Tag Archives: Christianity

Was That Jesus I Saw on Independence Avenue?

The alarm went off at three. It seemed like I had hardly gotten to sleep. But Washington is a pretty fair hike from New Jersey, and Barbara and I – together with two dear friends – needed to be on the National Mall by ten. The Women’s March on Washington was waiting for us.

We could tell something special was brewing even before we crossed into Delaware. Every rest stop in New Jersey was packed with buses. Inside, women sporting pink knit hats were everywhere. Long lines of women snaked slowly into the women’s bathrooms – and the men’s as well. I learned, to my sorrow, that there would not be any real men’s rooms between New York and Washington.

By sunrise, we reached the northernmost station of the DC Metro rail system – usually a quiet spot with plenty of parking. We managed to find one of the remaining spaces for the car, and then squeezed into the station to find a sea of humanity slowly inching toward the dozen-odd ticket machines. Packed trains, packed sidewalks, packed avenues.  Crowds everywhere. Smiles everywhere. The air bristling with excitement.

Independence Avenue and the Mall were jammed from the Capitol to the Smithsonian

The members of our little band were Christians. Christian creation-care advocates for that matter. Coming out of our environmental silo to stand in solidarity with women who had endured a level of misogyny not seen in my lifetime.

We thought that we would be treated to a day full of “women’s issues.” So imagine our surprise as speakers and musicians raised their voices for vilified Muslims, immigrant families fearing being torn apart, the mothers of unarmed young black men gunned down by police. They spoke for climate change action. They spoke for sick people faced with losing their health care.

And, yes, they spoke for gender equity, equal pay, family leave, and access to women’s reproductive services. In my experience, when we come alongside the marginalized, we don’t get to pick and choose from an ideological menu. We had to be prepared to offer solidarity to those raising their voices against the darkness that threatens to engulf their lives – without adding all of our qualifications.

So where was Jesus Christ in all this? As a Christian, I wondered, as I prayed my way up Independence Avenue, where I would see his loving hand at work. We knew of nuns and friars who would be there. We heard some from the podium, in fact. But as we marched toward the Capitol, I looked around me for people of faith. Did God send more than than a few of us into this unnumbered throng?

Suddenly, up ahead I spied a cluster of banners with bible verses on them. Christians! Yes! And they even had their own loudspeaker system! But as we drew nearer, I caught my breath. Something was horribly wrong.

“Murderers!” “Shame on you!” “Murderers!” the loudspeaker thundered. The hateful speech was matched by their banners, now in full view. “Black Lives Matter Are Thugs.” “AIDS: Cure or Judgment?” “Got AIDS?” We hurried on past. We didn’t know what to say. We were ashamed.

The loudspeaker of hate kept going for hours. We could hear it blocks away, despite a crowd around us estimated at more than a half million souls. Around this pocket of condemnation, six or seven concentric circles of women had formed, chanting their own responses: “Love Trumps Hate!” “Black Lives Matter!” “God is Love!” It seems they spent their entire day in an uneven struggle to match amplified vituperation from the handful of religious prosecutors.

Daughter of Latino immigrants addresses the march

I’m afraid that this was what hundreds of thousands got to see of the Prince of Peace that day. This was their image of the Friend of Sinners – sinners like us. Screaming epithets at women marching for their vision of a better world.

No doubt, there were thousands of faithful Christians among our fellow marchers, acting in faith without religious display. But what might the non-Christian world have gleaned about Jesus at the march? Or at least, what did they learn about the kind of people they would have to become, should they ever decide to follow him?

I think that they would be surprised, if they ever read the biblical accounts of the real Jesus. The real Jesus defined his mission in the first sermon he ever preached. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” he began, “to preach good news to the poor.” The poor would be Jesus’ people. But he added more: freedom for prisoners; sight for the blind; and release for the oppressed. The poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. Care for them would be the marks of his mission. (Luke 4:14-21)

After an election campaign that gave center stage to the darkest impulses of the American soul, I had hoped our presence would accomplish something redemptive. The women marching around me had endured a season stained by racism, xenophobia, sexual assault, lust and lechery, demonization of the press, military jingoism, torture, hatred of sojourners and a parallel universe of imaginary facts.

