt as a country, and perhaps as a world.

For me, this dismal narrative explains, to a considerable degree, the renewed interest in biblical lamentation among young people of faith. The prophets and psalmists saw the Babylonian exile coming; others wept in captivity as they remembered their homeland; they raised their complaint to God with bitter tears. They maintained profound hope rooted in God’s faithfulness; but sunny, can-do optimism is nowhere to be found.

And today, you share much with those prophets and psalmists. You have tasted God’s grace in creation and redemption; you have placed your hope in his love. Yet you also know that God’s love is not a magical antidote to suffering in this world, whether personal or societal. Genocide, starvation, famine, pandemic and flood afflict all of mankind, in virtually every age, regardless of faith commitments.

And yet, you pray “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” And in this age, that might make you an alarmist, like me. We must resist the arrogance of dogmatic certainty. But some things are terrifyingly clear. Our walk of faith today is to work and to speak for those who cannot speak. And finally, to pray for faith to believe that this world’s Maker will ultimately be just, despite the calamity we are bringing upon his beloved planet.

 

Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/20/can-carbon-dioxide-removal-save-the-world

I Just Saved Seven Tons of CO2 per Year

Really! I did. A huge reduction in my carbon footprint. And it took less than an hour of my time. Here’s the story.

Good Hand Farm’s electricity is now 100% carbon free

On average, each human on earth is responsible for 4.9 tons of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. As we know, that’s way too much. And that’s why every country in the world came together in Paris two years back to set goals for how much each one would reduce its greenhouse gases.

The United States promised to reduce carbon emissions by 26% by 2025. That might sound like a lot, but we start from a very bad place: On average, each American is responsible for 16.1 tons of carbon emissions every year. That’s more than triple the global average. So if anyone needs to cut emissions, it’s us.

How to do it? Well, you could insulate the house, or trade in the SUV, or install solar panels, or take the train, or eat less beef, or divest from fossil fuels, or hundreds of other measures. But if you pay your own electric bill, you can make a huge difference in just one single step: Select a sustainable source for your electric power. You keep your utility. They provide the same service they always have. You get your bills from them, as always. But now, instead of coal, gas, nuclear and whatever else, your electricity now comes from wind, solar or other carbon-free sources.

We live in New Jersey, one of many states where you can choose your source of electricity. I took some time recently to examine my alternatives. Is it wind? Solar? A blend of sources? What does it cost? Can it go up or down? Will it cost me if I decide to cancel? I settled on Green Mountain Energy, a wind power company. It costs a fraction less than my utility’s default choice. Call it even. And it’s carbon free.

So I made the call: 844-245-9582

We’re not the average utility customer. Our farm has greenhouses, irrigation pumps, and several residences, including our own. Hundreds of families own shares in our harvest. A dozen workers make their living here. We also have four sets of solar panels that cut our electric purchases by more than half. But still, we buy a lot of electricity. All told, we purchase 18,400 kilowatt hours (18.4 mWh) from the utility every year. And that electricity comes almost entirely from dirty sources – mainly natural gas. For our usage, it pumps 7.6 tons of earth-warming gases into the air every year, plus the smog that causes respiratory illness. That’s nearly double the emissions of the average human, just for our electricity.

So I just had to do something. Well, it took about 30 minutes on the phone. But if I hope to leave our kids a livable world, it might be the best 30 minutes I could ever spend.

So, grab a copy of your electric bill, and make the call, like I did. Or if you want to find out first what your state offers first, go to this website and find out.

http://competitiveenergy.org/consumer-tools/state-by-state-links/

Once you do, leave us a comment about what you did. We can’t wait to hear how you’re changing the world!

Tobacco Wars, Climate Wars: Who are to Blame?

After more than ten years of legal maneuvering and appeals, tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Altria and Lorillard finally ran out of options and admitted, in court-mandated newspaper advertisements, what they denied for decades — that they had been addicting and killing millions of people as a core business strategy. Here’s the ad that came in the morning paper.
Irony #1: The Big Tobacco maneuvering actually worked. During the long delay, non-digital news readership has declined sharply. You’re only seeing it because we’re posting it online.

