Washington Week 2013
May 20, 2013
Protestant Musings on Addressing Climate Change
and Caring for Creation

by Olin M. Ivey, Ph.D.
Earth Care of Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Each Mainline Protestant denomination characterizes itself by a conservative / liberal internal struggle. Since a presentation has been made concerning the Evangelical position, I will concentrate on the prevailing liberal position within the majority of the denominations. Most denominations have beautifully crafted social action theological statements on erratic climate change, its sources, and the Church’s responsibility to address its causes and its solutions.

The human’s sinful condition is equally personal and social. Sinfulness requires repentance. Repentance leads to a concerted effort toward a new understanding of life based in continual inquiry and reflection and leading to new social structures and corrective, far-sighted actions that combine justice and love. The scientific method, an evolutionary perspective, and the findings of science inform our thoughts and actions. When 97% of the world’s scientists say human activity, led by the use of fossil fuels, constitutes the main cause of recent rising temperatures and many sound alarm bells, global warming increasingly becomes a concern of mainline Protestant churches.

Covenant forms the meeting place of humanity’s faith, God’s love, and the Earth and all its creatures. We seek to be as inclusive in our circle of caring as is God’s love. The human’s loving responsibility extends to the most far-flung reaches of the universe and to the minutest of creatures yet
undiscovered. All creatures play a vital role in the web-of-life. An adherence to the Commons and the common good is vital to the continuing vibrancy of this covenantal troika.

Jesus teaches us that when greed reigns, it engulfs one’s being and controls one’s actions. It breaks covenant. The same is true for institutions and corporations. In this case, it is not “moral man and immoral society” but immoral individuals; immoral society.

Global warming’s main source of rising CO2 emits from our ever-growing worldwide addiction to fossil fuels. We have now passed the milestone atmospheric level of 400 ppm CO2 concentration as recorded this May - this month - at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii - and the level continues to rise. This is its highest level in at least three million years, before humans appeared on the scene. We call for governments and corporations around the world, in so-called first world countries and in developing nations to admit - just admit -the devastating affects of concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Furthermore, repent, quit the “fossil fuel habit,” and begin immediately the transition into renewable energy and other energy efficient devices:

  1. No longer willfully ignore scientific data
  2. No longer intentionally foster destructive activities on the Earth’s land, water, and air;
  3. No longer wage deceptive, multi-layered campaigns to deceive the public;
  4. No longer entice politicians to do your destructive bidding.
  1. Quit it! In God’s name, stop it! Or by any other rationale or emotion, cease!
  3. As disciples of Jesus, outrage toward the irresponsibility of others must be matched by our own searing introspection. Protestants are far better at proclamation than we are in eco-friendly action. But as disciples of Jesus, we are to develop sustainable practices, modeling to the world around us a responsible, ecological approach in all areas of our life together, internally as a congregation and a denomination and externally as co-inhabitants with all other creatures - including those with whom we are outraged. Enmeshed in the dirt of the Earth, we are thrown together as participants with all others, but in discipleship, we are intentional stewards by developing a transactional, comprehensive vision. How does that happen? By transforming our minds through education, our spirits through worship, our hearts and hands through sustainable practices, our resources through targeted planning. It is a constant journey of “consciousness-raising” and “conscientiousness-quickening.”
  5. This is God’s good, green Earth. We must not destroy it - as we most certainly will if we continue making blinder, oil-centric decisions - and the destruction of human civilization will come much sooner than most think. The planet and some of its resilient creatures will continue - or the rebound may take place over the long span of geological time - but humanity will cease to be.
  7. God, the source of transformation, placed freedom at the heart of the universe - freedom to choose which way to go. The lure of God is always toward the good. Our responsibility is to follow that beckoning toward the good - the common good, the daily goodness discovered in an horizontal loving and caring for all of life.
  9. The Protestant church sees the Earth as a “faith garden.” In faith we care for the Earth as a garden in symbiotic relationship with all the other creatures. In concert with God, we seek to sustain the Earth by learning to think and act like nature. We learn from nature the intertwining, supportive relationship that God has established between all the elements of the Earth. Our activities transform the Earth into support systems of our human culture but they must be done in a respectful, enhancing manner toward nature - the soil, the air, the water, the minerals and all the creatures everywhere.
  11. How do we do this?
  13. Ten meager steps on the journey of creation care
  15. First, as people of faith, we continue to be grounded in scripture and temper that by tradition, experience, reason, wonder, reverence, and nature itself.
  17. Second, We celebrate the beauty and resourcefulness of the Earth. So much of it is like a Garden of Eden in its abundance of species and breathtaking magnificence. Within this creation God shows us the way to live sustainably. We dedicate ourselves to loving, faithful action on behalf of all of creation.
  19. Third, using a number of categories, we audit and record where we are in terms of a green index within the congregation, at home, and in our every day lives. Data, attitudes, and behaviors - tracking them in each of these spheres are required to measure the paradigm shift that has to take place. We formulate a management program to guide us. We benchmark our progress. We become an “Earth Church” and extend that into our everydayness. We seek to reduce our footprint - carbon, yes, but much more - upon the Earth. We understand that any action we take that affects the systems and species of the earth is right only if it conserves, preserves, or restores the stability, integrity, viability, beauty, and fruitfulness of what God created. 
  21. Fourth, we seek out others who are on this same journey. We look for resources from other churches, from governmental agencies, and from other groups and individuals. Through God's graciousness, we invite others to transform their lives and their communities and to join us on our journey of restoring the Earth and its systems.
  23. Fifth, we play in the garden: a pot, a 4 x 4 designated area, a community garden, a backyard garden, a garden at church. This provides an opportunity to observe, to hear, and to converse with creation up close. A gardener deals with many other species. Those species are dealing with their own lives, trying to eek out a living. Cross fertilization occurs. New life happens - sometimes when it is not a part of the plan. Unexpected support systems and cooperation mingle with the struggle to survive. A rhythm and a rhyme emerge in this dialogue with nature and within nature.
  25. Sixth, we cook. Life in all its fullness is discovered in understanding our foods, good diets, the very activity of preparing the ingredients and blending them together or setting them off over against each other in anticipation, and then the celebration of life in the breaking of bread together. Some Protestant denominations have made food central to the faith and life journey. When that is central, care for the earth is also central.
  27. Seventh, we seek justice and “do justice” by reversing the devastating affects that global warming has had upon the regions of the Earth and its people, especially the poor and, even more so, those whose lives are riddled with poverty and prejudice. In concert with Jesus’s concern for “the least of these,” we seek deep sensitivity to the plight of vulnerable peoples and for threatened and endangered species.  Reverence for all of humanity as well as the whole of creation as a vibrating, alive organism blossoms into a urgency for justice. We reverse our own habits of unsustainable energy uses and consumption practices. Sufficiency in living is sufficient for life. We trace out the unjust consequences of our own lifestyles and the mindless choices that threaten other people and natural systems. We strive to reverse this by straightening out our priorities. We ask for God’s help in our continual journey of transformation and deepening commitment. We realize that this is no “lifestyle adjustment” but a radical paradigmatic shift in who we are as spiritual beings. Our actions must always preserve, protect, and restore the panoply of nature: clean water, clean air, the oceans, the forests, and creature habitat. Thankful for our own redemption, we seek healing for others and for the Earth.
  29. Eighth, we walk humbly with God, tread lightly upon God’s creation in that posture of humility, and seek to shed ourselves of arrogance and greed through being kind, merciful, and loving.
  31. Ninth, we take political and economic action. We tell the Truth about God’s creation and the moral, ethical imperative that drives us to do what we can to be God’s servants for the Earth and to speak that Truth to power.
  33. But that’s where we started this discussion.
  35. Yet, there is one more:
  37. Tenth, as resurrection people empowered by the Holy Spirit, our lives are enthused with hope. We continue to be engaged to help bring the Earth back from the brink of the consequences of severe, human-induced warming and toward ecological sustainability. We shall continue to tell the truth about God’s creation. No matter how many set backs, we know that this planet upon which we live is God’s good Earth. It is that which sustains.
  39. Not every church is doing these things. By far, more are not than are involved at this juncture. But, it’s happening. Some Protestant church - some Protestant churches - can be found doing at least a few of these. Every now and then, some churches really get what it means to be an Earth Church filled with Earth Pilgrims who are on an Earth Journey, and who call to the world to join them.
  41. Shalom happens!
  43. Praise be to God!




