Tag Archives: Pope Francis

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?

Summer of Trump Yields to Autumn of Francis

And I can hardly wait.

Because it’s been a really long summer. And that’s coming from a man – an old, white man, at that. Makes me wonder how women and people of color must be feeling.

But still, it’s been grueling. It’s not just the narcissism, or the rudeness, or the stupidity, or the frivolity. It’s this: That constant drumbeat that we need to keep them out, suppress them, even kill them.

Them. You know, THEM.

Maybe they’re rapists and criminals. Maybe they’re terrorists. Maybe they’re stealing our jobs. Maybe they want us to acknowledge that their lives matter. THEM.

We need to build walls against THEM. We need to deport THEM. We need to stop THEM from devaluing their currency. We can’t let THEM vote.

I wish it were just Trump. But it seems almost everyone wants to make sure he’s not out-Trumped by anyone else. It seems to be the easiest ticket to popularity in an American election season: Make sure everyone hates and fears the dark and sinister THEM.

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)But while I hear it every night on the news, during the day I’ve been reading Pope Francis’ wonderful letter “On Care for Our Common Home,” or “Laudato Si’ (Be praised, my Lord).” If there are more striking polar opposites, I can’t think of any more pronounced than the message peddled by Trump (and Trump wannabees), and the hopeful message of Francis.

And that’s because – at least in part – Francis doesn’t recognize that any of us are THEM. The title of Laudato Si’ gives you the first clue: “Care for Our Common Home.” OUR home. Our COMMON home. It’s not an American home over here, and a Mexican, Syrian or Chinese home over there. It’s one home, shared by everyone, protected for everyone, or polluted for everyone. Treasured for everyone, or debased for everyone.

“We need to strengthen the conviction,” says Francis, “that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”

“Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

But back here in the Summer of Trump, we’re treated nightly to plans to build a 2,000-mile wall to keep THEM out. “Nobody builds better walls than me, believe me,” says the orange-haired fellow. Never mind that net migration across that particular border is actually ZERO.

But for Trump and the keep-THEM-out crowd, their worst fears are about to be realized. They are – in fact – coming. THEM. But in this case, THEM is a smiling, one-lunged, Argentinian priest and his collection of bishops from all over the world.

He’s going to be greeted by throngs that will put to shame the pitiful little crowds that cheer and sneer for Trump. And Francis is not just going to comfort his audience with assurances that we are all common creatures of one loving Lord and Father. He’s got some tough love for us: We, on THIS side of the border, owe a staggering debt to THEM, on the other side.

“A true ‘ecological debt’ exists,” he has said, “particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries (you know who he’s talking about, don’t you?) over long periods of time.”

In effect, we’ve been polluting the whole world’s atmosphere for so long, and gotten so rich by doing so, that we are far worse than mere equals of our poorer migrant brothers. We are, Pope Francis points out, deeply in hock to those who are suffering the global effects of our 200-year fossil-fuel binge.

So when Francis speaks publicly in Philadelphia or Washington, I’ll find a way to be in the crowd. I don’t expect to be entertained. I know that all quarter-million of us on the National Mall will be among the “twenty percent of the world’s population” that “consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive,” according to Francis.

I expect him to tell us that we need to consume and pollute far less for the sake of our children. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes,” he has written. “Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice.”

I don’t expect it to be all that much fun. But I plan to be there. Because maybe, just maybe, the summer of stoking fear of THEM is finally yielding to the autumn of US.

If so, I want to be part of it.

J. Elwood

Download Laudato Si’ Digest : our own thumbnail version of Pope Francis’ letter “On Care For Our Common Home.”

Pray With Us for the Creation!

We would like to invite you to participate in what may be the first truly global response by Christians to our many environmental crises. You can do it by joining in a Telephonic Prayer Meeting organized by Evangelical Christians engaged in various Creation Care ministries.