Irony #2: The ad sits opposite a story about today’s equivalent of the Tobacco Wars, climate change and climate denial. The rapid melting of Peru’s glaciers portends the end of survival for Peruvian farming communities watered by Andean glacial streams and rivers. The water supply for these communities and farms is dwindling as the glaciers disappear.

On average, a citizen of Peru emits 1.9 tons of CO2 per year. The global average is higher: 4.9 tons. The average American, however, emits a whopping 16.4 tons — more than triple the world average. And we are the only country in the world that refuses to share in the global effort to stop climate chaos.

Imagine with me: What will your advertisement look like? Will you claim that you at least tried? Try writing it out. Tell yourself the details. Then, maybe, follow the link below to see what else you can do.

Learn more about the melting of Peru’s glaciers: http://nyti.ms/2A70TRD

Learn more about reducing your own carbon emissions: http://bit.ly/2xczf05

The Water Will Come

Climate change is already costing the world dearly. But it is not just money that will be lost.

Also gone will be the beach where you first kissed your boyfriend; the mangrove forests in Bangladesh where Bengali tigers thrive; the crocodile nests in Florida Bay; Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice; Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina; America’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia; NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; graves on the Isle of the Dead in Tasmania; the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia; entire nations like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; and, in the not-so-distant future, Mar-a-Lago, the summer White House of President Donald Trump. Globally, about 145 million people live three feet or less above the current sea level. As the waters rise, millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.

The real x-factor here is not the vagaries of climate science, but the complexity of human psychology. At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure, to prepare cities for rising waters – or will we do nothing and wait till it’s too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines, and sinking islands – or will we imprison them? No one know how our economic and political system will deal with these challenges.

Jeff Goodell: The Water Will Come  http://amzn.to/2z50Jtq

I Need Thee Every Hour, Most Gracious Toyota

This has been an excruciating couple of weeks for any of us who keep a prayerful eye on the earth’s ecosystems. Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked billions in damage on Houston and the Gulf Coast, ranked as the worst rainstorm ever to hit North America, more than doubling previous records. Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, clocking in as the hurricane with the longest sustained Cat-5 winds on record. Space images revealed three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic at one time. India, Bangladesh and Nepal lost more than one thousand souls to drowning due to record-strong monsoons. The Pacific Northwest choked under a shroud of haze from massive wildfires.

Satellite images of hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia

Strange weather happens. But this is not normal. The creation is groaning in ways that prior generations never heard. We look for who’s to blame. Surely there’s someone. Of course, we can rightly blame the Trump administration, as they censor climate science, shackle NASA and NOAA from their leading climate science roles, lease more public lands for coal mining, and thumb their noses at national and global efforts to address climate chaos.

Some blame God, assuring us that heaven is in control, and that our actions as a nation and world are essentially His problem to fix, without any effort on our part.

But any honest assessment must also include us among the culprits: You and me. Our culture is carbon crazy; but in particular, we have gone car crazy. We love our cars. We have a right to our cars! We couldn’t live without our cars! To varying degrees? Sure. But it’s time to address our addiction, and its effect on the world around us.

Cars and travel account for more than a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions, among the world’s highest. We may bemoan the super-sized American appetite for carbon, but it’s no good trying to solve it while living nearly every aspect of our lives behind the wheel. We simply have to take our addiction seriously.

And it won’t be easy. This became painfully obvious to Barbara and me on the weekend as we traveled from New Jersey to North Carolina for a week of grandchild-care. On the way, we pulled our Prius into a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for a quick sandwich. To our amazement, the restaurant had only six parking spaces – all full – with double lines of cars snaking slowly into an enormous tandem drive-thru complex. No room at Chick-Fil-A for people willing to turn off the engine for lunch.

Double rows of cars at Chick-Fil-A drive-thru

Nearly a decade ago, I committed never to use any drive-thru again, so that was that.

We hurried on. Steak-and-Shake was next door, and there were parking vacancies. But with all the cars waiting in line for the drive-up window, the staff had little time for us humans on foot. A simple hamburger lunch ended up costing us an hour.

