Tag Archives: evangelicals

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 Third Door: Donald Trump As God’s Servant

In 2012, a respected friend in my church asked me, in passing, who I was supporting in that year’s presidential elections. “Do you like Romney?” he asked. “Or maybe Gingrich or Santorum?”

For a moment, I was at a loss for words. It wasn’t that political conversation was off limits in our church, which is evangelical and Reformed, but not openly partisan. It was the unexamined assumption that my support would go to one of those three, or perhaps Bachman, Cain or Perry –all vying for the GOP nomination.

In fact, I wasn’t crazy about any of those candidates. I was one of the millions of Christians who, four years earlier, had suspended past party allegiances in the wreckage of the banking disaster, the Great Recession, climate denial and reckless unfunded wars – to vote instead for “hope and change.” The awkward fact was, four years later, I wasn’t ready to go back just yet.

Evangelical Christianity among white Americans in recent years has seemingly become almost synonymous with allegiance to the Republican Party. The Pew Center tells us that 56% of evangelicals identify as Republicans, a gaping 28-point spread over the 28% who identify as Democrats.

Evangelicals are presented with two "batch ideologies" today

Evangelicals are presented with two “batch ideologies”

But it’s not necessarily intuitive, is it? For argument’s sake, some might imagine that Christians would gravitate toward political platforms focused on “good news to the poor,” maybe? For better healthcare for those who can’t afford it, and for livable wages for the disadvantaged? For medical assistance to the poorest, such as Medicaid? Or for wider voting rights assuring a voice to every person?

We might suppose that those who affirm that “the earth is the Lord’s” would be among the first to support efforts to clean up toxins in the air, soil and water. As followers of the Prince of Peace, they might be among the most cautious regarding runaway military spending and the use of deadly force abroad. At home, they might entertain serious doubts about the proliferation of weapons that can snuff out sacred human lives in an instant. They might prioritize biblical welcome for “sojourners,” immigrants fleeing hunger or violence in their homelands.

But curiously, few of these moral issues seem to have mattered enough yet to shake evangelical allegiances to the GOP. One issue would seem to silence all others: If you’re a “pro-life” politician regarding abortion, evangelicals would seem to be willing to overlook all manner of life-threatening postures that would seem strange to many readers of the biblical Gospels.

It’s not that it’s so strange that evangelicals haven’t become Democrats. What’s strange is that so many are so unquestioningly aligned with the Republicans, libertarians, or free-market conservatives.

But this year, things might possibly be different. I have the hardest time imagining any of my fellow congregants asking me seriously if I intend to support Donald Trump. No matter how many times Trump waves his confirmation-class Bible and swears that it’s his favorite (or second-favorite) book, Christians understand that he has little clue as to its contents, nor much interest in its directives.

And that’s why I’m wondering – seriously – if Trump doesn’t perhaps have a special place in God’s plans for his church in America. Trump, I believe, just might be God’s anointed servant in 2016.

Trump? God’s servant? I admit, it does sound outlandish. But consider biblical history. The prophet Jeremiah must have sent shock waves throughout Judah when he proclaimed to Jerusalem that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was God’s servant. The pagan King of Babylon, poised to carry them into exile, was specially chosen by God: “I have given all these lands to … my servant …. All nations shall serve him” (Jeremiah 27:4-8).

The prophet Isaiah bestowed the same honor on Cyrus, the King of Persia, naming him as God’s anointed.  “I will go before you,” Isaiah prophesied regarding the pagan Cyrus. “I call you, I name you, though you do not know me…” (Isaiah 45:1-6).

If God anointed the kings of Babylon and Persia as his servants, why couldn’t he use the Boss of “The Apprentice?” The Master of Trump Tower?

Okay, in theory at least, I might just have a point. But what on earth might God have in mind for the vulgar real estate billionaire? What role could megalomania and narcissism have in God’s plans?

Well, maybe it’s this: What if the greatest obstacle to God’s purposes for America was something other than ISIS, underemployment, or intrusive bureaucracy? What if it had something to do with political idolatry that has crept into the community of faith – merging the Way of Jesus with the way of Ronald Reagan? And what if Trump’s crassness, egotism and petulance should simply prove too much for evangelicals – driving them to critically evaluate those seeking positions of power from either Party?

In our day, religious people are presented with two “batch ideologies” to choose from – two brightly painted doors at the end of the hallway to the voting booth. Behind the Red Door is public declaration of faith in the Christian tradition, individual liberty, gun ownership, opposition to abortion, law and order, military muscle, aggressive foreign policy, American exceptionalism and tax cuts. Behind the Blue Door is secular tolerance, assistance for the poor, legal abortion, multilateral foreign policies, inclusive governance, racial reconciliation, progressive taxation, regulation of commerce and protection of the environment.

In our world, it seems that there are only two doors. We must enter one or the other, and check all the boxes as our own. For the most part, white evangelicals have chosen the Red Door.

