In early June, a week-long gathering at the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School brought together a diverse group of Christians who are deeply engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. Recognizing that God in Christ is reconciling all things -- not just individuals -- to God's self, some participants began discussing a proper Christian response in the face of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf.
The product of those conversations is a document entitled "The BP Oil Spill: A Christian Call for Lament and Reconciliation." This statement draws its power from the conviction that humans are not the owners of the world: we cannot recklessly consume natural resources, because "the earth is the LORD's, and all that is in it" (Ps. 24:1).
A Christian response must begin with lament because the underwater oil geyser is a visible and ongoing judgment spoken against an American way of life that ultimately bears the responsibility for this disaster. Through the prophet Amos, God assured Israel that in punishment for their pursuit of economic gain over all else, "the land [shall] tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it" (Amos 8:8). Our expectation of limitless, cheap energy is the singular reason why the federal government and oil companies are collaborating to drill wells a mile beneath the surface of the ocean. Who can deny that the land now cries out?
But for us, as for ancient Israel, God's judgment and our lament mean very little if we do not confess our sins and repent. We must turn away from the path we have been pursuing. Unfortunately, very few of us (on either side of the aisle) appear ready to change our way of life in a radical way.
In his Oval Office speech, President Obama said, "The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now." He's right -- but only partially. Of course, we should develop new "clean energy" technologies. But the ugly truth bubbling to the surface of the Gulf right now is that we must repent of our consumption: we cannot continue consuming energy at the present rate. (Perhaps labeling it "dirty energy" would be a good start.)
This means we've all got to start asking ourselves harder questions. Even those of us who attempt to live in environmentally responsible ways have work to do. Why is there a limitless market for dirty energy? It's not because a few "evil" people drive Hummers. It's because most of us live in places where we're expected to drive everywhere we go and because the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to arrive on your plate (CUESA).
The Christian Call for Lament and Reconciliation is a statement, but it's also an organizing tool. The hope is that Christians around the country will use it to spark discussion in their own congregations, neighborhoods, and families. Can I advocate for public transportation, sidewalk construction, and better city planning where I live? Can I acquire my food from local farmers who do not rely on petrochemicals to grow and transport their products? Can my church turn off the air conditioning and get serious about carpooling?
In short, can I pray for God to forgive me of my recklessness and to transform me into an agent of reconciliation in this broken land?
Dave Allen is a seminarian and former Sojourners intern.