Reaching our destination in Carolina, we ventured out into Durham on Sunday morning for church, passing mile after mile of nearly vacant highways, overpasses and exit ramps, with no human structures anywhere in sight. A vast web of asphalt built to assure that the next generation of cars would have plenty of room to run and play. Light rail? Bike paths? None in sight. Just miles and miles of roads for our precious cars. (Precious! We needs them!)

Coffee without moving a muscle

On Monday morning, I took one of my grandchildren to school, since there’s no school bus available. Blocks away from the school, cars were lined up along the curb to drop off the kids without the hassle of stepping out from behind the wheel. We zipped past a long line of brake lights and tailpipes, left the car, and hoofed it a short hop to the 2nd-grade classroom – past scores, or even hundreds, of cars belching exhaust as they inched their way toward the drive-up entrance. At pick-up time in the afternoon, it was the same story: a nearly endless procession of parents in SUVs crawling their way toward waiting children – all presumably able to walk; all seemingly unable to imagine a world of natural human mobility.

My dear creation-caring friends, I recognize how committed you are to advocacy for climate action. You voted; you called your congressional representatives; maybe you marched through the heart of your city bearing signs with compelling slogans. A year from now, you’ll have your chance to vote into office men and women who will care for the earth and its most vulnerable children. But at some point, we are going to have to begin modeling lives that break with our American love affair. At some point, we’re going to have to get out of the car, plant our feet on the ground, and begin to reclaim the right to move ourselves without fouling the air.

American madness: cars snake in an endless line to the school drop-off

Why not start this way: If you are able to walk, why not commit before God today that you can do without the drive-thru line? At the bank, the coffee shop, the restaurant, at school or even (believe it or not) at church, you can join those who model a certain level of care for the earth by shutting off the motor, and standing on your own feet. It won’t save the world, of course. For that, we’ll all need to take a thousand steps. But maybe this will make the next one a bit easier.

Thanks for reading, thanks for walking, and God bless you.

P.S. For good measure, one last picture for those of us who participate in church on Sundays. I know, I know: It’s absolutely nuts.

How to Really Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

“American Christians are incredibly responsive when it comes to acts of mercy. You know, famines, epidemics and floods – we can be really generous.” Sitting across the lunch table from me in Philadelphia, evangelical theologian Ron Sider smiled kindly as he dwelt on the heartfelt compassion of our fellow evangelicals.

But then a more somber cloud darkened the Christian justice icon’s brow. “When it comes to structural injustice,” he said, “the economic, environmental and social systems that lurk just below the surface of human suffering – we’re not nearly so good at that.”

Ron Sider, theologian, author, activist and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action

One of the happiest associations of my life has been with Sider, a lifelong campaigner for gospel justice and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action. Like hundreds of other bit-players in his orbit, I’ve always been amazed at his gentleness toward those whom God has called him to rouse from comfortable religious slumber. But he was definitely onto something: If we evangelicals could be persuaded to care about the underlying causes of calamity, the world could be transformed for good – on earth as it is in Heaven.

As I watch the news pour in from Houston today, Sider’s words come back to me, in real time. I am dying to get in on the tangible relief. Where can I give? There’s the Red Cross, of course. (http://rdcrss.org/2xvQKd8) And there’s the Salvation Army. (http://bit.ly/2vtIdF2) I can help! Even $25 will make a difference!

My heart is pounding. I want to do something! And so do millions of other Christians. We will give. And in the coming months, we’ll pack up crow bars and hammers, and help tear out the mold and ruined wiring – just like Sider said we would.

But his words still haunt my thoughts: What about the CAUSES of Houston’s suffering?

Decades ago, Ron Sider helped to found the country’s largest evangelical network advocating for urgent climate action. He knew then, as we all know now, that virtually every coastal city will be condemned to Houston’s present fate, if we don’t overcome denial and act to preserve the earth’s climate systems. And we were recently making serious progress. We were reducing our carbon footprints. Our nation had a Clean Power Plan for low-carbon electricity. In our future were clean-running cars, and mining that cleaned up after itself. Our seas and our atmosphere were going to be nobody’s free dumping ground. And we joined with every other nation in the world in a global effort under the Paris Accord.