And we had hoped in some small way to offer the tiniest dose of healing to a world of people who can no longer recognize Jesus – Jesus of the losers, Jesus of the refugees, of the hungry, the sick and the abused.

Did we hope for too much? Maybe we did. But I cannot stop hoping.

Climate Change: Who Speaks for Christianity?

The global Christian church is by far the world’s largest religious family. Among its various denominations, it accounts for more than 31 percent of the earth’s population – almost one out of every three people in the world.

For the casual observer, it’s hard to know exactly what the global church thinks about the topic of climate change. Here in the US, some Christian activists stand with he late-great Rev. John Stott, who warned that “of all the global threats that face our planet, climate change is the most serious.” But others go with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, claiming that global warming is “the greatest hoax” ever sold to mankind.  Still others see the effect of climate change, but believe it to be a sign of the “end times.”

When you have 2.1 billion people in your church – and tens of thousands of denominations – it’s not so easy figuring out the “official position,” is it? But it’s not impossible either. And that’s because within global Christianity, there are major segments whose adherents follow and respect specific authorities and governing bodies. Here’s a brief tally:christian-traditions-chart-1

Roman Catholic Church: The largest entity in global Christianity is the Catholic Church, representing 1.2 billion adherents, or 53% of global Christianity. And just this month, Catholic Bishops from around the world assembled to issue a call to “overcome the climate challenge and to set us on new sustainable pathways.”

Their spokesman, Monsignor Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference, said: “We bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe have engaged in intense dialogue on the issue of climate change, because we can see it’s the poorest people who are impacted the most, despite the fact they’ve contributed the least to causing it.”

The U.S. Bishops, it turns out, are in full agreement, having issued many calls to address climate pollution. “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures,” they wrote in 2001. “It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis asked his fellow Catholics to acknowledge the truth of climate change and to protect the planet: “… if we destroy Creation,” he said, “Creation will destroy us!” Next summer, the Pope plans to release an encyclical specifically addressing climate change. But until he does, let’s stick with the Bishops, and put the first 53% of the global church in the climate-change-believer column.

Orthodox Church: And for simplicity, let’s turn next to the Eastern Orthodox Church. At 210 million adherents, they’re a somewhat-smaller 9.3% of global Christianity. But the Orthodox Church also has a linear authority structure, so it’s comparatively simple to know where they stand. And where they stand is no secret. Patriarch Bartholomew, sometimes called the “Green Patriarch,” has frequently spoken about climate change:

“In our efforts to contain global warming, we are ultimately admitting just how prepared we are to sacrifice some of our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: ‘Enough!’ When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of future generations?”

Protestants: So that’s the low-hanging fruit: Catholics and Orthodox constituting 62% of world Christianity, on record as serious about climate change as a matter of faith. But the rest is a little more fragmented. For example, 750 million people identify themselves as Protestants, but there are thousands of denominations. Fortunately, most have affiliated themselves with ecumenical bodies that speak out on vital issues of the day. For Protestants, there are some prominent ones: The Lausanne Movement on World Evangelism, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the Anglican Communion. Together, they cover the bases for most Protestants: evangelicals, charismatics and mainline church members. So where do these bodies stand?

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town, 2010

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town called the church to address climate change