But it wasn’t always so. In the 1960’s, American Christians split their votes about evenly between the two Parties. Before Reagan, they supported Carter in droves. Perhaps they somehow recognized that allegiance to Christ superseded any single ideology. Maybe they knew that the call of individual rights found its basis in the Bible, but so did the communitarian vision of “Shabbat shalom.” Maybe the scripture enshrined personal liberty, but also mandated practical equality among all.

Can there be a Third Door for Christians?

Can there be a Third Door for Christians?

Maybe God was neither Republican nor Democrat.

Today, perhaps, maybe there is a Third Door. Maybe that door is neither Blue nor Red, but one that stands apart, supporting and confronting politicians from an ethic rooted in the Prophets, in the Gospels, in the Torah. Maybe “Jesus is Lord” means that Caesar is NOT Lord – nor Kennedy, nor Reagan, nor anyone else.

The Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums this up possibly as well as anyone: “The followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be held accountable. On the contrary. Because they are God’s servants they may well need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”

If so, then surely, Donald Trump could be God’s servant in this age, sent to break the bond that shackles evangelicals to one single incarnation of Caesar in our day. Surely Trump could be the man who can lead us as Christians – unknowingly, perhaps – to the Third Door.

Evangelical Conversion on Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, the Evangelical community has long been an outlier among American social groups. That all changed dramatically this year. In the short span of six months, evangelicals have swung from a minority of 49% accepting that global warming is happening, to fully 65% acceptance. They are now slightly more likely than mainstream Protestants to believe in climate science, and almost as likely as the average American, 70% of whom affirm that global warming is happening.

The poll conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has been compiled every six months since 2008. While evangelicals initially held beliefs very similar to those of Catholics, Protestants and other Americans, the gap widened in 2012, with evangelicals falling 10-15% below other religious groups.

But as of November 2015, evangelicals now fall squarely in the mainstream of climate science. Of greater importance, evangelicals affirm a moral obligation in connection with climate change. 68% of evangelicals now say that the US has a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Picture1

The Michigan/Muhlenberg polling organization summarized its finding as follows:

  1. Acceptance of global warming is up among all Americans, regardless of creed. The most notable gains in the last six months, however, have been among Evangelical Christians, whose belief rose 16 points from 49% in Spring 2015 to 65% this Fall, considerably narrowing the gap between Americans of different faiths.
  2. Pope Francis and his call to action on the issue of climate change may have contributed to this rise in acceptance, with 15% of Americans saying they are now more convinced global warming is happening and that we should act to address this matter as a result of the Papal Encyclical.
  3. Americans are more likely to tie their attitudes about climate change to moral convictions, rather than religious beliefs. While less than a quarter (23%) of Americans say their religious beliefs affect their views on how government should deal with the issue of global warming, 75% agree that rich countries like the US have a moral obligation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Fewer than half (49%) of Americans think religious leaders should discuss environmental issues within the context of their faith, but most (60%) support Pope Francis’ call to action to address global warming.

Wendell Berry, the Christian Soul, and Creation Care

Who cares more about protecting the Creation: evangelical Christians, or secular agnostics?

Courtesy Ruth Wheeler

Courtesy Ruth Wheeler

To most of my friends engaged in conservation or environmental justice, the answer seems obvious. “Don’t you know,” they ask me, “that evangelicals are the main supporters of those working to muzzle the EPA and gut the rules governing the most toxic power plants? Aren’t they the ones always questioning the global consensus on climate change, and cheering on the tar sands, strip miners and frackers?”

Well, I wish I had a better answer, because it’s not so easy to dispute the charges. And yet, I’ve noticed something perplexing. Even though my secular friends are much more likely to accept the findings of environmental science, precious few of them show much interest in the hard lifestyle choices that will be necessary to prevent the collapse of global ecosystems. Granted, they know that exploitation and abuse of the Creation is stupid. But stupid isn’t enough. Sure, stupid will win debates. But knowing what’s stupid hasn’t done much to transform a global culture built upon me-first consumerism.

And it’s here that the gospel offers hope that’s almost certainly beyond the capacity of secular thought. That’s because the Creation desperately needs a community of people who know that abuse of the Creation is much worse than stupid. This is the time for a community with a deep awareness that abuse of what God has made is actual blasphemy – a desecration of the holy gifts of a just and sovereign God, hurling the work of the Creator back into his glorious face. Those are the people with the compelling passion – fueled by numinous awe – to restore the possessions and inheritance of their Redeemer.

But where are they, you ask? Well, unfortunately, you won’t find many in American evangelical churches. Not that this makes much sense. The Bible that we evangelicals presume to embrace affirms God’s love for all of his Creation; it declares that all of it is good; that it belongs to God, not mankind; that God linked himself forever to it by taking on the dust of Earth in the incarnation; and that now, the purpose of his kingdom is the renewal and reconciliation of every single thing.

You’d think that people who embraced that Book would be all over Creation care. But it’s taking us some time to exorcise a particularly corrosive heresy that undermines much of what scripture commands regarding the physical world and the common good. Once again, it’s the corrupting influence of dualism – that insidious notion that we humans are some uncomfortable marriage of “body” and “soul,” each one vying for supremacy, each one offering us a choice between lofty “things above” and contemptible “things on Earth.”

