You Make Me Almost Want To Be a Christian

By Jim Wallis 11-07-2011
A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. P
A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. Photo for Sojourners by Joan Bisset.

It was a bright, sunny, perfectly crisp autumn afternoon in Washington, D.C., Sunday when I spoke at the huge rally to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. More than 10,000 people turned up at Lafayette Park to demonstrate and form a "circle of hope" around the White House to urge President Obama not to approve the pipeline, which would transport millions of dirty "tar sands" oil from Alberta, Canada thousands of miles south -- through the American Heartland, including challenging terrain and critical water aquifers -- to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Were the Keystone pipeline to be built, burning its high-polluting tar sands oil will be "game over" as far as climate change is concerned, according to James Hansen of NASA, the world's most respected climate scientist -- who also spoke at Sunday's rally.

Organizers of the rally and White House encirclement asked me to dress "like a religious leader," so I did, donning my best African American church robe with its red, green, yellow, and black colors blazing back at the bright sun. I told the enthusiastic crowd that the gathering felt like a "revival" for a clean energy's future -- to which those gathered offered a robust "Amen," holding up waving "jazz" fingers in the sign of approval adopted widely by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.

After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.

My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."

Below are the notes from my sermon to the Keystone XL protesters:

It's Sunday, I'm a preacher, and we all have two minutes. So here is a succinct sermon: How a Dirty Pipeline Could Call Us to Conversion.

The dirty pipeline is about politics: challenging the most powerful energy interests that have controlled our national policy and life for decades.

The dirty pipeline is about economics: changing our direction from a dangerous short-termism to clean and creative long-term solutions to our energy needs.

But the dirty pipeline is also about morality, theology, and religion. It could call us to conversion:

-- From an ethic of endless growth with very bad consequences; to an ethic of sustainability--that evaluates decisions today by their impact on the seventh generation out.

-- From a bad theology of dominion and control, that used and despoiled the earth; to an ethic of stewardship that protects and cares for God's creation.

-- From behaviors of selfishness that will make the people who are the least responsible for climate change, the ones who pay for it the most dearly; to the new practices of solidarity, especially with the poorest citizens of the world, and of spiritual connection that understands that we are all in this together.

Good people do get caught up in bad systems, but the choice to continue our energy dependence on fossil fuels must be named for what is: A deep cultural addiction to harmful substances.

Every pastor knows that when an addiction becomes severe enough, you need to do an intervention. I believe that's what this campaign is all about -- an intervention for the soul of our economy.

Today is really a spiritual altar call, which is the time after a revival service where people are called forward to make new commitments.

Today is an altar call for political, economic, and spiritual change:

-- For a healing to our national addiction to fossil fuels,

-- From the domination of money over the common good,

-- And to begin to power our lives in ways that don't damage God's creation and children.

The time has come to walk down the aisle, and circle the White House, for a clean energy future --for all of us, for our members of Congress, and today at his house, for the President of the United States!

My brothers and sisters, the time for conversion has come!

Can I get an Amen!

portrait-jim-wallis11Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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