Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Imperatives for a New Moral Era
distributed 7/7/17 - ©2017

A major Christian denomination holds its national convention less than a month after Donald Trump declares that the US will cease all implementation of the Paris Accord. What will they say?

I am intrigued and delighted by the resolution adopted by the United Church of Christ's General Synod on Monday -- both by what it says, and by what it does not say.

I commend the statement to church people of all denominations. It speaks faithful truth about what it means to "be the church" in times such as these.

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The UCC resolution has a long title. "The Earth Is the Lord's -- Not Ours to Wreck: Imperatives for a New Moral Era." It was brought to the church meeting as an "emergency" resolution, a parliamentary procedure for a statement that could not have been anticipated by the ordinary deadline for submitting business last winter.

The unpredictable emergency is named in the opening paragraph. "Never has the earth and the climate changed so quickly. While the leaders of every country in the world recognize this reality, our current Administration ignores science, defunds the Environmental Protection Agency, and withdraws from the Paris Climate Accord."

That's the only specific mention of the administration's recent action, and there is nothing in the resolution directed toward the administration. It is not a political diatribe. It does not pretend that a church convention can provide a defining word on national policies.

The statement is directed to the church -- which is probably an important factor in why the motion passed with 97% support by the delegates.

I'm not going to quote extensively from the resolution, because I expect you to click on the link, and read the 2-page statement. (To be technical, the first page is background. It is only the second page, with the "be it resolved" language, that was approved.)

The resolution calls on the whole church -- not just the national offices -- to "prayerfully engage" three imperatives, each of which is backed up with specifics for action.

  • Let our clergy accept the mantle of moral leadership.
  • Let all of us incarnate the changes we long for.
  • Let us proclaim truth in the public square.

Those specifics are courageous. Not only are clergy called upon to speak from their pulpits about what is often a controversial topic, but it calls us to "resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure." That means resisting pipelines, and new wells for oil and gas, and coal fields, and power plants. That resistance, if it is going to make a difference, probably will involve civil disobedience. This is clearly more challenging than a letter to congress expressing our moral principles.

I am also impressed with the theological and moral clarity of the resolution. It is not a lengthy or sophisticated statement of faith principles. It is, though, a decisive statement that places those "who follow Jesus" under the mandate of protecting our common home.

The word "protect" is far stronger than the often-used language in faith circles of "caring" for creation. Protecting recognizes the active threat that exists. Protecting is an act of intervention in the face of that threat. And the need for protection is tied to "whatever the current American administration may say or do."

There is an important moral emphasis, too, which acknowledges that individuals and nations live out of stories. There are narratives that shape our decisions and our culture, and the dominant American narrative is complicit in the climate crisis. It is not enough to drive less and install solar panels. We do need to "begin a new story" that finds meaning and hope in a different set of goals and values.

I am struck by how profoundly this is a church statement. It is not a policy resolution that could be passed by an environmental organization. It is all about the distinctive role of faith communities in standing for truth, and providing moral witness.

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I am a life-long member of the United Church of Christ. I am proud of my denomination for the bold stand of this resolution.

Eco-Justice Ministries is broadly ecumenical. We have close ties with many Christian denominations and communions. I have no hesitation in endorsing the UCC resolution to all of our constituents. There is good prophetic guidance for us all in this short statement.

I urge you: bring the resolution on "imperatives for a new moral era" to the leadership of your congregation. Challenge your church to affirm moral leadership from the pulpit, a range of practical actions, and courageous public witness.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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