  • When? Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-8:50 PM  Eastern, 5:00-5:50 Pacific
  • Call in instructions: Dial 1-302-202-1106 – Conference code: 381142 (Kindly mute your line upon connecting.)
  • Who’s involved? Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance, the Lausanne evangelistic movement’s Creation Care Network, Care of Creation, Climate Caretakers, Sojourners, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the A Rocha Christian conservation ministry, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church and Christians for the Mountains, among many others – including Beloved Planet!
  • How can I participate? Download the Pray for Creation prayer guide, call in and join numerous speakers in scripture readings, devotions and prayer for our world, for repentance, for those in power, and for the church. And forward this email to your friends, small group members, pastors, family members and the like. There’s room for everyone to join in prayer!

earthVirtually the entire global Christian Church has embraced next Tuesday, September 1 as a Global Day of Prayer for Care of the Creation. Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Communion inaugurated the observance some twenty-five years ago, calling on “every person, and above all the faithful, to constantly watch over his fellow man and the world, for the benefit of us all and for the glory of the Creator.” Cheers for the Orthodox! 200 million Christians.

Last week, Pope Francis joined in on behalf of the world’s Roman Catholics. “The ecological crisis therefore calls us to a profound spiritual conversion,” wrote the Pope in announcing the Day of Prayer. “Christians are called to an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Cheers for the Catholics! Another 1.1 billion Christians. With the Orthodox, the tally reaches 1.3 billion people called to prayer for the beloved planet.

In no time at all, the World Council of Churches, representing roughly 500 million Protestant Christians in 110 countries committed to observing the Day of Prayer, and extending it for more than a month-long “Time for Creation.” Hooray WCC! The tally? Around 1.6 billion Christians.

And now, the Protestant World Evangelical Alliance, representing more than 600 million Christians in 129 countries has added their “Amen” to the Day of Prayer. That’s 2.2 billion Christians. And that’s just about all of us. All praying for God’s healing of our polluted planet. All repenting of our toxic consumerist idolatry. All praying for God’s people to rise up to protect our Father’s world.

You can join us, wherever you are. Pray for biblical simplicity of life. Pray for the poor, who disproportionately suffer the effects of pollution caused by others. Pray for those facing extreme weather – drought, flooding, and intense storms driving hunger, conflict and human migration. Pray for all who rely on marine ecosystems, in the face of worldwide ocean acidification. Pray for those in the path of rising sea levels and melting ice sheets. Pray for those in power, to commit to bold and compassionate action for people of every nation.

And if you’re free at 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Tuesday, then call in and join us for a few minutes. This is our Father’s world. Let’s pray – and then act faithfully – for its healing.

J. Elwood

Note: If you cannot make it to our Prayer Call, but still want to pray with others, then click here to access several calls being hosted by Evangelical Environmental Network.

Pope Francis: Who is my Neighbor?

New Jersey is my home. I live here, I farm here, and I pay taxes here. And that – those taxes, that is – can sometimes get on my nerves.

It’s not because of how much we pay. Really. It’s just this: we get so little back for the money we send to Washington. For every dollar in Federal taxes we pay in New Jersey, only 48 cents comes back to us. By contrast, our countrymen in famously tax-averse South Carolina receive a whopping $5.38 from the Feds for every dollar they pay. And they’re joined by fellow tax-haters – Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida, all of which get back more than double what they pay out.

At first, this really annoys me. But I’ve decided – after much soul-searching – that my reaction calls for more repentance, and less anger. Men and women in South Carolina are fellow citizens with us New Jersians. Why shouldn’t we give more to them, if we have the ability to meet their needs? They’re our fellow Americans, right?

In fact, our friends from Delaware are compelled to be even more generous, with benefits of only 31 cents on the tax dollar. And New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Nebraska aren’t far behind in subsidizing other states. But they shouldn’t complain either. This is what you do for the greater American family, right?

