Category Archives: Faith

Standing Rock Reflections #2: Broken Treaties are not “History”

Hi. It’s John again. I promised you that I would report back from my time last week among the Lakota Sioux. You already know a lot about the events in Standing Rock:

  • tob_standingrockwinterlg01_custom-447228e62f73efc8e1a1e012f7b2ee19aaeb676c-s1000-c85

    Lakota Sioux and allies braving the Dakota winter to stop the DAPL pipeline.

    How some 10,000 unarmed people – indigenous and immigrants alike – have placed their bodies in the way of the “Black Snake” – the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

  • How police have fired on them with nearly every conceivable non-lethal weapon, injuring hundreds.
  • How thousands of American veterans have swelled the ranks of the indigenous protesters.
  • And how – for now – the US government has decided to deny further pipeline permits.

For the moment, the DAPL pipeline appears to be stopped. For now. And yesterday, I offered the first of a series of five reflections from my brief time resisting the DAPL pipeline. In brief, here they are:

  • The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality. (I discussed this yesterday.)
  • Indigenous treaty rights are not a closed book, as though we can just shrug and blame it on Columbus, or Adam, or something else in the distant past. (Today. See below.)
  • Christians must engage with indigenous spirituality, without fear, without prejudice, and with confidence in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • There are laws on the books today that are not worthy of our obedience. Many of us prefer to look honestly at unjust laws only in our history books, rather than in our newspapers.
  • Many Christians insist on seeing their ethics in black and white. But following Jesus into the arena of injustice may challenge our comfortable purity.

Those Broken Treaties: Not My Problem?

Indigenous treaty rights are not a closed book, as though we can just shrug and blame it on Columbus, or Adam, or something else in the distant past.

We all know the facts. Our nation has violated treaty after treaty with virtually every indigenous nation. We shake our heads piously at this theft of land, this genocide, based solely on the race of our treaty partners. But how does it end there? Has the passage of time absolved the guilt of racist genocide? How is it that we ourselves feel no obligation to honor treaty rights of those whose principal crime was that they occupied land that our race wanted?  This is not the sin of some distant “Adam,” which we can only lament, but recent actions that are only tolerated among us because of racism and power.

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

In Standing Rock, a stranger like me would hardly know that he is standing on a mere remnant of land legally allocated to the Oglalla Sioux in the days of my great-grandfather. In 1851, the United States and the Sioux nations bound themselves under the Treaty of Fort Laramie to recognize each other’s sovereign territory. The Great Sioux Reservation, recognized under the Treaty, spanned half of today’s South Dakota, one third of Nebraska, a quarter of Wyoming, plus parts of North Dakota and Montana to boot. At more than 100,000 square miles, it was larger than New York and Pennsylvania combined. It was larger than all six states of New England, plus New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Only eight states on today’s map are larger than the Sioux Nation, established by a binding treaty of the United States.

Since then, my country and race has repeatedly seized those lands – ultimately without even the pretense of rectitude, solely because of an assumed right of white Europeans to own the “empty lands” – Terra Nullius – before them. At its heart was radical racism: Lands that are not occupied by English-speaking white people are empty, available for conquest, regardless of treaty obligations.

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

And while we almost all think of these land grabs as distant historical artifacts, the Standing Rock Sioux lost one-quarter of their homes without consent in 1958, when the US government dammed the Missouri River, creating Lake Oahe, which inundated Sioux riverfront communities.

And now, in many political circles, the Sioux are vilified because, in their defense of the creation, they are trespassing on Federal lands outside of the final remnant of their territry. No matter that those very lands have been seized with impunity – even during our own lifetimes.

What Can We Do? 

I was surprised to hear that in June 2016, the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA) adopted a report repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery – the Christian edict originating in the 1500s which provided theological cover for the racist seizure of Native lands in the New World.

“What’s a modern-day church doing unearthing arcane papal edicts?” I wondered at the time.

Well, it turns out that they were doing something sorely needed, as a start. The CRCNA operated boarding schools which indigenous children were forced to attend as a tool of assimilation into European culture – right into the 1900s. Furthermore, many CRCNA churches and their members occupy unceded native treaty lands. As such, they are the beneficiaries of land theft.

“We don’t like to hear these stories, but we drink downstream from them,” said CRCNA task force member Mike Hogeterp during the 2016 synod. “We cannot change that brokenness today, but perhaps in truth-telling and lament as a first posture we can begin to reconcile.”

