I join with those who celebrate the birth of this spirit-child, even while knowing his life led to murder at the hands of a corrupt Roman regime that for years had been using power and wealth to silence and oppress people. It is said that after his murder, this same person rose from the dead, his body and bloodshed becoming a bridge from violence and trauma to wholeness and healing — showing that hope could conquer hate, and that the power of integrity, justice, and love could win over corruption, fear, and violence.
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS after Martin Luther’s charge semper reformanda (“always reforming”), we stand on the precipice of climate disaster.
In Marrakesh, Morocco, people of faith met at the 2016 U.N. Climate Change conference (COP22) to face an impending climate disaster—a disaster that now seems likely to be exacerbated by U.S. political leadership rather than mitigated by it.
The World Council of Churches held an event in Marrakesh to emphasize how transitional justice- and rights-based approaches, alongside faith-based moral perspectives, can address challenges as complex as natural-resource management and ecological, humanitarian, and spiritual crises exacerbated by climate change. WCC organizer Henrik Grape hoped that “COP22 will take steps forward to fulfill the expectations from Paris and that nations will raise their ambitions to keep the temperature [rise] well under 2 degrees Celsius.”
A wide variety of church bodies were represented at the gathering. The Lutheran World Federation brought youth delegates from Africa to Marrakesh to promote intergenerational collaboration and solidarity with people most affected by climate change. “One of our thematic approaches to the commemoration of 500 years of Lutheran Reformation is the theme ‘Creation: Not For Sale,’” said Caroline Bader, youth secretary for the federation. The Act Alliance, a coalition of 143 churches and parachurch organizations, established a gender-climate change working group to address sustainability among poor and marginalized people through a gender lens.
Catholic theologian Guillermo Kerber believes that Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is a turning point for the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, by including ecology in the social concerns of Catholics. “The celebration of the 500 years of the Reformation should be an opportunity to express an ecological conversion of all Christian denominations,” said Kerber.
Sometime over the weekend, I noticed a few friends unexpectedly “check-in” to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, N.D., on Facebook. Given the recent rise in tensions between police and the water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, it made sense to me that some of my pastor-friends would go be a part of the protests.
Grist’s Emma Merchant recently crunched the numbers on how frequently climate change has been discussed in the debates of the past five presidential election cycles (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016).
She found that, out of 1,500 minutes of presidential and vice-presidential debate, climate change got a paltry 37 minutes of discussion. In 2012, of course, climate change got a whopping zero minutes of debate time.
Bill Nye, known from his 1990s TV show as “The Science Guy,” toured the new Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky with the head of the Christian apologetics ministry behind it.
And it was “like the debate all over again but more intense at times,” according to a blog post by Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Ham also posted on social media about Nye’s visit, which occurred on July 8.
I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. — E.B. White
ON A GORGEOUS FALL DAY, I bundle up just a bit and go sit on the rock under the apple tree in the middle of the field. The low-angled sun pours its subdued warmth onto the splashy orange of the maples, transient yellows of the tamarack, and faithfully green cedar. Further to the west, the mountains cut a postcard-perfect silhouette against the seasonally pale blue sky.
Such grace, warming my heart with joy.
A loving God calls us to experience such profligate joy. Now, in the latter decades of my life, time picks up its pace at an alarming rate. So I often promise myself to seek more opportunities to sit on rocks.
But instead, each morning, the genes of my activist mother, the teachings of my faith, and probably a bit too much of my own hubris conspire to bring on the conflicting desire to “improve” (well, okay ... save) the world.
So I strongly identify with E.B. White’s dilemma, softened by his gentle humor-with-a-touch-of-wistfulness.
Working for social justice seems like forever. I am weary of being tedious to those around me who do not understand my seemingly quixotic campaigns. I am weary listening to the current loud, vicious, largely irrelevant public clamor surrounding issues to which I am dedicated. I am weary knowing that those of us preaching minority positions that were once slammed as unrealistic have been proven right. But it took so long: civil rights, the Vietnam War, apartheid, climate change. As we slogged through our protests and The Powers That Be didn’t listen, lives were lost, billions of dollars spent, time wasted. I am impatient: Why can’t the arc of the moral universe run, rather than just bend, toward justice?
