Climate change, the church and created co-creators

Climate change, the church and created co-creators

NASA heat map combining historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA/public domain)

Climate change denial has never had a higher profile supporter than today’s White House.  Weighing the economic costs against the benefits of the Paris accord, the U.S. government has decided to pull out of the accord citing unfairness with the deal, specifically with other countries who stand to benefit from Americans losing jobs.

According to President Donald Trump’s announcement of his decision, it is less about the climate than other countries getting an economic advantage over the United States. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, rather than scientists, he described the Paris Agreement as a “self-inflicted major economic wound.”

For many Americans, the logic seems sound, as jobs are always in demand and seemingly fleeting in many places across the country today. Despite that reality, we need to re-think eco-justice initiatives to offer our scientists in the pews a leading role because of what they know in thoughtful reflection of where we are headed.

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, the Vatican made headlines with Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on “Care for Our Common Home.” There were a number of events at Catholic universities where students, professors and theologians gathered to discuss the contents of the letter fully. The Pope’s letter’s title, “Laudato si,” is taken from a canticle from Saint Francis that is translated as “Praise be to you, my Lord.” The letter is clear on humanity’s role in climate change.

Pope Francis writes: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

But how do Christians respond fully to the White House’s notion that pocket books come before the planet? Let’s begin by speaking out. Did you know that within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America there are a treasure trove of theologians and scientists who are already speaking out about climate change and its harmful effects on humanity and the planet?

Also there is an ELCA social statement, “Caring for Creation,” that was adopted in 1993. It clearly states the church’s role in speaking out on ecological concerns.

It reads: “We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are deeply concerned about the environment, locally and globally, as members of this church and as members of society. Even as we join the political, economic, and scientific discussion, we know care for the earth to be a profoundly spiritual matter.”

Lutherans Restoring Creation is an effort to encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to incorporate care for creation into its full life and mission at all levels. The group is celebrating eco-Reformation, as we previously wrote about, and is also inviting ELCA members to become partners in these efforts at the congregational, synodical, and national church levels.

Perhaps more importantly, this group has organized a Speakers’ Bureau. These speakers have been gathered to represent a number of informed leaders in the ELCA capable of serving as conference speakers, panel participants, and workshop leaders for events sponsored by congregations, synods, seminaries, ministeriums, colleges, and other agencies of the church. A total of 19 speakers are available across the US to speak about the planetary degradation that is threatening all life on Earth and causing extensive disruption and dislocation in human communities, according to the group’s website.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has spoken out, too. Prior to this latest setback with the pulling out of the Paris Accord, she said: “The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.”

She has since Tweeted, “Creation is God’s gift. We hold it in trust. Climate change is hardest on the most vulnerable. God stands with them. So do we.”

What can you do to help make the church’s views on climate change heard? How will we respond when our children ask us what we did when we learned of climate change and its effects on the planet? I hope we will be able to say that we all played a part as created co-creators in solving the problem rather than contributing to it.

As created co-creators all people have a call from God to do the right thing, even if that means a few missteps along the way. In taking action it is possible to yield new eco-friendly jobs and useful community efforts and there is help for all to thrive and live abundantly on this planet that we share. As Christians who are “prisoners of hope” we are enabled to move forward with a goal of healing the planet for the sake of future generations.

It may not come with a price tag, but in response to God’s call our actions are priceless, as they say.

We are marching …

We are marching ...

Credit: St. Andrews Lutheran Campus Center in Champaign, IL

We are marching in the light of God,
We are marching in the light of God.
We are marching, marching,
We are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

— Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenknos’ (We are marching in the light of God, a Zulu traditional song)

We are marching in the light of God and for a greater understanding of science is another play on the lyrics of that famous South African protest hymn against Apartheid. It is a catchy enough tune though that you might find yourself wanting to march FOR something rather than against an idea. The March for Science was overwhelmingly that kind of a march — a march FOR something bigger than any one participant. Collectively those in attendance were not anti-religion, as perhaps some may have thought, and many marchers even sought to promote a religion-and-science message of unity.

The March for Science, and the Climate Change March that followed, attracted scientists and concerned citizens including members of a variety of faith communities as well as from a variety of backgrounds.