Truth-telling. Lament. Reconciliation.

We saw that displayed vividly yesterday in Standing Rock. In a ground-breaking “Forgiveness Ceremony,” US military veterans confessed American crimes against the Sioux people.

Here are the words of the veterans’ spokesman, Wesley Clark, Jr. “We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. … We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”

Some will say: These are mere words. And perhaps that’s fair enough. But we cannot begin to atone, and to reconcile, without words. And even more, these same veterans have come to Standing Rock to place themselves on the front lines in defense of the Sioux people struggling to protect the earth and their homes from the DAPL pipeline.

Where does atonement for crimes against Native Americans lead us? I cannot say. But if we are serious in our prayers for God to heal our land, then we must begin to pray, to learn and to act. For starters, whose land do you live on? I’m on Lenape land. How about you? Can we find the elders of our land’s true owners?

Do we even dare to try?

Standing Rock Reflections: It’s All One Struggle

Hi. This is John. I promised you that I would report from my time last week in North Dakota, where I was among those supporting the Standing Rock Sioux. You already know a lot about the events in Standing Rock:

  • How some 10,000 unarmed people – indigenous and immigrants alike – have placed their bodies in the way of the “Black Snake” – the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipe Line – as it advances toward completion under the Missouri River.
  • How police have fired on them with nearly every conceivable non-lethal weapon, including water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and mace that have injured hundreds.
  • How thousands of American veterans have swelled the ranks of the indigenous protesters, to place their lives on the line once again – this time facing the weapons of American police.
  • And how – for now – the US government has decided not to issue necessary permits for the DAPL pipeline to slice further into Sioux treaty lands.
The sprawling Aceti Sakowin Camp near the front line of the DAPL pipeline resistance.

The Aceti Sakowin Camp near the front line of the DAPL resistance. The pipeline runs along the ridge beyond..

For now, the pipeline appears to be stopped. For now, the military muscle and corporate might behind this enormous project seems to have been overcome by a modern day incarnation of Gideon and his tiny remnant of unarmed soldiers. But friends, it’s not nearly over. It’s only just begun. More on that in a few days…

But for starters, you’ve asked for my impressions from first-hand experience among this peaceful resistance. I can only tell you how my personal biases have been challenged, and my vision has been focused. So without pretense of any special wisdom, here are some of my take-home thoughts from the stance of Standing Rock Sioux:

  • The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality.
  • Indigenous treaty rights are not a closed book, as though we can just shrug and blame it on Columbus, or Adam, or something else in the distant past.
  • Christians must engage with indigenous spirituality, without fear, without prejudice, and with confidence in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Many of us prefer to look honestly at unjust laws in our history books, rather than in our newspapers. But there are laws on the books today that are not worthy of our obedience.
  • Many Christians insist on seeing their ethics in black and white. But following Jesus into the arena of injustice may challenge our comfortable purity.

It’s All One Struggle

The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality. We are fighting for each other now.

In America, it’s a tragic fact that climate action is largely a Caucasian passion. We see Latinos facing the onslaught of mass deportation from the xenophobic spirit of the age. African-Americans are facing mass incarceration under a system of justice that seems designed with them uniquely in mind. Muslims are fearful of being registered, monitored or interned because of their faith. The poor and sick are afraid of losing their only lifeline to decent medical care. Marginal communities are being bullied, harassed and hated on subways, in stores and in schoolyards.

But in this dark era, suburban middle-class whites have the “luxury” of caring about climate change – something that can multiply virtually every other problem, and ultimately threaten world civilization, but probably not for another few decades.

So they’ve got their issues, we say. We’ve got ours.

But among the thousands at Standing Rock, it’s becoming clear how firmly bound together these threats really are. You’re worried about migration? Climate disruption is driving millions on a desperate search for food and stability – like we’ve already seen in Syria, Somalia and Darfur. We wonder why black lives don’t seem to matter to so many of us? And yet people of color know they are many times more likely to suffer the effects of polluted water, air and soil than white people. And they’re more likely to need related medical care, whether or not they can afford it. We’re worried about religious tensions between Muslims and Christians? Yet much of Muslim Middle East and North Africa is being rendering nearly uninhabitable by desertification and epic droughts.

