That Our Creation Care Would Also Fight Racism and Poverty

Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

Romans can touch on the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism. Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?

Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.

But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!

Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.

Listen for the Groaning; Then Worship!

Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com

Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com

And as I worshiped I realized creation wasn’t singing with me. I had entered into creation’s ongoing worship of God!

But Scripture speaks of another utterance of nature — a groaning. (Romans 8:19-22) Even as creation worships, it bears the weight of our sin. Our addiction to consumption, our oil drills and oil spills, and our depleted uranium bullets whizzing through theaters of war in countries ravaged, torn apart — both the people and the land. Creation is groaning, even as the trees lift their branches heavenward in worship.

The Genesis 2 story of creation offers a profound picture of humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation in the beginning. In Genesis 2:15 God called humanity to till and keep the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “till” (‘abad) is also translated “to serve” (as a bond servant). The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) is most accurately translated “to protect.” Thus, we were called to serve and protect the rest of creation. In the very beginning of our existence, we related to the land as its servants — its protectors. That relationship was full of care, nurture, security, and selfless service.

The Hope of Glory Amidst 'Bondage and Decay' of Environmental Injustice


Even in the environment, despite the bondage and decay, glory is coming. kwest/Shutterstock.com

Last week during my Sunday school class, one of my second graders asked, “How can we go to heaven, if we continue to sin?” 

As usual, I am often stunned and quieted by the striking questions that come from the mouths of young people.

I usually respond to the inquisitive questions from my Sunday School students by reiterating what I have been told by many a Sunday School teacher: “Even though we break our promises, God doesn’t; God promised us if we believe in God and that God’s Son Jesus died for our Sins, we will go to heaven — even when we mess up.” 

While that seems like a really ‘simple’ explanation of one of many biblical truths, it is still striking and amazing that even though we continue to ‘mess up,’ God has not retracted on God’s promise of offering us a beautiful ending to the troubled world we live in today.

As I think about Romans 8:21 and how it speaks to the fact that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,” I get excited. Not only because we all will see the glory of God one day, but that the bondage and decay we are experiencing in our physical world will end in Glory!

Prophetic Preaching: 'One of The Priests is Receiving Death Threats'

Photo: Jacek Orzechowski

a Franciscan young adult group at St. Camillus created a large mural about Easter. Photo: Jacek Orzechowski

Last fall, on a Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of the church, a young man tugged on my Franciscan habit. It was Miguel, a member of our Latino choir.

“Father,” he said, “please, pray for the people of my home parish back in El Salvador, especially for one of the priests who has received death threats.”

Startled, I asked: “What is happening there?"

“These priests are organizing against the multinational companies,” he said. “The companies are looking for gold. What will be left for our people? Only poisoned water, a wasteland, and death.”

A few weeks later, I had another similar conversation with a group from Guatemala. Theirs was a similar tale of how indigenous communities were being threatened by mining projects.

As a Catholic and a member of the Franciscan Order, I believe that we are called to “read the signs of the times” and to listen to the cry of the poor and the “groaning” of God’s Creation.

Obama's Energy Fail

I'D ALWAYS HOPED that the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy was a mere campaign slogan, a way to avoid riling anyone up as he ran for re-election. But he’s made pretty clear that it’s actually his guiding light.

“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” he crowed in his State of the Union address. And indeed it is, if the goal is to drill, baby, drill. In Obama’s time in office, U.S. oil production has increased 50 percent; analysts estimate that by the time he’s gone in 2016, we’ll have literally doubled the amount of oil we produce in this country. The curve for natural gas production has been almost as steep, and though we’re burning less coal in our own power plants the amount we export has hit record highs.

In political terms, Barack Obama holds us environmentalists at bay with pretty words on climate change, but when it comes time to drill he’s the go-to guy. As he told a crowd of cheering oilmen in Oklahoma during the last campaign, “over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

Eighteen of the nation’s biggest environmental groups sent the president a letter earlier this year asking him to back off the all-of-the-above rhetoric, and to change his policies. The only reply came from one of his counselors, who fired back a peevish letter saying he was “surprised” that they would dare challenge the president, since he’d done more than his predecessors to fight climate change. But being better than George Bush is not the point—to do anything about global warming you need to meet the bar that physics sets. And that means leaving coal and gas and oil in the ground.

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Black Clergy Seek to Bridge 'Green' Gap

Rosalyn Priester, Pat Owens and Adrienne Wynn at an Earth Day display. Photo courtesy Trinity UCC Photography Ministry. Via RNS

At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver.

They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.

“By any greens necessary,”  the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.

When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule.

Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”

Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.

The Fight for 'The Good Life'

Nebraska welcome sign, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Nebraska welcome sign, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Deuteronomy 8 says “the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of flowing streams, with springs and underground waters ... a land where ... you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

When you arrive in Nebraska, signs on the interstate will welcome you to “The Good Life.” The folks who came up with our unofficial state motto may or may not have had the passage from Deuteronomy in mind, but to witness Nebraskans’ love for their land is to understand that it is a quietly sacred connection.

That connection found its voice in Nebraska citizens’ four-year battle to stop the TransCanada pipeline. In face of the threat of oil spills polluting the underground Ogallala Aquifer, of construction spoiling the fragile Sandhills region, and of a foreign corporation using bully tactics to seize landowners’ property, a remarkably diverse coalition of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, grandmothers, students, and citizens took hold to protect Nebraska land.

Think Nothing Is Happening in Washington? It’s Decision Time on Climate

Photo by Joey Longley / Sojourners

California Rep. Henry Waxman speaks in front of protestors. Photo by Joey Longley / Sojourners

Don’t let the media tell you that nothing is going to happen in Washington this year. Sure, Congress may be gridlocked on major legislation as we approach midterm elections, but key decisions are set to be made that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change. In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, and the Obama administration will make a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Because the impacts of climate change, such as drought, more severe weather, flooding, and crop devastation, are more harmful to the world’s poor, these decisions will affect the lives of vulnerable people everywhere. As a Christian, I cannot sit idly by while God’s children are suffering from the devastating effects of irresponsible environmental degradation. I am joining with other people of faith in articulating the moral urgency of caring for God’s creation.

The Gospel According to Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham

Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate

Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate

There was a moment during last week’s “debate” between Bill Nye the Science Guy and young-earth creationist Ken Ham that I think was more telling than any other.

During the Q&A session, Ham was asked what seemed to me to be a very simple question: “Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to admit that the universe is older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur in six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the son of God?”

What was most telling was not really what Ham said, as much as what he didn’t say, which was “Yes.”

In my mind, this question was a softball pitch. It couldn’t possibly be easier. And Ham was given two minutes to answer the thing? His response should have taken all of two seconds: “Yes.”

Keystone XL: Ambiguity is the Enemy of Progress

Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners

Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners

The U.S. needs to quit its crude oil habit. TransCanada needs to see the individuals whose health is directly threatened by Keystone XL. The president and legislators alike need to act for the welfare of not only this generation but for the generations to come, if we indeed want to see the flourishing of future generations. We need to admit to our addiction to oil and identify its harmful ecological impact for what it is.

As a person of faith, I want to see our landscapes, waters and skies restored to wholeness. I am compelled by the love I’ve received from God and God’s people to work alongside others for the common good of all. Having experienced the crisp June evenings of Minnesota as well as the asthma-inducing smog of Hong Kong, I know both the beauty of fresh air and green spaces and the dullness of pollution and gray skies. The chances of enjoying the former are quickly dwindling at our current rate of oil consumption, but we still have time to prevent further environmental degradation, if not for future generations then at least for those of us who still look forward to the rest of their lives, no matter our age.