We've Crashed Our Cars into the Living Room of the World's Poor

By Peter Illyn 9-28-2009

Proverbs 31:8 says "Speak out for those who cannot speak [for themselves]."

President Obama gave a speech last week to the UN General Assembly in which he did just that. He began his talk on climate change in stark and realistic terms, leaving aside for the moment the upbeat language about green jobs in a new clean energy economy. Here's what he said, in part:

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples -- our prosperity, our health, our safety -- are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

That's different rhetoric than you hear in many of the communications of the environmental community. It's true that there are many opportunities in clean energy for smart investments that will make America safer and more prosperous. But as people of faith, we must remind ourselves and the rest of the country that the hard work of getting to that new economy is answering the call to justice. In the next few years it is more important than ever that we "speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves."

We've crashed our cars into the living room of the world's poor -- there's no denying who bears the historical responsibility for the current climate crisis. We've got to do the bigger part of mitigating that damage and helping poor nations adapt to climate change already in the pipeline.

In our work with students on Christian college campuses, and with missional and emerging churches, we see a new willingness to be faithful witnesses to the need for just power. In our work with people affected by mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, we see ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things to confront the power of the coal industry. In our relationships with Christian brothers and sisters overseas, we see Christians pleading for the American church to get its head out of the sand, and to show spiritual leadership on the world stage.

As people of faith become ever more informed about the social, economic, and environmental costs that dirty power systems deliver to the poor and vulnerable, we become ever more convinced that there is a moral cost to our carbon pollution that we bear in our own souls. We ignore the evidence about the impacts of global warming at our own peril, not just physically but spiritually.

We can speak the moral language that dares call it a sin, but that same language includes words like revival, renewal, and restoration. We can imagine a community of right relationships, with God, with our global neighbors, and with the Creation. We see it when the faithful "speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves." We see glimpses of that coming kingdom, breaking through even now where faithfulness and hope prevail over recklessness and despair. That's part of our message to the world as well.

Rev. Peter Illyn heads the non-profit organization Restoring Eden, which aims to make hearts bigger, hands dirtier, and voices stronger for God's creation.

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