Phew. It is finished.
- Part 1: Climate Science 101
- Part 2: The Gospel
- Part 3: Gospel > Global Warming
- Part 4: Good News: Reasons #1 and #2
- Part 5: Good News: Reason #3
#3. We might be able to do something about climate change.
Michael McCarthy, who recently retired as the environment editor for the British newspaper the Independent, wrote as the final paragraph for his final column as editor:
I still think Man will destroy the Earth. It is a pessimistic valedictory note I offer, for you cannot focus closely on what is happening and not be a pessimist. But there is more to Man, I do accept, than simply a destroyer, and the pessimism is not unmitigated: the chainsaws may outnumber them, and the chainsaws ultimately may win, but the green campaigners were there, and they fought.
There is a lot of despair in the mainstream environmental movement. A lot of people out there are fighting what they believe is a losing war, a sort of moral perseverance that is incredible in and of itself. They fight not because they believe they will win, but because they do not see any other choice other than their conscience.
As Christians, because we know how the story ends, we live our lives not in despair but in hope. As Jürgen Moltmann says, however, “Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future.”
As Christians, we need to see the suffering-from-yearning in the mainstream environmental movement, with listening ears and a willingness to confess any complicity we may have had in exacerbating the crisis. Perhaps thank them for sticking it out when no one else did.
As Christians, we also need to see those suffering-from-climate-impacts among our neighbors, those feeling the early stages of the climate crisis. Genuine hope is not saying “everything will be okay for this poor girl whose was displaced from her home because of this unseasonal typhoon” but believing that everything will be okay for me if I go out of my way to make the sacrifice needed to help not just this poor girl, but thousands if not millions like her.
Seeing the suffering is the first step to healing wounds, to getting the conversation going, to show that we are the community of the gospel.
But in addition to being citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we also are the church in the world, and that comes with its own set of world-changing opportunities.
As the American church, we stand in a strange place, straddling what is a “Christian nation” and a “post-Christian nation” at the same time. When I think about our place in American politics, I do not think of King David with supreme rule over Israel, nor do I think of a scrappy young church being persecuted under Emperor Nero, but I think of Daniel, a Jew who spoke truth to power while his people lived in Babylonian exile. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
We have a place to play in the American political landscape. It may get messy, but a merciful God cares not how messy our hands get but how clean our hearts remain.
If we look at the world with purely political, Machiavellian lenses, we see that strategically, evangelicals are in a change-making position with regard to climate change. This is especially true for those of us under 30, who have become political orphans after the previous generation’s fling with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Far from being disempowered, however, us orphans have become a crucial swing vote. We recently showed what we could do as a voting bloc by sparking national conversations on immigration reform and human trafficking, and now we have an opportunity to push our lawmakers to enact bold climate policies.
The movement that I have become deeply involved in as an outlet for my climate activism, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has been giving a kind of hope to the hopeless. On the environmental news site Grist.org, the columnist Umbra Fisk cited Y.E.C.A. as one of three organizations in response to the reader question: “Is there hope in this world?” Another quote I recently found in the Y.E.C.A. feedback archives illustrates how greatly the green movement is yearning for us evangelicals to step up:
I am not an evangelical or even a Christian believer. But I have longed for an organization such as yours for years. At least five years ago I told my wife, “What we need to really get somewhere on climate issues is an organization of evangelicals. In fact, I invented the name “Evangelicals in Defense of Planet Earth”. Watching your video brought tears to my eyes. I feel as if part of my dream has come true. With people like you joining in to try to stop disastrous global warming, I am greatly encouraged. Thank you for being there. Let’s fight to get off fossil fuels and save the planet.
I honestly cannot fathom how disappointed God may be if, through dropping the ball on responding to the climate crisis, the church not only fails to cultivate a stewardship ethic towards creation, not only flops on being advocates for the poor and marginalized, but also puts bitterness in the mouths of green groups and environmentalists who saw the church as the last possible swing vote that swung the other way.
There is definitely some truth in seeing climate change as inevitable. The models will go from predicting the future to describing the present to explaining the past, and we humans will begin to really experience the full weight of our subscribing to the cult of more, more, more. I think such an era defined by global warming is going to come with its own set of unique pastoral challenges, and I hope the church can speak not just prophetically but compassionately to such a time.
We will only get the privilege to do so, however, if we take the steps to acknowledge the seriousness of the climate crisis now, and take appropriate action: whether it be living lifestyles with radically low carbon footprints, sacrificially giving so the least among us have resources to adapt to their experiences of climate disruption, or calling on our political and other leaders to let them know how critical this issue is for us.
We can do that, because we believe that God has a plan to redeem the planet and our relationship to it. We believe that there is a new way of being human, one that does not involve inflicting crop failures and super-storms on our neighbors. We believe in a crucified and risen Lord. We believe that the Good News can handle an inconvenient truth. We believe that the Gospel > Global Warming.