  • Lausanne Cape Town: Representing evangelicals from more than 200 countries, more than 4,000 Lausanne conferees met in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010 to adopt this statement: “We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its biodiversity. Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.”
  • Lausanne Jamaica: The Cape Town declaration called for subsequent meetings to further develop evangelical action plans. In 2012, a global creation-care working group met in Jamaica to affirm this statement: “Many of the world’s poorest people … are being devastated by violence against the environment in many ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress and pollution are but a part. We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.”
  • World Evangelical Alliance: Claiming to represent 600 million evangelical Christians from 129 nations, the WEA co-sponsored the 2012 Jamaica conference with the Lausanne Movement, and contributed to its declaration, summarized above.
  • World Council of Churches: The mainline-Protestant WCC is deeply engaged in matters related to climate change, and has issued the following statement, among many others: “Human-induced climate change is being precipitated primarily by the high-consumption lifestyles of the richer industrialized nations and wealthy elites throughout the world, while the consequences will be experienced disproportionately by impoverished nations, low-lying island states, and future generations. Climate change is thus a matter of international and inter-generational justice.”
  • Anglican Communion: 85 million people in 165 countries identify themselves as Anglican or Episcopalian. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been unequivocal about the threat of global warming. Among many statements on the topic, in 2009 he said: “We all have to do more to face the challenges of climate change.  Faith communities have a crucial role to play…. We must do our bit and encourage others to do theirs. Together we can and we will make a difference”.

No doubt, there are Protestant churches which are not affiliated with any of these entities. But they represent a small fraction of the 750 million Protestant believers around the world. So for all intents and purposes, we can add most of another 33% – the world’s Protestants – to the movement of Christians whose churches affirm the need to address climate change as a matter relevant to their faith. And that brings us to the range of 90-95%.

And what about the churches that have gone on record denying the importance of climate action? Well, we’ve looked and looked. And while we’ve found scattered instances of climate deniers who cite faith as a basis for their disbelief, none (so far) actually represent any Christian churches or denominations.

In your church, you might have thought that climate change was a controversial topic, something to avoid so as to steer clear of a nasty spat. But unless we’ve made some unlikely math errors, the overwhelming majority of your brothers and sisters – or perhaps all of them – belong to movements on record as committed to climate stewardship as a core matter of faith.

And that’s good news! Now, you don’t have to be a “crazy prophet”   to speak out about caring for God’s creation in a world beset by drought, flood, famine and extinction.

Tar Sands: When it’s Hard to Pray in Jesus’ Name

How do you proclaim your faith, when that faith is culturally aligned with injustice?

American Christians who are actively seeking to care for the creation routinely face this conundrum, as our religious heritage is so often used to provide moral cover for systems of power that despoil the earth and harm the poor. We know, of course, that our own scriptures tell us to “subdue the earth;” we are granted “dominion” over the works of God’s hand; and the gospel confers almost infinite value on the individual person. Taken together, these notions can be used to provide the ideological underpinnings of the exploitative economy and the hyper-individualism that often prevents us from acting for the common good.

Nothing really new here. Thoughtful Christians can rebut the errors that flow from these notions, of course. But the last two months have confronted me with another arena of injustice where we Americans – and our dominant cultural faith – are generally on the wrong side of God’s justice. I’ve seen it because I’ve been invited twice to participate with indigenous North Americans in their struggle for the most basic elements of justice. In this brief span, I’ve been confronted with two wonders: the amazing level of hospitality and inclusion extended to Christians like me by these communities; and the extent of my religion’s historical participation in oppression and genocide, together with our ongoing disregard for its still-surviving victims.

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Last month, I was among a group of Evangelicals invited to participate with the Cowboy Indian Alliance in their Reject & Protect action in Washington. They were there to demand a voice in the decision whether to permit a Canadian pipeline company to seize indigenous and rancher lands in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas for the Keystone XL pipeline. And today, I’m on my way home from the Healing Walk in Alberta, Canada, where native peoples are struggling for their very survival in the face of rampant oil-industry pollution of their supposedly treaty-protected lands and waters.

In each case, I came to pray, intending to bring with me the gracious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recalled the story of Peter and John speaking to the lame beggar at Jerusalem’s gate: “Silver and gold have I none. But what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.” It’s a pretty triumphant story, isn’t it? Continue reading

Why Good Dads Need to Hear About Climate from Their Kids

I was always puzzled at the historical acclaim given among Jews and Christians to Hezekiah, King of Judah in the time of the prophet Isaiah. The Bible tells us that “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” and that “he was highly regarded by all nations.” I doubt my dad could have claimed as much. How about yours?

