Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

God, Mammon and Methane
distributed 5/12/17 - ©2017

"The reign of God is in direct opposition to the empire of mammon." So says "Together Towards Life", a study document from the World Council of Churches.

That 2012 WCC document deals with "Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes". The church's mission and the proclamation of Christian good news is set in a global context. The World Council names the re-emerging truth that faithful mission and insight often comes "from the margins" -- from the poor and oppressed, from the disempowered parts of the world, and from the other-than-human parts of creation.

The short (16 page) statement from the WCC raises many of the themes that Pope Francis stressed in his 2015 encyclical. Faithful living within "our common home" requires attention to economic systems and social values, as well as interpersonal relationships. God's call to right relationship is a challenge to consumerism, and to a "technocratic paradigm" of economic growth and exploitation.

These messages from the global church -- and from other parallel voices -- give me hope and courage in today's challenging world.

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The World Council of Churches quotes Jesus, "You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt 6:24 KJV) That Bible verse starts with "No one can serve two masters". Newer translations say, "you cannot serve God and wealth."

The WCC moves from the words of Jesus into a theological assertion about the contemporary power structures of wealth. "The policy of unlimited growth through the domination of the global free market is an ideology that claims to be without alternative, demanding an endless flow of sacrifices from the poor and from nature." The market "makes the false promise that it can save the world through the creation of wealth and prosperity, claiming sovereignty over life, and demanding total allegiance which amounts to idolatry." (paragraph 31)

The idea that the market is "without alternative" means that the economic system claims to be a fact of nature, the way things are, the way God created us. The market is the master that we must serve. "Resistance is futile", we are told, in the face of such an existential claim.

The same point was made by Buddhist philosopher David Loy, in his article, "The Religion of the Market".

[The] Market is becoming the first truly world religion, binding all corners of the globe more and more tightly into a world-view and set of values whose religious role we overlook only because we insist on seeing them as 'secular'. ... The major religions ... have been unable to offer what is most needed, a meaningful challenge to the aggressive proselytizing of market capitalism, which has already become the most successful religion of all time, winning more converts more quickly than any previous belief system or value-system in human history.

Jesus and the contemporary voices name a sharp dichotomy, and either/or choice. Which will we serve? God and "the divine economy of love, sharing and justice" (WCC paragraph 108), or the empire of mammon? Which is our true faith, our true allegiance?

I have found Loy's naming of the market as a modern religion to be valuable. It is a faith system that competes with Christianity and other historic religions. A deep loyalty to those economic values needs conversion, not just ethical awareness.

Such polarizing statements sound a bit like religious paranoia. But events and statements this week show that the dichotomy is real and profoundly important.

For over a year, I've been informing you about a rather technical bit of government regulation, designed to cut down on waste and pollution from methane (natural gas) in fossil fuel operations. I first described and supported the proposed rules from the Bureau of Land Management in "Pearls Before Swine". The rules were adopted last fall by the Obama administration.

The new US Congress set out to overturn the BLM methane rule at the start of this year's session. (I sent action alerts to you on 2/12/17 and 3/15/17.) The House voted quickly to kill the rule. The Senate just voted last Wednesday, and in a delightful surprise, they failed to get enough votes to repeal the BLM rule. (Thank you, Republican senators Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and John McCain for your responsible votes!) The preservation of the rule is a win for eco-justice values.

But, immediately after that Wednesday vote, the US Department of the Interior (which includes the BLM) posted a disturbing statement: "the Department has reviewed and flagged the Waste Prevention rule as one we will suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation." The short statement ends, "The vote today in the Senate doesn't impact the Administration's commitment to spurring investment in responsible energy development and ensuring smart regulatory protections."

In other words, the Senate didn't do it, but we're still intending to kill the rule. (That will be a slow process, though, with lots of legal battles, and the end result isn't guaranteed.)

The middle paragraph of the Interior press release speaks of "real and harmful impacts on onshore energy development", "jobs and revenue" and "oil and gas producers." Not a word is said about pollution, human health, and climate change. No mention is made of reducing the waste of valuable non-renewable resources.

The administration's insistence on overturning this rule is an expression of "the empire of mammon." It measures only the economic details of production, jobs and businesses, while "demanding an endless flow of sacrifices from the poor and from nature." The uncompromising fixation on energy and wealth requires a corresponding disregard for health, the environment and future generations. We see the truth of the WCC's assertion: "The reign of God is in direct opposition to the empire of mammon."

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I find hope and courage in the theological insights of the World Council of Churches, Pope Francis, David Loy, and many others. I am energized and empowered by the recognition that our struggles are profoundly religious.

We're fighting these days on many fronts. (The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, the preservation of National Monuments, and whether the US will remain a party to the Paris climate agreement are just a few of the ones at play right now. Watch for more action alerts soon!) It could be exhausting and dispiriting to deal with a long string of complicated issues. It could be tempting to compromise, or just give up.

But the wise voices of faith remind us that these are not just passing issues, or purely political skirmishes. They are matters of ultimate importance and loyalty.

Who will we serve? Will we dedicate ourselves to the God of all creation, the God of justice, the God who seeks life and joy for the entire Earth community, now and into the future? Or will we serve mammon, wealth, the false ideology that we can be saved by growth and consumption?

Even as I am woefully complicit in the empire of mammon, I still commit myself to God. I will resist, and I will work for justice, because those actions are essential parts of my identity as a Christian. I am called to serve the realm of God, not the empire of mammon.

In the words of the World Council of Churches, "Our faithfulness to God and God's free gift of life compels us to confront idolatrous assumptions, unjust systems, politics of domination and exploitation in our current world economic order." (paragraph 30)

It is always a challenge to discern the just and the unjust. There are strategic choices about were to act. But the foundational choice is one that I made a long time ago. Who will I serve? I will serve God, not the economy.

I urge you to see the conflict of ultimate values and loyalties that is playing out around us. I urge you to reaffirm your commitment to serving God, justice, life and creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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