This issue came into focus last month as Greece teetered on the brink of default and expulsion from the European Union. Greece’s debts had run up to $323 billion Euros, and they just couldn’t keep up. Their European neighbors weren’t the slightest bit happy about it. But if the American states accounted for debt the way Europe has been doing it, then South Carolina and many of its neighboring states would be in a world of hurt. They’d never be able to repay what they’ve received, and the poor would become poorer yet.

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Europe, it seems, is still grappling with the question of what it means to be one people group, where those who can afford it help out those who can’t. But this raises a deeper question, doesn’t it? Who, in fact, is my neighbor? Where does entitlement to neighborly generosity end? With my family? Or my church? Or my town, state or country? Who should be able to count on my help? Of course, this question lurks just below the surface of many of our national policy debates.

And into this debate last month, Pope Francis jumped with both feet. In a 180-page letter addressed “to all people of goodwill,” the Pope stressed the intimate connectedness of all living things all over the world – to each other, and to God. His letter bears the Latin title “Laudato Si’” (“Praise be to You, My Lord”), but its subtitle is more informative: “On Care for Our Common Home.”

That “common home” language in the title tells us a lot about where the world’s largest Christian church is headed: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family,” wrote the Pope. “There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”

A single human family? Even South Carolinians? Even Greeks? Where does it end?

Well, if you’re like me – prone to fret over your tax money benefiting distant strangers – then the Pope’s teaching may feel like a splash of ice-cold water. Each and every human has a right to the bounty of the earth. Christ-followers, particularly, are bound to recognize this in submission to their Lord: “Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Consider a few of the Pope’s neighbor principles:

The fruits of the earth belong to the entire human family: “The gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone.”

Each person has sacred, holy value: “We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

The poor especially deserve our care and attention: “The poor have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters…. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

We need something like conversion to embrace our connection to people all over the earth: “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.”

We in the developed West will have to bear many costs of harms for which others are suffering: “The countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused.”

We must preserve and improve the earth for future generations, not extract and consume it for ourselves: “Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

Simplicity, not infinite growth, is required to make the world livable for its entire human family: “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes….”

Our vision for family loyalty must go beyond humanity, to all creatures that God creates and loves: “All creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.”

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Lofty words? Wishful naïveté? Well, maybe. But people can change. Let’s not forget that there was a time when people from my state would never have paid so dearly to benefit those strangers in South Carolina and Kentucky. But now, we think of them as something like family: one nation, under God – Isn’t that what we say?

Can we imagine a day when travelers on this wonderful, injured planet will begin to think that way of all God’s people and creatures?

J. Elwood

Evangelicals, Catholics and Climate Pollution: The Sleeping Giant is Stirring

This just might be the year.

After a string of losses and frustration spanning more than a decade, this looks like the year that efforts by the Christian faith community to protect the world’s climate systems are starting to pay off. When historians look back to pinpoint the turning point in the battle against climate catastrophe, I’m beginning to believe they will focus on this time – 2015.

Why this year? Well, consider:

  • The world’s two largest economies – the US and China – have finally agreed this year to serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and have called on the rest of the world to do the same.
  • With the global climate meetings planned for early December in Paris, the rest of the world is getting on board as well. So far, fifty-three countries representing the vast majority of the global economy have already submitted plans for cutting climate-warming pollution. Among them, Russia, Japan, and the entire European Union have joined the US and China, committing to significant reductions in carbon emissions.
  • The leader of the world’s largest religion, Pope Francis, has issued an urgent call to action by all Christians to protect the creation in the face of manmade climate impacts that fall most heavily on the poor.
  • And with the pivotal climate summit in Paris only four months away, American evangelical Christians have launched a new community – Climate Caretakers – committing themselves to prayer and action in response to the climate crisis.