And finally, the beleaguered survivors of the American indigenous genocide turn out to be the closest thing we’ve seen to the “sons of God” for whom the injured earth is groaning (see Romans 8:19).

My fellow white Christian earth-keepers, if I’m learning anything from Standing Rock, it’s this: Whatever right I once thought I had to ignore marginalized communities in the name of environmental focus, it’s too high a price to pay. If I want God to hear my cries for his creation under the lash of the consumerist petro-state, I’m going to have to heed his call to bind the wounds of my suffering neighbors on the Jericho Road.

End note: Friends, please come back tomorrow to consider Indigenous Treaty Rights. I went to Standing Rock thinking that broken treaties were unfortunate artifacts of history. Not so much anymore.

Why I Am Devastated by the Election

Reverend Ed Brown is a preacher. And a good preacher knows how to tell a story.

The former missionary to Pakistan is now in the business of caring for God’s creation, and mobilizing the Christian church to join him. And to help us understand the world we now live in, he asks us to imagine ourselves as the crew of a passenger liner at sea, many days from the nearest shore. We all have important jobs to do. Some of us prepare delicious food for the restaurants on board. Some of us manage entertainment for our passengers. Some run children’s programs for families on the trip. Some keep the toilets working. Still others provide medical care to the sick on board.

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“I have some sobering news…”

We are all busy with our callings, and each of them is vital to the success of our voyage, and even the safety of the thousands of passengers under our care.

But on this particular morning, the captain calls us all into a meeting on the ship’s bridge. His expression today is grave.

“I have received some sobering news from the chief engineer today,” he begins. “None of us should panic, but I need you to listen carefully to every word he tells us.”

The engineer steps forward, and lays out the story: During the night, there was an accident in the engine room, and the ship is taking on water. The pumps are running at capacity, but we are not keeping up. The ship is already riding lower in the water. More can be done, but we need everyone’s help for the survival of the ship. He lays out the plan in detail. It calls for our best efforts. If we all play a role, we can make it safely back to port.

“You still have your own jobs to do,” concludes the captain. “Children still need to be cared for. Meals still need to be prepared. Sick passengers still need medical care. But now, you must do your work with this in mind: It will all be for nothing unless we pull together on the engineer’s plan. The voyage, our passengers, and even our own lives hang in the balance. We can spare no effort.”

Rev. Brown’s story is, of course, the story of manmade climate change and Christian mission. Some of us are called to care for the aged. Some are called to relieve hunger. Others provide clean water; or teach children; or reconcile those in conflict. Others, perhaps, are more like the passengers – until now, mainly focused on our own vacation, leisure and appetites.

But whatever we’re doing now, runaway climate change threatens to sink all of our efforts. The hungry, the thirsty, the children, those fleeing conflicts – none will be spared if we don’t rise to the challenge.

But like the ship’s crew, we have a plan. In fact, the whole world has come together and agreed on a response to climate pollution. It’s called the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 195 nations of the world have all agreed to it. It’s designed to assure that global temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius from those that sustained our parent’s world. Despite an ambitious start, we’re told that it’s not quite good enough to get us there. We’ll have to come back with even more creativity and resolve if we want to keep our planet below that perilous heat threshold.

But let’s go back to the ocean liner. Let’s imagine that the crew had some doubts about the captain’s plan. The entertainment director never had much trust in captains anyway. And he certainly had no time for boring engineers with their oily coveralls and dire warnings.

“The leak is a hoax,” he begins whispering to his shipmates. “We’re being led by stupid, stupid people. I could make this voyage really great, but we need to make some changes at the top.”

And next morning, we wake up to find the entertainer in command on the bridge, and the captain confined to his quarters below deck. The ship is just beginning to list slightly to starboard, but the casino and nightclub are packed. Everyone’s having fun. We’re no longer headed back to port. The children under our care run and play, unaware that the engine room is now almost flooded out.

And that’s the story that began to unfold last week, when voters in the world’s richest and largest economy chose a climate change denier as captain of their ship for the next four years. He has promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement; to forbid the EPA from regulating CO2 as a pollutant; to abandon the Clean Power Plan; to construct new pipelines to increase the flood of Canadian tar sands crude – the world’s dirtiest oil – through the American heartland to export terminals on the Gulf; to increase fracking for natural gas; to reverse the long-term decline of coal extraction and burning.

ship-21And in case there’s any doubt about how serious he is, he’s appointed one of the most notorious climate change “hoaxers” to lead his transition team at the EPA. The rest of the world has begun to ask if it’s possible for worldwide climate action plans to survive under such an assault. Some are talking about slapping carbon tariffs on anything imported from the US. Others are calling us a “rogue nation,” like North Korea.

