Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Neither Cold nor Hot
distributed 9/26/08 - ©2008

I fear for planet Earth, which is being ravaged by the exploitation and devastation of its powerful human residents. And I fear for the Christian Church, which all too often does not seem to care about this crisis. Or -- a far worse thing than not caring -- perhaps many churches feel that they have no authentic word of hope for this time.

I admit that I have a strong personal and professional bias in my critique of churches. Eco-Justice Ministries works with churches from a perspective that takes seriously the faithful responsibility to seek justice for all of our neighbors -- human and other-than-human, now and into the future. At the core of our work, Eco-Justice Ministries believes that churches must be engaged with these most urgent issues of ecology and justice. That engagement is essential for the health of our "in-house" spirituality and theology, as well as for the validity of our much needed witness to the world around us.

My fear for the Church is tempered by the good and faithful ministry that I do see in thousands of congregations. There are many churches addressing today's great issues, and I rejoice in the committed and transformative work that these churches are doing. I am hopeful that awareness and action will spread from this small "mustard seed" of engaged churches, and will flourish in many more congregations.

But I also must be realistic, based in my experience of churches in the United States. While there are congregations that act for the health of God's whole creation, there are many, many more churches that seem oblivious, disconnected, or irrelevant. I am prompted to write on this theme because of three broad examples from this week alone.

  1. A few days ago, I was at a meeting with a coalition of interfaith leaders in Colorado, considering strategies to engage congregations around some of the many issues that will appear on our ballots this fall. (Colorado will have the longest ballot in the US this fall, with 18 complex initiatives. If you live in Colorado, you are encouraged to vote early or by mail because of this cumbersome ballot.)

    The "We Believe Colorado" coalition brings together faith communities that are dedicated to values-based leadership and action. Our meeting this week had thoughtful discussions about "the common good" as an ethical theme which informs our advocacy in support of three of the ballot initiatives. We developed plans to distribute resource materials to congregations around the state, including full-color bulletin inserts and posters from the Colorado Council of Churches and other coalition partners. We were energized about the ways in which we might help congregations connect their faith with the urgent issues of the day.

    Our planning and conversation also noted, though, that just mailing out these resources would accomplish almost nothing. Unless a member of our coalition makes some direct and personal contact with the staff of each congregation, it is unlikely that posters would even be placed on a bulletin board. We know that, in many churches, getting the posters taped up is the most that we can expect. Rather than churches begging for good resources on these important constitutional amendments and laws, most of the churches that we contact will be hesitant to even mention the ballot issues in their publications or services.

  2. A report released on Monday from The Barna Research Group looks at the ways in which Christian churches across the US are taking on the mandate for "creation care." Their polling reveals that 78% of all self-identified Christians "would like to see their fellow Christians take a more active role in caring for God's creation in a way that is both informed and biblical." Half of those surveyed say they have made specific changes to their lifestyle in the last 12 months because they are aware of the environmental impact. That is the good news.

    The report also says, however, that "few congregations teach the topic" of creation care. "The survey explored whether churchgoers have ever been exposed to any teaching about how Christians should respond to environmental issues. Overall, most active churchgoers (64%) have never heard any such sermons."

    David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, said:

    There is a void in Christian leadership on environmental issues, as well as an inability to articulate clearly and confidently a biblical understanding of creation care. Since climate change is controversial, many churches have simply avoided dealing with the subject, ceding the conversation to other voices.

  3. Within the last month, the Micah Challenge distributed a "Letter to the Church in the United States" which comes from church leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In a richly biblical style, the letter gives thanks for the way in which US churches have helped to spread the Christian Gospel. The writers move quickly from thanks to a sharp critique and a plea.
    Therefore, we have this against you, brothers and sisters, that along with this powerful announcing of the Gospel, the Church from the United States has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South - injustices that afflict the lives and ecosystems of millions of people who, centuries after the proclamation of the Gospel, still have not seen the sweat of their brow turned into bread.

    And so we ask you as sisters and brothers, citizens of the wealthiest most powerful nation on earth, to publicly challenge your candidates and political leaders - now and after the elections are over - to lead the world in the struggle to cut global poverty in half by 2015. If you who know the Truth will not speak for us, who will?

Three times this week, I have come face-to-face with the failure of churches in the US to act boldly on matters of great importance. Over and over again, it seems that the vast majority of churches in this country are silent and disengaged on the issues where we should be providing great moral leadership.

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Out of the entire Bible, the text that I think speaks most clearly and directly to the church in the United States is found in the Book of Revelation. In the opening chapters, there are messages directed to seven churches around the Mediterranian basin. The seventh one (Revelation 3:14-22), addressed to the church in Laodicea, speaks to the condition of many churches in the US:

The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation: I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. ... I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. ... Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Those harsh words do not apply to all churches, of course. Eco-Justice Ministries is honored to work with many congregations that are far from being lukewarm in their witness and ministry. But when it comes to caring for all of God's creation, to seeking justice and peace, to proclaiming the realm of God as something other than the American dream, far too many churches are comfortable and complacent.

Eco-Justice Ministries tries to help churches be bold in addressing the intertwined problems of social justice and ecological sustainability. While we highlight "environmental" issues, we are eager to help congregations move toward transformational ministry on any front. We see it as part of our mission to help churches claim their moral leadership on issues such as peacemaking, economic justice and human rights.

A church that is neither hot nor cold deserves the rejection described in Revelation. A church that is lukewarm, disengaged and silent on matters of great importance does not fulfill its calling to embody Christ in the world. As a matter of faithfulness -- in the church, and for our ministry in the world -- may we call lukewarm churches to repentance and renewal.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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