Climate Caretakers isn’t remotely the first evangelical foray into the struggle to protect the creation from climate-warming pollution. During the past decade, American Christians issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative, concluding that “Christians must care about climate change….” The 190-nation evangelical Lausanne Movement issued a call to action, finding that “the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.” The Evangelical Environmental Network gathered many thousands of signatures in support of limits on carbon and mercury pollution from power plants. The National Association of Evangelicals clarified the link between Jesus’ command to love “the least of these” with the duty to protect the environment. The Christian Reformed Church adopted an exhaustive endorsement of the findings of climate science and called on all Christians to take action. And the Orthodox “green patriarch” Bartholomew has issued unrelenting calls for compassionate climate action, as have Anglican and other Protestant denominations.Sign CCC 2

But in launching Climate Caretakers, Christians are offering a simple way that the faithful can commit to pray and act in ways that demonstrate love for their Father by protecting his world, and to love others by protecting the natural systems vital to their survival. They are inviting Christians to do the following:

  • Affirm God’s purpose for his creation to flourish.
  • Confess the harm that we have each done to God’s world and his people.
  • Recognize the cloud of witnesses who testify to the impact of climate disruption upon the poor of the world.
  • Commit to faithful prayer and bold action in pursuit of lasting solutions to the climate crisis.

They envision a world in which delegates from every nation will be prayed for regularly as climate negotiations proceed; a world with thousands of Christians considering daily what it means to be a steward of their Father’s creation; one in which children know that their elders care deeply about the world they will inherit; and where policymakers know that they must answer to a growing movement of compassion for the innocent victims of unrestrained, unlimited and unpriced pollution.

The Climate Caretakers Commitment has been made by pastors, scientists, denominational leaders, educators and lay people. And it’s easy to join them, by signing the commitment at http://climatecaretakers.org .

This could well be the year that the dam of denial and apathy finally bursts under pressure from praying believers. All of us can be among those changing history by our faithful prayers and compassionate action. You are invited to join them.

And yet, the painful reality is that many otherwise compassionate Christians will remain disengaged. Some will be confused by the gaggle of “think-tanks” dedicated to manufactured doubt about climate science. Others will be lulled into inaction by airwaves choked with cheery ads about “clean coal” and “safe” fracking. Others will mistakenly conflate care for God’s creation with liberal politics. Still others will be tempted to give up, because of entrenched politicians smearing science as a “massive hoax” and vowing to scuttle even skeletal efforts at global climate cooperation.

But I believe that this tide too has begun to turn. We’re seeing today that the truth can only be suppressed for just so long. Today, a solid majority of voters in the key swing states support climate action. Politicians who once denied climate science have revised their script to simply assert that they are not scientists, hoping to satisfy their polluting donors while not appearing laughable to voters. Young people, Catholics, and people of color have become especially concerned about the climate crisis.

This may be the year that the tide finally turns. We all have a choice whether or not to engage for the sake of God’s world and his people. Or perhaps we’ll try to just get along. Won’t you join me in one small step? Log on to Climate Caretakers. Make the commitment to pray and act. It might not seem like much at first, but maybe you’ll end up being a hero to your grandkids.

It may take time, but let’s start praying – and acting – now.

J. Elwood

Laudato Si: The Cliff-Note Edition

We’ve all heard about the Papal Encyclical issued last month by Pope Francis. It’s titled “On Care for our Common Home,” and bears the common name “Laudato Si,” a Latin phrase taken from St. Francis’ famous prayer, The Canticle of Creation:

20150618cm01905“Be praised, my Lord, (“Laudato si, mi signore“) for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light….”

St. Francis goes on to praise God for the moon and stars, the wind and air, the water and fire, the earth and for human forgiveness, and even for death, which we all must face.

By invoking the title Laudato Si, Pope Francis is attempting to capture his namesake’s sense of oneness with the whole creation, and God’s love for and presence in all that he has made.

Now, this encyclical is no small thing. It runs for 180 pages, and has some 250 sections, organized into six major chapters.

