If the earth, sea and skies are “God’s Cathedral,” as environmentalist John Muir called them, climate change has set this cathedral on fire. In his wonderful little book, “Cathedral on Fire,” UCC climate justice minister Brooks Berndt writes that environmental justice isn’t just one more cause on Christians’ task list. It’s the taproot cause with which every other form of injustice intersects. And it’s the most important way of seeing ALL justice work by people of faith as grounded in caring for the place where all people live–no matter the color of their skin, how much money the make, whom they love or how they worship.
I have to admit to coming late to the climate-change party in the church. For much of my life, I’ve seen environmental causes—whether you call it creation care or climate justice—as secondary to the important work the church of Jesus Christ needs to be about: battling racism, sexism, homophobia, income inequality, and the like.
There just never seemed to be enough lines to accommodate all the tasks on the UCC justice list. Concern for the earth and global warming always seemed to get pushed down the list by other seemingly more pressing items.
But Brooks Berndt asks: What if we freshly considered our faith with completely new eyes, started reading the Bible from the first book, Genesis, forward? What does it say the first humans’ purpose was in Genesis 1 and 2? “To till and keep the garden” God, the Big Gardener, had made!
I must admit, as the evidence of climate change is revealed virtually every day in photos, video, and written descriptions, it’s hard to miss how important this has been, whether we were noticing it or not. Now, as a church leader, I find my eyes wide open to how the climate affects the earth, and how its effects on the earth impact certain populations more than others—and that’s a justice issue. Black and brown people, poor people, women and children all suffer more from climate-change’s effects than white people, rich people, and adult males. Regions of the world where these populations form the majority are experiencing climate-change’s devastation in undeniable ways, right now.
A day after Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burned, a 16-year-old Greta Thunberg addressed the European Parliament and said those in power needed to act “as if your hair is on fire.”
What if we saw climate change as “God’s Cathedral on Fire”? What if we made climate justice the central, taproot issue that it is, our central cause as people of faith—our “first calling,” as Brooks Berndt calls it?
Well, it would make it simpler to go about all the other “isms” that shape our justice work in the UCC. It would make certain choices about what we prioritize in our church’s program and the projects we pursue more straightforward and self-evident, and therefore much easier to explain and support with our funds, our faith, and our first principles.
Most of all, it would become again our first calling, as it was in the creation story in Genesis. Not saving souls. Not just advocating for justice in the halls of government. Not simply speaking and teaching about the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, but of all living things and the very earth that is home.
I highly recommend the book, and each of the next six weeks I’m going to share some of its message with you in hopes that FHC can come to see climate justice as our first calling.
What are your thoughts on creation care and climate justice as central expressions of our Christian faith? I’d like to hear.