Today, roughly six months into the Trump presidency, every one of those initiatives is in shambles, the wreckage left by a President who has called climate change a “Chinese hoax;” an EPA Administrator who has made a career of fighting against climate action on behalf of oil drillers; and an Interior Secretary intent on throwing open Federal lands to coal mining and oil, just when our world is glutted with way too much of the stuff.

What’s the greatest threat to beleaguered Houston today? As bad as things are now – and they are awful – they could be unimaginably horrible if we don’t stop the madness. And the chaos will almost certainly be extended to Norfolk, Tampa, Boston, Miami, New York and New Orleans. (Not to bore you with Dhaka, Kolkata, Lagos, Amsterdam, London, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Guangzhou and Shanghai.)

And so, if you’re willing to take a word from the social conscience of the American evangelical church, Ron Sider would surely applaud your impulse to give to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army – and to sign up with All Hands Volunteers. (https://www.hands.org/) … BUT…

Let me suggest – as he would – that you also consider joining the fight against the underlying causes: the sea level rise and the heat-driven extreme weather that have caused the National Weather Service to declare Harvey “unprecedented & beyond anything experienced.”

Unfortunately, today you can’t really fight the underlying causes in Congress. Of course, the White House isn’t listening either. But the COURTS are. And that’s where the Environmental Defense Fund (http://bit.ly/2gndzvl), EarthJustice (http://bit.ly/2xvK0eX) and even the Natural Resources Defense Council (http://on.nrdc.org/20F006z) operate. If you care for people like those in Houston, these three entities may do as much good – and perhaps much more – than the bearers of tangible relief like food and shelter.

For example, EDF is measuring how much methane (a powerful climate-warming gas) escapes from every kind of industry; and it’s fighting the President’s efforts to kill the Clean Power Plan. EarthJustice is fighting pipelines that threaten indigenous people and rules seeking to block the progress toward clean fuels. NRDC is fighting against the dirtiest fossil-fuel projects, and supporting the transition to cleaner energy sources.

So, my friends, please, go ahead. The Red Cross is working around the clock, and they need your help. But maybe, you might save some of your giving for those who labor in the courtrooms as well? Today, they may be the last, best hope for a country mired in catastrophic climate denial — and for the good folks of the Texas Coast.

My Spiritual Crisis … and Yours

People undergo crises of faith all the time. Personal suffering and loss; exposure to science and competing philosophies; misconduct by religious authorities – these and more will mark the faith of virtually every serious believer. Perhaps we come through them with a wiser, deeper, and stronger love for our Maker and our neighbor. Or perhaps we find ourselves on some spiritual off-ramp, headed toward some place called “the Nones.”

I find it fascinating how few people are willing to talk about faith crises until long after the fact, when they are safely receding in the rear view. But in America today, I wonder how any serious Christian can avoid the tectonic forces assaulting our faith. Either we are busily redacting from our religious lexicons all those “good news to the poor” and “least of these my brothers” narratives of Jesus; or we are wondering what the heck has happened to our religious tribe. Or perhaps a third response: putting our heads down, closing our eyes, and soldiering on with as little thought as possible.

Why all the gloom, you ask? Well, it’s that “81 percent” thing.

Remember? That’s how much of the white evangelical church in America voted for Donald Trump. The debate goes on whether the polls properly identified people of “real” Christian faith. But the data is pretty unambiguous: a huge majority of white people who identify with my Christian faith voted for this president.

Now, my faith affirms that something really special occurs within each person who is “in Christ,” like I claim to be. They have become new creations. “The old has gone, and the new has come!” So declares St. Paul in his famous discourse on rebirth and reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Sure, we’re still sinners. But something dramatic and redemptive has happened to us. By God’s grace, we’re going to hold tightly to the ethic of Jesus. We’re going to love God and our fellow man; we’re going to lay down our lives for others; we’re going to see our neighbor in the face every stranger; she is going to look to us like the image of God.

That’s the theory, at least.

And yet, somehow, we voted for Donald J. Trump. In droves.

How Were We Okay With It?