Olin Ivey

Dr. Olin Ivey has been involved in many ventures: educational administration and instruction from pre-school through seminary and graduate professorships; missional involvement, from Cuba to Mexico to Costa Rica; author and editor of several books and numerous articles (both print and web); local church pastor (inner city [NY City], suburban [California], small town [Georgia & Tennessee]); broadcaster (WLBB, WGFS, WABC, KWOW, WDOD); and environmental / sustainability advocate. He is an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church.

Currently, Dr. Ivey is headin up TREEDC [Tennessee Renewable Energy and Economic Development Council], which provides financial assistance by issuing bonds for low interest loans to renewable energy installations.

In addition to being a Director of the Urban Century Institute, Ivey currently serves as a Board member of EarthCare, Chair of the Justice Committee of the Alabama-Tennessee Association of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and a member of the Steering Committee of the National Religious Coalition of Creation Care. He is President of VIVA Sustainable Systems, LLC, which is developing a biofuel process that generates fuels, fertilizers, and other from residues and wastes in environmentally sound ways.

As Executive Director of the Georgia Environmental Organization for most of the 1990s, Ivey initiated the discussion of sustainability in Georgia in 1993 with the first state-wide gathering at the Georgia World Congress Center. He held a series of conferences and consultations on sustainability throughout the remainder of that decade. He served on task forces and working groups of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (Clinton Administration), was on the executive committee of two other national sustainability groups, and envisioned & edited Georgians on that included reflections on sustainability by a number of leaders throughout Georgia.

Olin has worked in Tennessee since 1999. In 2004 he developed and coordinated two conferences:the statewideThreshold: Sustaining a Land Called Tennessee (first statewide conference on sustainability in Tennessee) and JustWater, an environmental justice conference for the Alabama-Tennessee Association of the United Church of Christ. His on-line resource guide, Eco-Management of Church Facilities, is used by churches around the world.

Ivey is working on the book,Beyond the Threshold: Sustainability in a Land Called Tennessee, similar to the one produced in Georgia. He is a founding member of The Tennessee Higher Education Sustain-ability Association (THESA). A member of the national Roundtable on Sustainable Forests, he initiated its Action Group on Urban Forestry.

He lives in the urban neighborhood of Glenwood in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he is an officer of the Glenwood Neighborhood Association and a member of the revitalization committee. Ivey continues to hold in creative tension the micro and macro aspects of sustainability. Each perspective, he believes, informs the other. Neither perspective can be realistic without the insights from the other.

Ivey attended Oxford College of Emory University for the first two years of his college career. His undergraduate degree was received from East Tennessee State University. He holds two Master's degrees from Drew University (M.Div. & S.T.M.) in Madison, New Jersey. His M.A. and Ph.D. are from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.