But even such a good man was willing, as hard as this may be to believe, to subject his children to misery, so long as it happened after his lifetime. When Isaiah foretold the coming ruin of his nation, and the slavery of his children in Babylon, Hezekiah accepted it without a whimper. “Why not,” he said, “if there will be peace and security in my days?”

Genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery and exile are nasty things. But if they happen after I’m gone, maybe I can somehow make my peace with that.

Now, if you ask me whether such a thought could possibly lurk in some corner of my heart, I would take great offense. So would every parent I know. But, in fact, we older people seem to have some difficulty mustering up concern about future generations. Note for example, how older people view climate change: 49% of all Americans below the age of 50 agree that humans are changing the global climate, according to the Pew Research Center. But if you ask the 50-plus crowd, that percentage takes a 9-point drop to only 40%.

Now age alone can’t explain such a huge shift in views of science. Could it be that we older folks just have less of a future to worry about? Good King Hezekiah wasn’t immune to this temptation. Are we?

One person who’s willing to ask the question is Evangelical climate activist Anna Jane Joyner. Her father is a leading Christian pastor, and highly respected in many countries. But Ms. Joyner took the risk of taking their inter-generational conversation into the public sphere, in an open letter published last week in the Huffington Post. Maybe this will trigger some useful discussions with your parents, or anyone who is older than you. I pray that it will.

An Open Letter to My Daddy Who Doesn’t Accept Climate Change

This poignant letter is to my father, who is among the most powerful evangelical ministers in the world. Pastor Rick Joyner heads MorningStar Ministries, a global group with over 100 churches and partners in dozens of countries. My father won’t accept that climate change is human-caused. In this Sunday night’s episode of Years of Living Dangerously, Showtime at 10 p.m., I take him to meet scientists and see the situation on the ground. I wrote this open appeal to him. Anna Jane Joyner

Dear Daddy,

As you know, combating climate change is my life’s work. I believe it is the greatest challenge of our time. I feel a deep duty, to both my faith and my generation, to spread this message. We are the first generation that knows how serious the stakes are, as well as the last to be able to do something about it in time.

Anna Jane Joyner and father at recent film opening

Anna Jane Joyner and father, Rev. Rick Joyner, at recent film opening

I learned from you that we are called on to protect God’s creation and to love our neighbors. I write you today because we need your leadership to achieve a bright future for all of us – and our children.

Fossil fuels have brought the world many wonderful things, but now we know they come with a high price – an unimaginably high price if we don’t act soon to start transitioning off of them. We need to create a world where our energy needs are met without depending on fossil fuels that make us sick and heat up our planet. We can only do this together.

Daddy, I know you are someone who takes stewardship of creation as a moral mandate. I believe ignoring climate change is inconsistent with our faith. The risks are massive, and the science is clear. If we do nothing, our planet will face severe impacts, and billions of people will be hurt, most of whom contributed little or nothing to the problem. How is that just? How is that loving our neighbors?

Many people are already being negatively impacted, such as our friends, the oystermen, in Apalachicola, along with people from Texas to Bangladesh, from Syria to Staten Island — whose powerful stories are told in the Showtime series you and I appear in, “Years of Living Dangerously.”

It’s not just livelihoods at stake; it is our lives, God’s greatest gift to us. Daddy, will you use your voice to be a part of the solution? Christians are believers in resurrection, renewal, and salvation – even against all odds. We can help bring much needed light and healing to this situation, or we can allow misinformation and myopia to continue to be a hurdle to hope.

You are right, we do need truth. And now, more than ever, we also need action. I hope you’ll join me in working to overcome this great challenge, maybe the greatest our planet has ever faced. You and I both know our faith has risen to the occasion before and overcome great injustice and incredible obstacles. I hope we can come together, and do it now. For our planet and for each other.

Love you,

Anna Jane

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Why Do American Religious Bloggers Deny Climate Science?

 

I’m sitting next to a madman.

No, really. From his perch at the next coffee shop table, he rails aloud at an unseen adversary: “I’m speaking to you in the language of reason, logic and common sense! But to you, it might as well be Swahili!”