This isn’t the first authoritative statement on creation care and climate change that has come from the Christian Church in recent years. In 2010, the Reformed Christian Church (CRC) adopted at their general synod a comprehensive 130-page Environmental Stewardship report. At Cape Town, South Africa, the worldwide evangelical Lausanne Movement included creation care, and the threat of climate change, in both their declaration of fatih and their call to action. And these have been preceded by the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), the Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation, the Micah Declaration on Care of Creation and Climate Change and the Oxford Declaration on Global Warming. And in addition to all of these, there are the many, many statements by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Anglican Communion, and mainline Protestant denominations.

These documents vary in length and scope, from the CRC’s careful approach to science, controversy and mission, to the ECI’s actionable commitments. But I would say that Laudato Si is so much different from these that it will likely be considered apart from them all. Here are a few reasons:

  1. It is addressed to 1.2 billion people, the world’s Roman Catholic faithful. That’s a lot of people.
  2. It is a meditative, quotable, beautiful letter. I fully expect that Hallmark Greeting Cards is setting up a department now, dedicated to the encyclical.
  3. It’s authoritative. No one asked American evangelicals if they planned to obey the Lausanne Cape Town commitment when it called on the global church to “engage in radical action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gases, the harm from which falls most heavily on the poor.” The evangelical world doesn’t speak that way. But the authority of Laudato Si is already being discussed in the Catholic Church, and it carries enormous weight.
  4. It is riskier than most other declarations. It borrows the language of St. Francis, which some will misread as pantheistic; and it challenges the existing world economic and technocratic orders in ways that others will misread as socialist.
  5. Finally, its scope is very broad, and links the calls to ecological discipleship with virtually every other aspect of social and personal holiness. If I had to choose a few words to summarize the Pope’s message, it would be this: Everything in God’s world is connected to everything else, and to Him. This is not theologically new, but I believe you’ll find that it goes beyond the previous creation-care declarations.

But here’s the thing: You’re not going to read it. Who has time? And who do you know who’s actually read an encyclical (besides me)?

Okay, okay. Some of you probably will. And if you want to read it all, then you can download the PDF for free right here: just click, and read for hours.

Or, if your time is tight just now, you can have the digest I’ve put together for you. Every single section is in there, but in synopsis, with all the most compelling quotes (or so I think). So go ahead, click on the link below, and get to know this wonderful letter.

Laudato Si Digest

J. Elwood

Who Owns the Air?

In 1960, my father stopped in Paris on his way home to Washington, DC, and for less than $1,000, bought himself a shiny new Renault Dauphine compact car. A few weeks later, it rolled onto a dock in New York harbor, on its way to our suburban Virginia driveway.

In an age of tail fins and chrome baubles, the Dauphine must have been the strangest sight in the neighborhood. Never a thing of beauty, the cartoonish little Dauphine was about half the size of everyone else’s car. And by the standards of JFK’s America, this car was about as ugly as they came.

Renault Dauphine 1960: An oddity in my childhood driveway

Renault Dauphine 1960: An oddity in my childhood driveway

But for this American first-grader, the memory of my dad’s Dauphine brings back an entirely different memory. I can still virtually taste it – the suffocating, acrid smell of my father’s cigarette smoke and ash tray. It permeated everything about the car. It coated the vinyl seats, and hung heavy in the air we breathed. Before the advent of seat belts and car seats, I would sometimes ride with my head out the window to escape the nauseating fumes. But it never occurred to either my father or me that something fundamentally wrong was going on.

This was America in 1960. It would be another four years before the Surgeon General would release his report on the health consequences of smoking, and three decades before the EPA would issue its findings on the hazards of second-hand smoke. The tobacco industry had already ramped up its disinformation campaign, which would go on for decades. To me, my dad was the embodiment of integrity and reason, but somehow it never occurred to any of us that he was making us sick.

Today, this would be unthinkable for most families. We recognize this simple truth: the cigarette may be yours, but the air is OURS. We all have to breathe – and the car, or the house, or the restaurant is not big enough to absorb your smoke without harming all of us. A revolution has occurred, whether or not we’ve noticed. We think differently now. The air is not yours or mine; it’s ours.