President Obama met behind closed doors with the Dalai Lama on June 15 in a White House meeting carefully designed to acknowledge the Tibetan leader’s importance as a global spiritual figure while not according him a head-of-state status that might further provoke China.
The White House said the Dalai Lama expressed his condolences for the shooting attack in Orlando on June 12, and the two men talked about climate change — an issue of particular importance in the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan home.
WEST VIRGINIA’S coal-addicted economy is busted. Dozens of bankrupt coal companies are busted. A coal company CEO is busted for flagrant safety violations that contributed to an explosion killing 29 miners.
Boom-and-bust cycles have a jagged history in the central Appalachian coal basin of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwest Virginia. America’s industrial revolution prospered on Appalachia’s steam and coking coal. Hard-gained union struggles brought miners and their communities an improved living standard. Yet as time marched on, machinery replaced miners, the coal industry busted unions, Appalachian coal seams played out, and cheaper Western coal and fracked shale gas outcompeted.
Coal-dependent economies are now tanking. Miner layoffs have skyrocketed. Policymakers have long ignored forecasts of coal’s impending decline. The West Virginia legislature, facing a major state revenue shortfall, is considering drastic budgetary cuts—such as closing state parks, college branch campuses, and state police detachments—while, incredibly, introducing bills to attempt to bring back the coal industry by reducing its severance and worker-compensation taxes.
Coal will not bounce back. From coal’s perspective, the national debate on coal and climate change has largely been lost.
The Clean Power Plan announced by the EPA in June 2014 seeks to reduce climate-warming CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2030. Projected air quality improvement will also deliver significant financial and life-protecting health benefits. However, since West Virginia politicians dance to the strings of their coal-industry puppet masters, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading a coalition of 25 states asking a federal court to strike down the Clean Power Plan, calling it a “war on coal.”
When it comes to climate change and protecting our communities’ health, time is of the essence. Each day of inaction, we allow more methane to pollute the air. By acting now, we can stop another case of cancer or asthma. We can better follow our Genesis call to till and keep the earth, and be better stewards of the fragile web of life depending on a stable climate. Our communities and God’s precious creation can't afford to wait.
FOR THOSE PAYING attention, this has been a fairly terrifying winter and spring. And I don’t just mean the presidential election. I mean that the signals we’re getting from the natural world indicate we’re crossing thresholds much more quickly than expected.
February, for instance, was the most anomalously hot month ever recorded on the planet, crushing all records. The world had pledged in Paris in December to try to hold global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius—well, February was just about at that level already.
The elevated temperatures were especially noticeable in the Arctic—for long stretches of the winter the region as a whole was as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average. (Christmas Eve was almost 50 degrees warmer than normal at the North Pole). Not surprisingly, this meant the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice ever recorded by late March.
Meanwhile in the Antarctic, new data showed that sea level may be set to rise far faster than expected, as the great ice sheets start to slide into the ocean—the water could go up by meters in the course of this century, which would make the defense of most of the world’s great cities a nightmare.
I’m a Christian, but I’m not a natural evangelizer. Talking about my faith has never come easily to me, and I prefer to quietly live my beliefs rather than speak about them. Even as a legislative advocate for the Episcopal Church, I am more at ease discussing policy ramifications than quoting scripture. Still, one urgent policy issue in particular has forced me to reconsider my distaste for religious language and challenged me to voice my faith. Galvanized by the urgency of this challenge, I’m ready to evangelize — about climate change.
The Paris climate accord, negotiated in the French capital just weeks after the terrorist attack there in November, was signed April 22 in recognition of Earth Day, reports USA Today. World leaders representing 175 countries were present for the signing, along with 197 children, including John Kerry’s granddaughter, whom he held as he signed the agreement for the U.S.