Me, I’m watching the children play on the ship’s pool deck. Look! There are my little granddaughters! And my daughter-in-law rocking her new baby! They’re so beautiful. They’re so beautiful. My eyes moisten.

Suddenly, I grab for a rail to catch my balance. The ship is now listing harder to starboard. The little ones don’t notice yet. Ice cream is being served. With sprinkles.

Day One: What Happens to White Evangelicals and the Gospel Now?

I wake at three. After several hours of darkness, the dawn ushers in a gray drizzle. I struggle to breathe.

The pale blue light in my palm chimes and vibrates, bringing me the laments of many friends in short bursts of text. The morning after the polls closed, how could we have done this? Is this who we really are?

Who are we now? Who are we now?                  Source: Business Insider

Who are we now? Who am I now? Do I even belong here? Belong in this national story? In this political affiliation? In this religious tribe?

Friends and children all ask me the same questions: What does this mean for Muslims? For immigrants? For refugees? For the poor? For the disabled? For the uninsured? For political opponents?

But some ask more ominous questions: What does this mean for the survival of our species, for billions of our fellow humans? And what does it mean for countless other species and ecosystems? Could America have just voted humankind onto an irreversible course of decline, dragging an ark-full of other creatures down with us?

And could its white evangelicals have simultaneously sealed the fate of their religious movement?

Surely, no one has ever reacted to an election with such dire warnings. Perhaps I have gone totally overboard? I don’t think so. But you decide.

There is one planetary peril so dire that all 195 nations of the world have decided they must act now. In Paris last year, they came together to finalize an agreement by which we would all take specific steps to prevent the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Every nation signed, and enough have now ratified it to become binding. The measures included so far aren’t nearly enough to keep warming at 2 degrees. But everyone is expecting future sessions to increase world-wide ambition in reaching this goal.

And why is it so important to avoid 3-4 degrees of warming? For starters, heat waves would be simply unbearable for much of humanity – 100-year heat waves would occur during almost all summer months every year in many regions. Sea levels would rise more than 1 meter by the end of the century, and would accelerate further after that. Food production would decline as hot regions become dryer, and as intense storms destroy farmlands. The collapse of the marine food chain is also likely, as reefs die in warmer, more acidic oceans. And humanity – armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction – would have to decide who starves, and who lives.

The story is no fantasy. But it is a nightmare. 3-4 degrees of warming must be avoided at all costs. And the world agreed in Paris to do so.

But now, we have now elected Donald Trump, who has specifically promised to kill the Paris Agreement and the US initiatives that constitute our share of the climate-saving work. Here are a few of the steps he has promised to take:

  • Abolish the EPA as we know it.
  • Forbid any surviving portion of the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide.
  • Halt funding for the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • Cancel the Clean Power Plan.
  • Build the Keystone XL pipeline and more like it.
  • Stop any carbon tax or pricing mechanism.

So rather than strengthening the Paris Agreement as will be needed, our country has chosen a leader who has sworn to kill the global effort entirely. With the world’s greatest superpower thumbing its nose at its poorer neighbors, coal and oil pollution will continue to rise, as will heat, hunger and sea levels.

Humanity can adapt to changes, you are thinking? Well, for a while, especially the rich and mobile. And the world has seen a temperature change of 4 degrees before, about 100,000 years ago during the last ice age. But back then, the change occurred over thousands of years –not one single century. And time is everything when it comes to climate adaptation. Most species and people cannot adapt, much less evolve to thrive in the breakneck pace of change we’re causing.

Perhaps you aren’t concerned by this last item, but if you’re a Christian and think you have good news to offer the world, maybe you should be. Because white evangelicals were by far the strongest backers of Trump. They backed him by a higher margin than any other candidate in a generation – more than 80 percent.

So as the impacts of runaway climate change wreak havoc on the people of the world, let’s not even dream of the world’s people darkening the doors of our churches. Good news? Really? First you kill my source of survival, and then you offer me good news? If you’ve got a god, he’s the last thing I want to hear about.

