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The Land Mourns

The Land Mourns

My reading these days of Jeremiah is motivated by a question. What does it mean to bear prophetic witness in 2016 in North America? My concern is that many church leaders do not offer a word from the Lord and participate in symbolic actions that point toward God’s kingdom and rule. As a result, we remain mired in compromises and endless discussions without a strong sense of spiritual direction.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet of God between 626 and 587 (BCE). He lived in Jerusalem during a tumultuous period that concluded with the destruction of the city and the forced exile of thousands of people. It strikes me that Jeremiah was a sober realist about the threat of foreign armies along with the moral corruption of monarchs, priests, prophets and elders. He has biting comments about the false security of formal religious practices and the idolatry practiced by many people. I cannot help but think of the modern tendency to practice the ideologies of consumerism while still maintaining some connection with a local church.

 

This week I have been struck by Jeremiah’s understanding that human evil inflicts damage on the environment. I will give you once example:

 

How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’ (12.4)

 

The prophet attributes life to creation. The land is in mourning because of the evil of humans. He gives examples: (1) the grass has gone dry because of the lack of rainfall, (2) animals have disappeared, and, (3) birds are no longer found in the area around Jerusalem. I presume that these are all signs of the devastating drought that Jeremiah wrote about in 14.1-6. Jeremiah connection between human evil and environmental destruction lacks the critical tools and knowledge of scientists in our time. But we know even more than his original audience that human behaviour impacts soil productivity, plant life, and animal life.

 

I am puzzled and disappointed at the silence of today’s clergy. Many have postgraduate degrees. They understand that humans are responsible for polluting inland water sources, creating dead zones in oceans, depleting underground aquifers, the extinction of plants and animals, contaminated air quality, the sending toxic garbage to poor countries, and the slow creation of the carbon blanket that is changing weather patterns. Yet these pastors and preachers largely remain silent. I wish they would take on the mantle of Jeremiah and have the courage of a prophet.

 

This week’s news has been alarming. Bolivia has declared a national emergency because of water shortages. Raging wildfires are burning in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia after months of below average rainfall. Here in Canada, Artic ice is failing to form because of temperature increases. Winnipeg has never waited so long for snowfall.  Thunder Bay had record rainfall that caused flooding. Grain farmers in Northern Alberta are trying to calculating their losses. Significant acreage could not be harvested due to weather conditions. Additionally, the quality of grain harvested suffered because of unusual weather conditions. A friend from Kenya, who works with farmers, told me that the customary “long rains” were low and uneven. An estimated 1.25 million people will be acutely food insecure and dependant on outside assistance.

 

None of this is clear proof of climate change. But it is increasingly hard to deny cumulative evidence that (1) global climate change is taking place, and (2) there are human fingerprints at the crime site. Let me provide the following chart on CO2 atmospheric concentrations since the industrial revolution (taken from marketbusinessnews.com). CO2 acts like a blanket keeping the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. Thus, weather patterns are distorted and violent storms become more common.

 

co2-concentrations-since-industrial-revolution

 

I urge pastors and church leaders to use materials from Christian environmental organizations such as A Rocha Canada (https://arocha.ca), The US counterpart has been intimidated into dropping all references to climate change due to the influence of Donald Trump. I encourage pastors and Christian leaders to become advocates of creation care.

 

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Don’t call me an evangelical!

Don’t call me an evangelical!

For over forty years I considered myself part of the evangelical movement. I appreciated the evangelical agenda of evangelism, international missions, healthy congregations, and the authority of scripture. I no longer call myself an evangelical. Two events of the past week are indicative of my growing unease with evangelical leaders and their followers.

On Sunday afternoon I listened to a CBC Radio interview with Katharine Hayhoe on the program Tapestry. Hayhoe is a leading climate change scientist and a committed Christian. Her father is a professor at Tyndale University College in Toronto – a Christian centre for higher learning. Her husband is a pastor and theologian. In answer to a question, Hayhoe stated that she receives constant hate mail from climate change deniers. Most of them are evangelical Christians. To a lesser degree, I have occasionally experienced animosity and often a profound disinterest in discussions of environmental issues in conservative congregations. I have the impression that evangelicals reject science when it warns about the danger of excessive consumption and the burning of fossil fuels – issues that require us to change our attitudes and lifestyles. Apparently hate mail is an acceptable protest against scientists and politicians – even when they are from the household of faith.

The second event was the speech given by Donald Trump to an evangelical audience at the Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. earlier this week. Trump promised to defend America’s Christian heritage and live by the teachings of the faith. The listeners erupted in applause. I presume his agenda and policies can, therefore, be understood as ways to protect Christian heritage and live out the moral teachings of the Bible. Trump’s positions are clear on building walls along borders, defending the right to bear automatic weapons, closing doors to desperate refugees, rescinding legislation that protects the environment, condoning torture, and using the military to deal with complex social issues. I admit that it is difficult for any national leader to live by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). But Trump does not even wrestle with sayings about honesty, generosity, non-violence, love for enemies and the neighbours in our communities, and seeking first the kingdom of God. These “teachings of the faith” similarly seemed to hold little importance for his evangelical audience.

My friend Rupen Das brought a more positive perspective in a conversation about Christians in Europe. Rupen works with the European Baptist Federation as a development specialist and missiologist. (He is author of the book Compassion and the Mission of God). He told me about Baptist churches in Turkey and the Middle East that sacrificially care for refugees that have fled to their countries. Churches in the Ukraine, with limited resources, have gained recognition for their actions of mercy on behalf of people displaced by violence. Throughout Europe, Baptist and Pentecostal congregations are speaking out against rising right-wing nationalism and enmity against people of other ethnic groups. These churches are caring for visible minorities, welcoming diversity, and witnessing remarkable conversions to the faith.

I no longer wish to be known as an evangelical. I prefer to describe myself as a fragile and fallible person that tries to live by the teaching of Jesus.

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