In February, President Obama designated 1.8 million acres of wild California desert as national monuments: Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains. The California desert is a holy place, filled with spiritual values and important lessons. As Christians, this is a significant event. We know Jesus’ spiritual path included spending time in the desert wilderness to contemplate his purpose. Now, we, like Jesus and so many others, can have the beauty, solitude, dark night skies, and wild nature of the desert from which to draw inspiration, practice our faith, and grow better.
The California desert is a place where these elusive values remain, and they are vital for humankind. We have a spiritual heritage to protect, and with these three monument designations, Christian communities will forever have these living sanctuaries where we can practice our faith.
Have you ever read scripture from an agrarian perspective? We tend to read scripture with an anthropocentric perspective, but what if we read it with the land and animals in mind first? In her book An Agrarian Approach to Scripture, Ellen Davis invites us to consider reading Scripture with the land and animals at the forefront.
As it turns out, the faith community may have a marked advantage when it comes to dealing with global warming. According to University of British Columbia social psychologist and author Ara Norenzayan, religion primes cooperation. In his work, Norenzayan has found religious societies to be more cooperative than non-religious societies — particularly where a group's survival is threatened.
Last November, my deskmates at Sojourners (and my colleagues working all the way on the other side of the office) were interrupted by my joyful whooping and hollering at the news that President Obama had finally, finally killed the Keystone pipeline once and for all. Leading climate activist (and Sojourners contributing editor) Bill McKibben noted that the significance of the decision rippled far beyond Keystone XL itself: It made the president “the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate.”
Over the years, Keystone XL had become known by activists and journalists alike as “the zombie pipeline” — with delay after delay in the review process and legislative defeats followed by legislative resurrections in Congress as members attempted to expedite approval, the issue just wouldn’t die.
Churches in eastern and southern Africa are appealing for humanitarian aid in the region, as 36 million people grapple with the worst drought in decades. Linked to extreme El Nino weather conditions, the drought has hit countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, among others. The conditions have reversed normal weather patterns, upsetting people’s livelihoods.
The deadly environment for activists is closely tied to recent Honduran history. Following the 2009 coup, in which democratically-elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was deposed, the new government declared Honduras “open for business” and granted profitable contracts to transnational companies looking to capitalize on Honduran natural resources — including resources on indigenous land. When leaders like Cáceres demanded the rights guaranteed to indigenous people by the U.N and the International Labor Convention — including the right to determine how indigenous land is used — it wasn’t great for business. The death threats followed.
The March 1 release of a cache of documents obtained during the raid that ended with Osama Bin Laden’s death reveals some of the Al-Qaeda leader’s strange concerns.
In one letter, Bin Laden writes to his wife, warning her that the dental filling she received in Iran may have contained a computer chip used to track her movements.
WE SPEND, in the Christian tradition, a fair amount of time meditating on Mary as she waited to give birth.
But maybe this month it would be a good idea to meditate on the millions of women around Latin America and the Caribbean who are waiting to give birth—and doing so in a state of quiet panic.
Health ministers in countries such as Jamaica, Colombia, and Brazil were telling their (enormous) populations to avoid becoming pregnant. To avoid reproduction. To avoid the most basic task of any species. In El Salvador, the health minister said it would be at least 2018 before it would be safe to get pregnant. Think about that.
The culprit is a new disease, the Zika virus, which is mainly spread by mosquitos.
Not quite new, actually—it was found in Africa decades ago. But it’s migrated to South America, perhaps during soccer’s 2014 World Cup. And it appears to be having an entirely new effect. Though innocuous enough to those who catch it (flu-like symptoms so mild that most people don’t even know they have it), it appears linked to a truly horrendous set of birth defects. In a normal year, Brazil has a couple of hundred cases of microcephaly, an incurable birth defect that may result in intellectual disabilities, seizures, and reduced life expectancy. In 2015, that number suddenly jumped to 4,000, and the best guess is that the Zika virus is the culprit.