For American White Evangelicalism, this looks like it could be the beginning of a very sorry end.

Never-Trump Evangelicals on an Endangered Planet

For many American Evangelicals, this election season is different. Whatever we think about guns, or emails, or Roe v. Wade, or billionaires paying no taxes, or health care – we’ve never seen anything like this before.

Since Reagan in the 1980’s, we’ve been a reliable base for the Republican Party. But not this year. This year, we Evangelicals have been split wide open by the looming shadow of a Trump presidency. With nearly daily pronouncements that would normally send Christians packing, Trump has attracted intense criticism from many religious leaders, and awkward theological contortions from many of the Old Guard. James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. still stand by their man. But many church leaders – from Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, to pastor Max Lucado, to evangelist Beth Moore, to author Phillip Yancey, and even to Pope Francis himself – have criticized the GOP standard-bearer as antithetical to Christian teaching.

Russell Moore: "The damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980's televangelist scandals."

Baptist Russell Moore: “The damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980’s televangelist scandals.”

The Never-Trump Evangelicals are a diverse bunch. But we share with each other allegiance to the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We believe that he is Lord of all things: All things were created by and for him; he holds all things together; he is reconciling all things to himself; and he has made us agents of his reconciliation toward all things. There simply is nothing beyond the scope of our Lord’s care – and ours.

Of course, this means that we are not misogynists. We struggle against racism and xenophobia. We recoil at threats of torture, and killing the families of our enemies. We are dismayed at the prospect of a president whose entire campaign has earned him the notorious “Lie of the Year” award. We can hardly imagine handing the world’s strongest military into the hands of one who indulges in noxious conspiracy theories, who flirts with inciting political violence, who admires authoritarian rulers, and who threatens to jail his political enemies. And we feel the threat to what remains of our cultural decency from a thrice-married presidential aspirant whose casinos feature strip clubs, and who boasts of grabbing women by the genitals while his third wife is pregnant with his fifth child.

Trump’s “antics,” insisting that, “such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election.”

Max Lucado: Trump’s antics “wouldn’t even be acceptable for a middle school student body election.”

But for some of us Never-Trump Evangelicals, these are trifles, when compared to the most ominous consequences ahead.

Trifles? How can anyone pass off such patent disregard for the foundations of Christian decency as mere trifles?

Here’s how.

While it’s attracted curiously little public debate, Candidate Trump has promised to singlehandedly undo the entire world’s last, best effort to save our common home from runaway ecosystem destruction. For people who take geo-science seriously, Trump’s promises amount to destruction of the creation that sustains our civilization.

Really. We’re not reading between the lines. This is not something he might do. This is what he has expressly promised to do. Considering the stakes, we’d be fools not to take “straight-talking” Trump at face value: He has promised to spare no effort to destroy every national and global effort to salvage a livable climate for us and our children.

Here are just a few targets on Trump’s planetary hit-list:

  • Abolish the EPA as we know it. (Anyone remember Pittsburgh or Cleveland in the 1970’s? Or Beijing today?)
  • Forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide. (Of course, this won’t be necessary once it’s been abolished.)
  • Halt funding for the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. (As the second-largest polluter in the world, the defection of Trump’s America would bring down the entire 190-nation effort to stop runaway climate change.)
  • Cancel the Clean Power Plan. (The fossil-fuel industry would be free to emit as many greenhouse gases into our common atmosphere as they want – for free.)
  • Build the Keystone XL pipeline and more like it. (Despite historically low fuel prices, the world’s dirtiest oil would be piped through America’s largest aquifers, for refining and export.)
  • Kill federal fracking regulations. (Even if toxic fracking chemicals can destroy community drinking water, that’s not government’s business if oil companies are against it.)
  • Oppose any carbon tax. (The cost of climate disruption should be borne by you and me, not by fossil fuel polluters.)

So what would it mean to us if Trump kept even a few of these promises?

Well, his scheme will trigger the collapse of the global climate initiative aimed at keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. (In case you are skeptical, mega-polluter China has just warned of the danger of Trump’s plans.) Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to grow unabated. And while the consequences may sound apocalyptic, they are well understood by experts around the world: polar ice sheets will melt faster in the runaway heat; rising sea levels will inundate coastal cities and nations; the oceans will become too acidic to support marine ecosystems; and extreme weather – droughts, floods, wildfires and tropical storms – will drive mass migration and desperate resource conflicts in a world armed to the teeth.