Do I need to remind us of what we saw? For five solid years, Trump stoked racist and sectarian passions by swearing that the first black president wasn’t even a citizen. Instead, he was African. Worse, he might even be a Muslim. Trump’s “people,” he swore, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” When the sitting president succumbed to the humiliation and produced his official birth records, Trump spent four years calling it a fraud. And then he finally called off the dogs: nothing found; never mind.

We white Christians were okay with that. Somehow. But how, I wonder?

Then, the candidate came down the escalator, launching his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and “morally corrupt” losers. Then he promised to deport the desperate refugees from the four-year Syrian war. Then he promised to deport eleven million undocumented fathers, mothers and children, tearing apart innumerable families. But we were okay with that too. Somehow.

Then he promised to ban all Muslims from entering the country. And then he proposed a Muslim registry, evoking chilled shudders from those who remember the ethnic genocides of the last century. Then he ridiculed a disabled journalist and insulted war heroes. We might have wished for better manners. But we were still basically okay with that. Somehow.

And then, women. They were fat pigs. Their value was measured by a number. If they challenged him, he called them menstrual. And he boasted of the power to grab them by their genitals. But, after some fleeting second thoughts, we found a way to hang in there. You know, us “new creations” in Christ. But how?

Then, he stoked violence among his crowds of angry white men. They chanted “Lock her up!”, while he promised to pay the legal costs of anyone assaulting protesters. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” he told his mob, lamenting the passing of the old days when protesters would be “carried out on a stretcher.” He boasted that he could shoot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose one of our votes. And amazingly, he was right. We were okay with all of this. Somehow.

When the world’s most eminent Christian, Pope Francis, called such conduct “not Christian,” we paid no heed. When the world’s most dangerous dictator endorsed him, we admired the strongman’s respect.  When he was forced to pay $25 million to defrauded students, we called it “business.” When he cast racial and ethnic aspersions on the Hispanic judge overseeing that case, we shut our eyes tight. When he undermined faith in our electoral system by calling it “rigged” with massive voter fraud, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. And when he became the first candidate since Richard Nixon to refuse to disclose his tax filings? Meh.

And then…. And then, we voted for him. In huge numbers.

How Do We Remain Silent?

You might think that that would be the heart of the story: We – we white Christians – put into office a man most closely representing the antithesis of our supposed Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But it didn’t end there. Because now, he is president. He is president, and we are silent.

We have been silent as he has muzzled government scientists, and censored their websites. Silent when he ordered a Muslim and refugee ban. Silent when he attacked the judicial independence of courts that have stood in his way. As he has fired top law enforcement officers, and kept in place a National Security Advisor known to have lied about ties to Russia.  As he has cancelled environmental reviews, and ordered that highly controversial pipelines be built. Silent when we learned that he asked the FBI Director to drop an investigation into appointees and demanded his personal loyalty. And when that failed, we were silent when he fired him.

In Ohio, preachers prayed against “Satanic attacks.”

We’ve remained silent through it all. Somehow.

He rescinded some of the most important environmental safeguards in place for our country and world: the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule, the Methane rule, and the CAFE auto-efficiency standards. Then he made us the only nation in the world (other than Assad’s Syria) to renege on the global Paris Accord, vital to preserving a livable climate for every country. Then he abandoned the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Then he proposed putting our national parks up for sale. But we kept silent.

And we kept our silence through the sleaze. When fact checkers told us that seven out of ten presidential statements were lies (eight if you include half-truths), we held our tongues. When he treated the Boy Scouts like a modern incarnation of the Hitlerjugend, and told them raunchy stories of sexual debauchery, not a peep from us. He appointed his family members to high office, and they used those offices to enrich the family businesses. Maybe we said a little prayer, or something.

Then he championed plans to deprive 23 million poor and older Americans of health care while cutting taxes on the rich by $800 billion. When that effort stumbled, he advocated throwing 32 million Americans off of health care by “repeal without replacement.” Then he appointed a panel to search for evidence of voter fraud, since he lost the popular vote. Then he prioritized friendship with the Russian dictatorship, and refused to reassure our democratic allies of our commitment to mutual defense. And he labeled inquiries into Russian electoral interference a “witch hunt.” And we were still silent.

