The Common Good

Brian McLaren: Joseph, Noah, and Pre-emptive Preservation

I've been thinking about the recent controversy regarding James Dobson and other conservative religious leaders who wrote a letter criticizing Richard Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals for taking the threat of global warming seriously. They described global warming as a distraction from the top moral issues of the day. Their perspective made many of us from an evangelical heritage feel that we are living on another planet from these religious leaders.

I don't know why I never thought of the comparison before, but this evening the biblical story of Joseph came to mind. He issued a warning - with no real scientific evidence - of a coming drought. The leadership of Egypt heeded his warning and began stockpiling food so that their people wouldn't starve if and when the drought materialized.

As scientists go beyond identifying the threat of climate change to predicting its impact on global civilization, I wonder what it might look like for our nation and the nations of the world to take joint ameliorative action regarding greenhouse gases, and to take precautionary action regarding water and food. I wonder what it might be like for people of faith, like Joseph, to take a catalytic role in these efforts. And I wonder what mischief we might be legitimately distracted from if we came together around a cause like this.

The biblical story of Noah comes to mind too, because so many species have already been pushed to the brink of extinction and beyond, and with rapid climate change, this tragic trend is likely to skyrocket. What would it be like for people of faith to follow Noah's example in preserving species wherever possible - by preserving natural habitat, and in other cases, creating "arks" to preserve species whose natural habitats are destroyed by flood or drought or melting ice or rising sea levels. People of God, both the Joseph and Noah stories suggest, are keenly interested in the common good - the good of all human beings and the good of all living creatures.

Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others have complained recently about the ways that religious people use sacred texts for violent and cruel purposes. Perhaps stories like these can fund our imaginations in more constructive ways.


Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is an author, speaker, Red Letter Christian, and serves as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His most recent book is The Secret Message of Jesus, and his next book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, will be released later this year.

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