The Christian poet Wendell Berry speaks persuasively into the culture of dualism, in both its religious and secular varieties. In recent weeks, we’ve given you samplings (here, and here) from his collection of essays, The Art of the Commonplace. There’s plenty here for people of every persuasion. But from my perspective, as a devoted member of this particular tribe, it’s evangelicals who have the most to gain from his prophetic voice. And once they do, I suspect the world will never be the same.

Wendell Berry on Dualism v. Love of the Creation

We can see how easy it is to fall into the dualism of body and soul when talking about the inescapable worldly dualities of good and evil or time and eternity. And we can see how easy it is when Jesus asks – “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – to assume that he is condemning the world and appreciating the disembodied soul.

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It’s Time for the National Association of Evangelicals to Step Up

Rev. Charles Redfern

Rev. Charles Redfern

Written by Rev. Charles Redfern

Think of it as the gentleman in the tweed cap or the lady in horse riding apparel. The National Association of Evangelicals has emblematized dignity and poise since its 1942 inception. Perhaps its first president, the late Harold Ockenga, branded it with his personality when he — along with Edward J. Carnell, Carl Henry, Daniel Fuller, and others — cracked fundamentalism’s isolationist shell and emerged as the intellectually muscular “new evangelicals,” eager for debate, dialogue, and cultural engagement. Disparate denominations and organizations from Charismatic, Holiness, and Reformed traditions gather in the NAE manor.

Such is the NAE’s noble past, but it now faces a decisive 21st-century test. The gentleman must roll up his sleeves while the lady summons the children. Can they remember Ockenga’s savvy boldness? Will they be brave? Will they risk controversy and do the right thing? Will its board see through the reek of qualms and fears at its October meeting and validate a petition drive “to affirm publicly the reality of human-induced climate change and endorse the responsibility of individuals, churches, and the federal government to act to reduce carbon emissions and protect our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren”?

No doubt some will worry over potential dissensions and withdrawals and accusations of left-wing pandering; others may call for tabling and further study; still others may file the time-honored balk: “We’re not ready yet.” More possible deflections: What about evangelism and spirituality? And prayer? And Bible study? And theology? And youth (shouldn’t we fix a laser-focus on teens?)? And abortion and birth control and government spending and poverty and greed? And more fears of disunity — never risk that vital unity …

Picture5Consider: Isn’t truth-evading unity kindred with an identity-robbing computer hacker? Our credibility vaporizes. No one listens. The organization re-seals itself in fundamentalism’s anti-intellectual cave, with its censure of mainline waffling dismissed as hypocrisy: “What’s the difference between you and those supposedly truth-evading theological liberals?” Consider Deborah Fikes’ insight when she interwove youth outreach with the climate change battle. Adolescents face an adulthood of deserts, droughts, rising sea levels, and storms. Ignoring their future in the name of evangelism hardly sounds like “good news.” And consider once more: When, precisely, will we be ready? All other major branches of Christianity — Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism — have repudiated denial. We’re at risk of aligning ourselves with outliers and fringe thinkers.

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Can Evangelicals Explore Climate Warnings Without Fear?

Written by Rev. Charles Redfern
Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern: writer, pastor, activist

The coal mine’s canary is hacking, spitting, gasping, and turning blue – so yell at it.  Question its motives.  Tell it the fumes are imaginary.  Drop hints that it’s wheezing a heretical wheeze.

Cold reality prompts the canary’s cough.  Fact: The world’s glaciers are shrinking.  Fact: The polar ice caps are melting.  Fact: 2012 was America’s warmest recorded year and the world’s ninth hottest.[1]  Another fact: Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman discovered that 97% of all active climatologists are agreed – human activity spurs the Earth’s rising temperatures and glacial melting.[2]  Then there are the reports: A federal advisory draft released in January, 2013, predicted catastrophe unless policies change,[3] as did a World Bank warning in November, 2012.[4]  A recent UN study reveals that this century’s first decade was the hottest in 160 years.[5]

These facts and reports – as well as droughts and a super storm – resemble that poor canary, whose death signaled dangerous methane levels and the need for action.

This Is Easy

Surely evangelical Christians, my tribe, can explore this dilemma without fear. No historic creed is at stake and Scripture advocates creation care:  We’re the Lord’s designated stewards (Genesis 1:27-30).  We were called to “guard” God’s sanctuary (a more literal rendering of the wording in Genesis 2:15).  Our Earthly rule fits Walter Kaiser’s description: “The gift of ‘dominion’ over nature was not intended to be a license to use or abuse selfishly the created order in any way men and women saw fit. In no sense were humans to be bullies and laws to themselves.”[6]  Kaiser is right: God’s leadership motif is “help” (Psalm 121:1-2), and service (Matthew 20:28). Psalm 19:1-4 testifies to God’s glory in creation and Romans 8:18-22 looks forward to its redemption.  Kudos to Francis of Assisi, who cherished the animals and plants. Continue reading