“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.”
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.