Pope Francis: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."

Pope Francis: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

And if that is not enough, the survivors of our recklessness will bear the knowledge that of all the nations on earth, ours will bear unique responsibility for the world’s suffering. At the very moment that the entire planet came together under the Paris Agreement to save our children from runaway climate change, America will have handed the reins of a superpower to the only leader in the world to scoff at the threat of climate change — the one leader whose plans amount to a manifesto for planetary destruction.

Worse yet, our country will have done so with the key backing of leaders of the Religious Right or conservative Evangelicals. Now that’s something to think about.

Because the very name “Evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “good news.” We bear the good news of the gospel – God’s love offered freely in Jesus Christ to an injured world in need of restoration and healing. And yet, perhaps we will have a key hand in destroying the most basic systems that humanity needs for its survival? Really? That’s good news?

No, it’s not. But we Never-Trump Evangelicals know that. Our Lord is not in the business of destroying his creation and his people. In fact, he loved his world so much that he laid down his life to reconcile all of it to himself. And we will do all we can to offer this good news to an injured world.

This is who I am.  This is what I care about.  Other Never-Trump Evangelicals like me agree with this. Maybe you agree too?

The Debate: Breaking the Silence on Climate Change

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off Monday night before 100 million viewers, they covered a lot of important ground – including their visions of prosperity, security, and the direction of our country.

Outside the debate venue, a group of students and young people from Young Evangelicals for Climate Action joined hands to pray and demand that the moderator and candidates address the threat of  manmade climate change to humans and God’s creation. Observing the debate from home, I’d have to say that their prayers were answered, if only just as a start.

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action praying outside the debate venue

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action demand that candidates present climate change plans at Hofstra Univ.

Yes, Clinton did stake her flag on making the U.S. “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” She even got specific: “We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs. That’s a lot of new economic activity.”

And she challenged Trump on his longstanding climate denialism: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Of course, Trump denied the charge: “I did not — I do not say that. I do not say that.” The mid-sentence change in verb tenses (“do” not “did”) provided a bit of a fig leaf for the billionaire. As almost everyone knows, Trump tweeted the “Chinese climate hoax” idea in 2012. In fact, he has been recorded on video or in his tweets eleven times calling global warming a hoax, as recently as July 26, 2016.

So, “I did not” clearly doesn’t fly. But “I do not” is one of those imponderables: As-I-stand-on-this-stage, I do not? Well, okay then. We’ll wait for tomorrow.

Well, in fact, tomorrow arrived. The morning after the debate, Trump’s campaign manager said that the candidate has traded the “climate hoax” narrative for new story: “He believes that global warming is naturally occurring,” said Kellyanne Conway.

Naturally occurring. Well that’s something. In the last month, Mr. Trump has learned a lot of new things. He’s discovered that there is no hoax going on, despite four years of being certain that the opposite was true. But even more remarkable, he’s learned that global warming is happening due to natural causes, not manmade carbon emissions.

Natural causes? So, where he did he do his research on this? We decided to look:

  • Maybe the U.S. National Academy of Science? We checked, but no luck there: “Scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities,” they write in a landmark study, “from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences.”
  • Okay, how about the world’s largest scientific society – the American Association for the Advancement of Science? Hmm, strike two. Their website banner trumpets the conclusion before you even get to the details: “Based on the evidence, about 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening.” We kept looking.
  • How about the peer-reviewed science journals, like Science or Nature? More bad news. They virtually all agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
  • Well, there must be someone. How about any American or international association of sciences from any discipline whatsoever? We checked. Again, no dice. Just this summer, 31 scientific societies representing millions of geologists, chemists, biologists, agronomists, mathematicians and researchers from many other specialties wrote to Congress to inform our leaders that “greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver” behind climate change, and warned of “broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health.”

We’re not giving up, and will let you know when we find where Trump got his new scientific information, or whatever else he may have found instead.

In our view, this debate was not wasted. People are now talking. Twitter is abuzz with references to climate denial. Perhaps voters may see their choice this year as a choice for the future of the world’s ecosystems. That would be redemptive, we think.