His long grey beard and shoulder-length hair fit well with the nonstop Jeremiad. You’d think he’d eventually tire, but the filibuster goes on and on. I relax for a moment while he visits the restroom. But then he’s back, and the tirade resumes. “If it weren’t for premarital relations, we wouldn’t even be here!! … Martin Luther King should have kept his mouth shut!!” Or whatever.

I don’t hear much logic, or much reason. But he does.

Funny, but at the same time, I’m reading comments in the Christian Post in response to the excellent article written by evangelical climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman. The scientists wrote to rebut the bizarre assertion by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh: that you can’t both believe in God and believe the findings of climate science.

The article is great, as was an earlier rebuttal by Christian pastor Mitch Hescox. But the comments are – for the most part – simply unbelievable. To me, they might as well be Swahili. Maybe my friend at the next table could help me understand. Here’s a sampling:

Comment A: 98% of people who hold to the view of manmade global warming voted at least one time for Barack Obama. I would be surprised if the contributors of this article are not in [that] category. Which makes me wonder why they are even allowed to contribute. Perhaps, they feel the need to just to stir up controversy, instead of Godly edification.

Translation: Even though I don’t know anything about other people’s votes, you don’t have to take evangelicals seriously if I can drop the hint that they might have voted for a presidential candidate that I don’t like – even if he claims faith in Christ, belongs to a Christian church and ran first against a non-church-member and then against a committed Mormon. And the Christian Post shouldn’t even allow scientists to speak up if they agree with the 97 percent of their colleagues who accept mainstream views of manmade climate change.

Continue reading

Evangelical Scientists Answer Rush Limbaugh on Climate Change and Christian Faith

BY KATHARINE HAYHOE AND THOMAS ACKERMAN

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words, that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

Specifically, during a recent segment on his radio show Limbaugh stated, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

Picture3From the very beginning of the Bible, the goodness of God’s Creation and God’s love for people is front and center. In Genesis, humans are tasked with stewardship of the earth and its creatures. The Psalms praise the beauty of the earth. The gospels exhort us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The epistles emphasize the importance of caring for those in need. It is hard to read through Scripture and not be convinced that caring for people and for the environment in which we live is part of our vocation as humans. It is something we are called to do in order to live faithfully in the world.  Continue reading

Does a Faithful Christian Fear Climate Change?

Two weeks ago, we saw a revealing  exchange between a talk radio host and a Christian pastor regarding the nexus between global environmental threats and the Christian faith. It began with a cynical argument hatched by Rush Limbaugh that followed this line of reasoning:

Christians believe that God rules his creation. Climate science warns that man-made climate change poses an existential threat to much of that creation. However, since no one but God can “destroy the world” he’s made, such notions betray unbelief, or worse.

Along came Rev. Mitch Hescox, leader of Evangelical Environmental Network, who exposed Limbaugh’s silliness for what it was. We posted Hescox’s riposte here. But as right as the pastor certainly was, I think that some of us would do well to ask some serious questions about the Christian gospel and today’s climate crisis. In particular, what assurance can we find in the gospel – if any – that the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change will not befall our race, or the ecosystems upon which we – and all other creatures – rely?

This issue actually comes up all the time. In one example, I was talking last year with a brilliant environmental leader at the height of the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline. As we discussed our planetary headlong rush into climate imbalances not seen for millions of years, the conversation turned to my faith in a sovereign God.

“I envy you,” she told me. “I wish I had that kind of hope.”

Fair enough. A robust faith in Christ certainly does offer hope that eludes even the most optimistic agnostic – a hope rooted in the physical resurrection of Christ and the promised reconciliation and renewal of the entire creation. Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums it up beautifully:

What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we ‘leave it behind altogether.’ They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom. (Surprised by Hope, p. 193) 

Gospel hope isn’t rooted in a vague notion that everything will work out all right in the end, but in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead and the coming kingdom of God.

But hold on a moment! What does gospel hope really mean in concrete terms now as we face today’s imponderable ecological catastrophes? What consequences of our race’s abuse of God’s creation can the faithful rule out? What extinctions? What famines? What floods? What pandemics? What resource conflicts?  Continue reading