Generational justice

“Cathedral on Fire” — Part VII of a series

By Rev. Rick King

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” –Pope Francis

These days, we’re hearing much more about the legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren than we used to hear even a few years ago. As a young nation, the U.S. has little of the sense of history of much older nations and cultures, and we often demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice a healthy future in the name of satisfying present desires or concerns.

In the closing chapter of his book “Cathedral on Fire,” Brooks Berndt, the UCC’s Climate Justice Minister, points out that climate justice is “multigenerational justice,” and is not only biblical but profoundly countercultural, especially in Western post-industrial nations like the U.S. He identifies five ways in which this is true:

Genealogy matters: The Bible not only has many genealogies—lists of people spanning thousands of years and many generations—but is filled with family relationships. How people are connected, to those who came before and those who come after, gives them identity and meaning to their stories.
History matters: The experience of any Passover celebration reminds us of how vital to Jewish identity the story of the Exodus is, when God through Moses led the people Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Parents are to teach their children this story as a way to remember what God did for their ancestors, which tells a lot about who God is, and who God’s people are.

The future matters: Most of the blessings in the Bible are to future generations, not present ones. The story of Abraham and Sarah, for example, is a promise of a land and many generations of progeny connected to the origin of Israel—and its fulfillment is in a future that Abraham and Sarah will not see, but their children’s children and all those who follow will see. You and I may not see the results of our present inaction on behalf of our planet, but our children and grandchildren certainly will.

Sin matters: The Bible speaks frequently about how the sins of one generation impact subsequent generations. This does not mean some kind of supernatural, multigenerational curse coming from God’s wrath so much as it recognizes that we see NOW the impact of our sins of omission and commission on the generations alive NOW.

Justice matters: The Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1 is an example of how close justice for “the least of these” is to God’s heart, not only in the present, but even more so from generation to generation. What is convenient and expedient is not necessarily what’s good for the legacy we leave for the next generations. I think of the conversations I’ve had with all three of our grown children about the legacy of destruction and neglect we are leaving them to face as they grow older. Young adults now are making the decision not to have children because of the choices you and I made many years ago and continue to make, every day that we do not do something.

So, what does all this mean for the church and a climate-justice mission? Well, the church is a multigenerational place. Katie and I are witnessing the mentor-student relationships in our Emerge program, and the many informal relationships young and old form over shared experiences at FHC. I watched the impact of a youth-planned and -led service Oct. 17 that celebrated Children’s Sabbath, and how the adults listened to youth as they spoke from their experience about bullying in schools. Countless other examples illustrate the impact youth can have on adults. And youth are the prophets speaking to us today about climate justice, calling us to agitate our elected officials the world over to take decisive action, not engage in political window-dressing.

What impact have youth had on how YOU see our present problems and the coming catastrophe?