Young Evangelicals, thank you for your prayers and your demand for open discourse. Whatever our political leanings might be, we now have a fuller idea of where our country – and our world – might go regarding the climate crisis in the next four years. Clinton promises to lead a transition to a clean power economy. Trump promises to stop the transition – stop the Clean Power Plan, the global Climate Accord struck in Paris, and to turn back the clock on the burning of coal to where it was when our grandparents were young.

We have a choice. And the faithful witness of Young Evangelicals has helped us to see it more clearly.

Imagining a World With No Future

I remember a couple of years back seeing the trailer for Interstellar, an earth-exodus sci-fi thriller. The film starred Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and a host of other luminaries. But it was the 21st century setting of the film – a dying world facing the extinction of all plant life from an unnamed blight – that intrigued me most.

Like almost all people who take today’s environmental crisis seriously, the specter of ecosystem collapse – and even of existential threats to our own species – constantly haunts the shadowy margins of my consciousness. The spectral appeal of the film was strong, but still no match for the drone of daily routines that normally crowd out interesting films. Interstellar came and went, without me.

Well, I finally got around to seeing it a couple of nights ago. To break up day/night-long flight to Nepal – where I am currently attending a conference of South Asian Christian church leaders engaged in ecological ministry – I finally took the time. And sure enough, the movie’s story-line confronted me with an imponderable challenge: How could anyone manage life in a world with almost no plausible future beyond one’s own lifetime or maybe their children’s’?

Last night at the opening dinner of the Nepal conference, I was confronted with a dystopian nightmare eerily similar to Interstellar’s fictional crisis. And it wasn’t a movie. With my plate filled with rice, dahl and curry, I took a seat across from a Bangladeshi man named Manna (I’ll skip his full name for this post). Manna works with an international faith-based NGO in Southeast Asia.

Eventually, the conversation turned to Manna’s home in coastal Bangladesh. Yes, he confirmed, the sea levels are rising at an alarming pace. Farms in his home are becoming too salty to produce food. Fish farms are suffering mass die-offs as freshwater ponds turn to sea-water, until the monsoon flushes them fresh again. Groundwater tables are falling rapidly as communities drill for fresh, clean water. Coastal mangrove forests are succumbing to rapid climatic changes, leaving the low-lying Ganges River delta defenseless against storm surges from tropical cyclones.

Bangladeshi communities caught between flooding rivers and rising seas

Bangladeshi communities caught between flooding rivers and rising seas

“You cannot invest for the future under such conditions,” Manna told me. “Everyone knows what is coming.” But still, he told me, many people cannot afford to think even several years ahead.

Manna is not saying anything more than what countless scientific studies have already established: Bangladesh and its 160 million human souls are facing the irresistible advance of the sea over large expanses of their country. The culprit? Thermal ocean expansion and melting land ice in a world choking on the exhaust from the global industrial behemoth.

Scientists are still working on the expected pace of the rising seas, with new studies raising the prospect of rapid coastal inundation far more severe than previously thought. But Bangladesh illustrates the maddening complexity of the problem: Long before the dry land slips beneath the waves, freshwater sources are fouled; farmland is poisoned by salt; and capital investment moves to higher ground.

But there’s a personal word in what I hear from Manna: There is a clouded future for my hometown, my family, my people. You can’t plan for the long haul here. There is little to leave our children in this place. In effect, we have to find somewhere else to start over.

So, what stories do you tell yourself in Manna’s Bangladesh to hang onto hope? What do you say to the mother of a newborn child, nursing the hope of a new generation? What do you tell your young people about the value of industry and honest work? What do you tell investors looking to create value in their communities?

The movie, Interstellar, is just a story. For those of us who feel relatively secure in our brief time and place, it offers the thrill of an existential peril that we don’t actually have to  face ourselves. It’s entertaining, in a way, isn’t it?

But what if that were the world we really lived in? What if there simply was no reliable future in our cities, counties and states? What if broad swaths of our entire country saw little option but eventual flight?

And to flee – where? In a world increasingly absorbed with fear and hatred of The Other, where could we hope to find welcome and shalom?

And since most of my readers are from North America, let me ask one more question: If we were Manna’s Bangladeshi countrymen, what would we want to say to people in the consumerist world of the West?

That’s what I’m here in Nepal to listen for. If I can, I will bring you their voices over the next couple of weeks. I hope you will find the time – and the human compassion – to hear their voices.