The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
What Can Churches Do?
What can we do? It is a question that comes up over and over again. What can churches do about the environmental crisis, and especially about global warming?
I'm glad that the question is being asked, because it tells me that church leaders do want to get involved, and they do want to make a difference. But I'm concerned when the question is asked at such a basic level -- in terms of how to even get started. It suggests to me that many people in churches don't see how environmental problems and climate change connect with the core mission of churches.
In many other areas, churches do know what to do. We understand how urgent situations and needs are intimately connected with "doing church."
When it comes to the global environmental crisis, the question seems far more basic. Churches seem to be starting from scratch, without any sense of where to start. It is not about which tools to use, or which programs to support, but about where to begin.
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As I listen to the discussions about global warming in other sectors of society, I don't hear the what can we do? question being raised in the same way that it is in churches.
When churches ask the most basic questions about what can we do? I think they're often unsure why or how global warming connects with the essential purposes and goals of churches. That's a legitimate question, and an important concern.
If -- as is often the case -- the crisis of climate change is discussed primarily as a debate about scientific evidence, or about technological solutions, or about complex economic strategies, then those topics are a stretch for most church groups. That's not how we understand our mission, and that's not where we have our expertise.
But if we see global warming as a moral and ethical issue that deals with the relationships among human communities, future generations and with the whole creation, then we're getting into religious territory. If we see climate change as a symptom of a flawed understanding about the meaning of life, then we're addressing an area where the church has great expertise. If Earth's deep distress is -- at its heart -- a human problem and not a technological one, then we in the churches should have a decent sense of how to talk about it.
When we discern how the great environmental issues of this day are intimately connected with what churches are called to do and be, then, I think, the questions about what can we do? will be asked in a different way.
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Earlier this week, I saw an advance screening of a new documentary film, The 11th Hour. With the help of over fifty of the world's most prominent thinkers and activists, the film documents the grave problems facing the planet's life systems. Global warming, deforestation, mass species extinction, and depletion of the oceans' habitats are all addressed. I'm glad to say that the whole presentation is made from an approach that will help churches understand more deeply what they can do.
Leila Connors-Petersen -- one of the film's writers and directors -- told an interviewer: "The film creates an awareness about the real nature of the problem, that it's human thinking and behavior that is at the root of the destruction. And it is human behavior and thinking that will change it."
The movie outlines how modern philosophy, law and economics have all played a role in driving us to deplete our natural resources to the point where our very existence as a species is at risk. In the film, former Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev says that our biggest mistake was saying, "Man is the king of nature." That's a religious description of the problem!
The film opens today in New York City and Los Angeles. It will come to other cities in the US on August 24. If it is showing anywhere near you, I urge you to take a group to see it. Then discuss how this perspective helps churches understand what can be done.
Unfortunately, the film's website is very media intensive, and is not friendly for those who don't have a super-fast connection and the most current software. The page on "Ideas and Experts" is an accessible place to start exploring the site.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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