Last week, the revolution took two more big steps forward. First, the leader of the world’s largest religious group – the 1.3 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church – cast planet-warming greenhouse gases in the same light as my father’s cigarette smoke: harmful to all of us. And second, a sovereign state, the Netherlands, was ordered by one of its highest courts to make deep cuts in emissions of those same gases for the same reason.

This looks to me like the start of something big.

Pope Francis’ Ecological Encyclical

Of course, you haven’t missed Pope Francis’ authoritative encyclical, titled “Laudato Si” after St. Francis’ prayer beginning with the words: “Praise be to you, my Lord.” From the outset, Pope Francis linked his letter to our common reliance on the blessings of the created world. “Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone,” he wrote. “For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

As a child in the backseat of the smoky Dauphine, I would have grasped this truth intuitively – you can’t burn all those cigarettes – or all those fossil fuels – without someone else bearing the cost from pollution – of water, land and atmosphere.

At 180 pages in length, Laudato Si can’t be realistically summarized here. But Pope Francis warned of a global ecological crisis that summons Christians and all people to nothing less than a profound conversion.

“It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism,” he wrote, “tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

And because the injured ecological systems were created by God as gifts to us all, the gospel calls us to protect every “common good” – including the earth’s climate system. “The climate is a common good,” Francis wrote, “belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”150618115850-pope-encyclical-1-exlarge-169

Christianity is by far the largest religion on earth today, and the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest among us. You’d think that such an appeal would have a meaningful impact on the way our seven billion humans begin to deal with the ecological crisis, wouldn’t you?

(Note: The Pope is not remotely the first Christian to blaze this trail: in 2010, the worldwide evangelical Lausanne Movement declared that care for the creation is “a core element of the gospel,” and warned of the impact of manmade climate change on the poor. And the Christian Reformed Church in 2012 adopted an exhaustive report finding that “human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue,” and that climate pollution “poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.” Scores of other Christian declarations have echoed these messages; see a partial list here.)

But last week’s news featured something revolutionary in the secular world as well.

Dutch Court Orders Emissions Cuts

With their exposure to rising sea levels and progressive attitudes, I thought that the Netherlands would be a virtual poster child for climate protection, but I was mistaken. On average, the Dutch emit 10.2 tons of CO2 per person every year, a little more than half of the 17.2 tons emitted by Americans, but much worse than fellow Europeans in Germany, France and Britain. Leading up to the global climate negotiations in Paris this December, the Dutch government has announced plans to reduce emissions by 14-17% from 1990 levels by 2020. But last week, a Dutch judicial panel ruled that that wasn’t enough – because of the scale of the global threat from climate change.

Like the Pope, the judges recognized that the global ecosystem belongs to us all, and any state’s actions affect everyone, for better or worse. The Netherlands recognizes principles forbidding states from polluting to the extent that they damage other states, and the EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ which prohibits actions that carry unknown but potentially severe risks.

“The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the judges’ ruling said. “Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”

Could the Netherlands’ ruling impact other countries as well? I think so. There is a parallel case working its way through Belgian courts right now. So, what if Germany, France or the UK were next? At some point, might jurists in Brazil, India, Australia and Japan begin to mandate action as well? And Canada? And – just imagine! – the US?

The world is changing. Only fifty years ago, a good, loving father may have unquestioningly polluted the air his family breathed with cigarette smoke. Today, we pollute the atmosphere that governs climate systems in Bangladesh, Malawi and the Philippines – as well as here at home. But maybe it’s beginning to dawn on us that the air belongs to everyone.

The world’s largest church has recognized it. Christians all over the world have gone on record. Now, European courts are doing the same. Is it possible that carbon pollution is now headed the way of indoor tobacco smoke?

With hope that this has begun in earnest, we join St. Francis in his prayer Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord!” Amen!

J. Elwood