Through it all, we are still silent.

What are the Consequences?

It’s tempting to imagine that our white American Christianity was in great shape prior to this train wreck; that we have suffered moral collapse in the span of only a year or two. But in fact, Donald Trump has not created the monster we now witness. Rather, his unapologetic crudeness and blatant disregard for the most minimal ethical standards have merely unleashed what was already there, waiting for someone to normalize our worst impulses. But it is now on display for all the world to see, awakening from remission with a vengeance.

Others have attempted to explain how this has happened to us. I will settle for something much less ambitious: I see three inevitable results of what we have become.

First, recall that Jesus told his followers to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Note the connection: Good deeds, shining as light in darkness, result in faith on the part of many, and glory to God. But it follows that the opposite is also true. Allegiance with or acquiescence in evil – whether racism, xenophobia, scorn for the weak, lying, or violence – destroys faith, and mars God’s glory. We are now destroying faith. Many who would call themselves Christians are now on a path toward doubt, confusion, and ultimately rejection of a faith that appears to be in league with forces of hatred. The “Nones” are growing fast. We are at least part of the reason.

Second, in America, the name “Evangelical” has now lost any and all practical meaning. To argue otherwise is laughable to anyone not already part of my tribe. The very term means that we bear “good news.” Jesus launched his ministry on earth by adopting the term for himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach GOOD NEWS to the poor … the prisoners … the blind … the oppressed…” (Luke 4:18). He was the bearer of good news to the least of all people, the outcasts of the earth. And we had the honor of adopting the title. Evangelicals. Bearers of good news to the poor. Like Jesus.

Today, however, only the most credulous Americans can imagine the poor and oppressed greeting white “evangelicals” as bearers of anything other than Trump-like disdain and disregard. Without a message of good news, and with faith-destroying conduct, we have virtually assured the decline and eventual end of Christianity as a dominant influence upon our culture, other than as a fading memory.

Finally, the crisis of faith we have unleashed will certainly lead to an explosion of theological experimentation. I note that a number of thoughtful conservative religious commentators have bemoaned the apostasy of white Christianity in the age of Trump, as I have; but often their lament merely assumes that we have strayed off the narrow way in practice. The path of individualist, personal, other-worldly salvationism was just fine. Our creeds and confessions are spot on. But we ourselves made some mistakes along the way.

But this, of course, is absurd. How could it possibly be that people who read those texts daily and listen to those sermons weekly would have become more likely than their secular counterparts  – not even equally so – to worship at the altar of Babylon? No, this crisis of faith will lead to a new wave of fresh-minted seekers.

I don’t presume to offer theological alternatives. Only this: dismayed Christians will look in many directions to find a new spiritual reality – a faith that moves toward justice and reconciliation in a broken and unjust world. Many will wander in their search. This is inevitable.

During the campaign, Candidate Trump promised evangelical leaders – Falwell, Jeffress, Dobson and their fellow religious courtiers – “you’ll have great power to do good things. And religion will start going, instead of this way — I mean, Christianity, when you think of what’s happening, you look at the numbers … the power you have is so enormous.”

Well, it may have been clearer in person, hand gestures and all.

But you get the message: I’ll give you POWER! It was the second temptation of Jesus all over again: I will give you all authority, if you worship me! (You may recall that the Lord thought that was a lousy deal.) But we, my fellow evangelicals, we got the power, or as much of it as can be bestowed by the kingdom of Babylon. And what did it get us? If I’m right, it brought us near to the end of whatever faith we may have ever had. It cost us much of the remaining good news we had to offer. And it is now leading to a diaspora of seekers from our own pews.

So on a personal basis, how are you managing your crisis of faith? Are you reinventing Jesus so that he has nothing to say about hatred of other religions, refugees, the poor and marginalized? Or are you looking around at your brethren in confused anguish, wondering where you and they have gone wrong? Or, perhaps, are you keeping your head down – as the German resistance preacher Helmut Gollwitzer said – “in the stupid hope that everything will get better on its own without our having to become courageously involved ourselves?”

Friends, our faith is in crisis. Which kind of crisis is yours?