November 6, 2012

To:  My Christian Colleagues in Ministry (and other religious leaders)

From:  The Reverend Thomas Carr, Senior Minister, First Baptist Church, West Hartford, CT

As I ponder the aftermath of the hurricane/nor'easter that left massive devastation on the east coast, I am saddened and grieved over such loss.  My heart breaks for those who suffered and are still struggling in the aftermath.  I, like you, am seeking to do whatever I can to assist those in their time of immediate need.  So many people have suffered so much and it will take months, if not years, to rebuild.

At the same time, I am angry and perplexed.  Angry because for two decades we have known the reason why storms like these are getting more and more intense, why wildfires are increasing everywhere, why droughts are becoming more permanent and floods are increasing in duration and intensity:  climate change and the primary reason the climate is changing radically and rapidly is our way of life built on the use and burning of fossil fuels.  I'm angry because there has been an intentional, highly organized and more than well financed campaign to confuse Americans and thus delay making the changes needed to begin addressing this critical problem. 

I'm perplexed as to why we preachers have been almost totally silent on this, the greatest moral and ethical challenge the human race has ever faced.  I confess that I have not spoken out nor acted upon this great planetary crisis as frequently or with as much conviction as I should have when I became aware of this catastrophe in the making.  I have been timid when I have known the truth, for over 20 years, of the dire circumstances of our ecological crisis and that this is God's world not ours and we are called to care for it all.  To care for life is the human species' most fundamental vocation (see Genesis 2:15), and we are failing to do so.  In fact, with anywhere from 20-60,000 species of life going extinct every year, we are doing precisely the opposite of being co-creators with God; we are "de-creating" Earth. Why are we preachers being just as silent on this as the Presidential candidates have been?  Why are we not raising this as a moral and spiritual affront to life, not just one Sunday a year around Earth Day but with great frequency? 

I am well aware that some of my colleagues consider addressing climate change as a luxury for those in communities that are not facing massive poverty, violence, lack of quality education, institutional racism, along with other heinous acts of injustice.  That is a valid critique. And yet over 50 years ago, leaders in my denomination, the American Baptist Churches, USA, reflected on this and began using the term "eco-justice" to point to the interconnection between ecological concern and human justice:
when human beings are oppressed, Earth and her life systems are degraded; when Earth is abused human beings, particularly the weakest and most vulnerable, suffer most profoundly.  This happens all over the planet and in the United States, environmental racism is seen when "natural disasters"
occur and it is the poor who suffer most profoundly, when land-fills are sited primarily in communities of color, when companies locate industrial plants in poor neighbors and call it economic opportunity, when the rates of cancer, neurological diseases, asthma and other environmentally related diseases are much higher in poor and non-white communities.  I'm a pastor.
I'm tired of grieving with and burying more and more people who have died of cancer or neurological diseases.  I am tired of burying those from the lower economic classes and people of color of diseases we should not be contracting in such massive amounts in the first place.  And I am sickened that the first and most profound effects of climate change are being felt by those people who have the least to do with the problem in the first place!
Maybe this time we'll wake up as a nation and demand that the fossil fuel industry stop their multi-billion dollar climate change denial campaign now that the super storm destroyed rich, middle-class and poor, alike.  We sure didn't wake up much when the poor and people of color where dying in New Orleans after Katrina, but maybe this time. . . .  This is a matter of justice, a matter of caring for the "least of these, [Christ's] brothers and sisters."

God's first covenant followed the Flood (Genesis 9: 8-17), a covenant between God, human beings and "all the creatures that came out of the ark."
God's covenant was and is with all life, a covenant God will always keep.
Have we?  Where is the outrage for what we are doing to God's creation?  Why have we remained virtually silent?

I have spoken with many pastors and rabbis over the years who tell me that they don't touch this, particularly climate change because it is too controversial.  It has become too political, I am told, and if working to slow down rapid climate change was discussed within their congregation, people would leave.  It's just too divisive, they tell me; not safe, at all.
I understand that.  I am pastor of a very diverse church which includes a few climate change deniers and other folk don't want to hear about it, and so every time I raise this in worship or education or discussion groups, there are people who get upset with me and wish I would just shut-up and talk about "spiritual things." But I remember that Jesus was crucified because his teaching and life were too controversial for the religious, political and economic leaders of his day.  He spoke and lived the truth and
he was killed for it.   This is this One we follow.

So, I am urging all of us to speak out now about the moral, ethical and spiritual reasons for addressing climate change and caring for God's creation - all of it.  Speak from your heart, from your faith that calls us
to love what God loves, the world, the kosmos.   If you don't feel adequate
to speak on this, call or email me or look at resources from the National Council of Churches of Christ (www.webofcreation.org) or the Evangelical Environmental Network (www.creationcare.org) or Interfaith Power and Light
(www.ipl.org) or the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate
(www.interfaithactiononclimatechange.org) or the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (www.nrccc.org) or if you are in Connecticut, contact the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network of Connecticut (www.irejn.org). 

Jaques Cousteau once said, "We save what we love."  Let's work to save the world that God so loves.

Peace be with you.

Tom

 

Tom Carr

Rev. Tom Carr