Supporters of science have plenty of reasons to take to the streets as the Environmental Protection Agency has experienced significant budget cuts and recent termination of scientists on its advisory board.  In addition, the National Institutes of Health is also seeing a pull back on its funding. There were also reportedly efforts to save government scientific data as President Trump was inaugurated because some scientists feared that climate change data would be deleted from government webpages.

Mark Winters, pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Naperville, Illinois and participant in last month’s March, told the Chicago Tribune, “We both need each other. The science community gives us the facts, the faith community gives us a moral base.” The sign he held as he marched alongside his daughter in Chicago read “Religion and science are not enemies.”

“Many of the great scientists today are religious people,” Rob Baldwin, an associate professor in forestry and environment conservation at Clemson University, told a crowd at the March for Science in Greenville, South Carolina. Part of his speech may be found here:

Unity was the theme. Unity against science denial was part of the message, which made it through much of the media coverage. Perhaps even more importantly it was an opportunity for pastors, scientists and others to highlight that there is no basis for conflict between faith and science.

Astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase recently told a group of scientists, pastors and lay people about her time at Cornell University, and how she graduated with an uncertain feeling about her faith. She pointed out that the university was founded by Andrew Dickinson White, who was known to promote the necessity of the inherent conflict between religion and science. He elaborated his  conflict thesis of science with dogmatic theology in the 1869 two-volume A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom. The warfare stigma has stuck.

Wolf-Chase eventually could more fully embrace her faith as she met scientists who were also Christians while in graduate school at Arizona State University. And often it is all about who you meet. Especially when you are marching for the same cause.

As was the case with South Africans during Apartheid they knew they were not marching alone! The title of this newsletter says it all, in that Covalence refers to the covalent bonds in chemistry, where both elements are stronger in their bonds rather than as individual elements. But there is a third element that also supports much of the work of those active in the faith/science dialogue.

As the song says…

We are moving in the power of God,
We are moving in the power of God,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving in the power of God.


Telling the story

Telling the story

Credit: Michael Shaheen, cc via Flickr

What is the greatest story ever told? What is the greatest story you’ve ever told? Do they have anything in common?

For theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, the greatest story ever told — according to his new book with that title — is that of science.

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand,” he reportedly told a recent gathering. “It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.”

The Greatest Story Ever Told - So FarSome would argue that Krauss, a professed atheist, may have missed the prequel.

The prequel was best told, in my estimation, by philosopher, priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his Mass on the World from 1923, “In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and molding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning, there were not coldness and darkness: there was Fire.”

In earlier writing from 1916 he describes the creation in an even better way. He writes, “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”

But how do you tell that story — the story of the universe that is — in a way that is true to science and to Christianity? It is difficult. It is a story that groups such as the American Scientific Affiliation are seeking to tell to youth and the public at large. In telling the group’s story this month, Executive Director Leslie Wickman writes of a unique group of Christians who were also scientists that wanted to cement their ideas as an organized group. This was conceived in the tumultuous years following the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s.

Another group seeking to better tell the story is the Religion News Foundation, which will likely give higher visibility to a variety of religion-and-science topics via a timely grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

A unique subset of academicians are theology and science scholars who are in a field of investigation that many, like Krauss, say is a conflict to be avoided. But every one of these scholars has his or her own reason for doing this. Some will speak openly about their story that is usually complete with concrete reasons for studying the intersection of faith and science.

The story that they tell is that of the human family. This story is changing rapidly today thanks to technologies such artificial intelligence and CRISPR and many are not so eager to tell the human story by integrating the faith and science perspective, which I would say encompasses awe, wonder and a bit of mystery.

I think the stories we are told when we are young are integral in how we view the world later as adults. What stories have you told about your experiences to your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends? Are they stories of faith? Scientific discovery? Curiosity?

These are the types of stories that are important to tell as people of faith. We need a little bit of that awe alongside respect for good scientific work. This storytelling that is related to science and the world around us should thrive within faith communities. After all, our churches will be home to future scientists, theologians and curious lay people alike.

You don’t think you are a storyteller? Let me assure that we all are. It is a distinctive human trait. We love to learn and learn to love through good stories. Just consider the parables of the New Testament. Jesus could have said “be generous,” “forgive often,” and just barked random commandments again and again, but stories help all of us to remember the key points.

What’s your story?

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