Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

God's Kin-dom and the Anthropocene
distributed 11/3/17 - ©2017

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota. . Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

For several decades, Christian feminists have been using the term "kin-dom", instead of the traditional "kingdom", especially in saying the Lord's Prayer. The new language has spread more broadly into some parts of progressive Christianity.

As I consider the state of the world these days -- ecologically, in terms of human justice, politically -- I'm convinced that "kin-dom" is a valuable and enticing image that provides an alternative to what scientists are calling the Anthropocene.

Placing the two new terms side-by-side gives a vivid sense of how far astray the modern global society has gone, and of the directions that we must turn to get back on track.

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Swapping in a hyphen to replace the letter G in kingdom leads to big changes in meaning and understanding. It turns us away from a notion of God as a masculine monarch, and challenges the idea that God's creation is best seen as a hierarchical entity. (I'm guessing that the theological pun only works in English.)

The language about God's kin-dom is new, but the idea is deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian thinking. As I have written often, the Hebraic formulation of shalom lifts up the vision of peace with justice through all creation. Ethicist Larry Rasmussen has helped us recover that wholistic view with the powerful phrase "Earth community."

This week, I've gone back to a helpful book on that theological theme, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation, by Richard Bauckham. In the first paragraph of the book's preface, he writes, "the Bible does evince a strong sense of the interconnectedness of all creatures and relates this to their common dependence on God their Creator." Kin-dom, indeed.

In the central chapter of the book, Bauckham notes that the use of "community" to include both humans and the rest of nature probably originates with American conservationist Aldo Leopold.

What is important for us about Leopold's image of a biotic community is that it models the kind of commonality and interdependence of humans and all other creatures that the Hebrew Bible recognizes and which, at the same time, is so clear from our contemporary ecological plight, especially the effects of climate change.

God's kin-dom, God's realm, the presence of shalom, the community of creation -- all of these are found as driving themes throughout scripture. They appear as motivators of hope and behavior, the goal toward which we are called to direct our personal and collective lives. Bauckham notes, "If there is hope for the people, then there must also be hope for the non-human creation." He adds:

But, if we accept the diagnosis that human wrongdoing is responsible for ecological degradation, it follows that those who are concerned to live according to God's will for [this] world must be concerned to avoid and repair damage to God's creation as far as possible. Like the coming of the Kingdom of God, we cannot achieve the liberation of creation but we can anticipate it.

For faithful and aware Christians today, community and our kinship with all creation are essential components of relevant theology and ethics.

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Christian theology has to reclaim Earth community as a central proclamation because we are now so far away from that blessed community. There is an emerging sense that we have entered the Anthropocene -- another new word for our modern age.

The cover story for the September 27, 2017 issue of Christian Century was titled (in the print version), Waking up to the Anthropocene. Norman Wirzba described this new era:

The Anthropocene marks the moment when humans became the dominant force in planetary history, responsible for the widespread alteration of the world's land, ocean, and atmospheric systems. If in the past it could have been assumed that nature's power dwarfed and limited human ambition, in the Anthropocene the situation is reversed: human power is now the primary, determining influence shaping Earth's future. Though planetary systems and ecological processes are still clearly at work, their expressions can no longer be understood apart from human activity. From cellular to atmospheric levels, there is no place or process that does not reflect humanity's technological prowess and economic reach.

That human power, unfortunately, is not benign, and it is not building up the vitality of the community of creation. In a series of graphic presentations, the website "Welcome to the Anthropocene" highlights the crossing of critical planetary boundaries -- including species extinction and climate change -- and names 1950 as the start of a "Great Acceleration" in human impacts. Wirzba (along with many other experts) connects the Anthropocene with the rise of now-dominant political and economic systems. "Both imperial power and capitalist production are driven by the desire to accumulate wealth. The wealth that is sought, however, has little to do with the commonwealth". He also points to a philosophical/theological issue in our way of relating to the world. "But when freedom is characterized as liberation from nature, or as the ability of self-determining subjects to annex and exploit the world without end, then the degradation of places and the exploitation of communities are sure to follow."

More than a decade ago, I named the challenge for those of us who are "liberal" and "progressive" that our notions of progress often celebrate an increasing separation from and power over the natural world. The modern mindset has infected even our theological aspirations.

The new geologic era of the Anthropocene reflects human intentions that are almost exactly contrary to what is needed to build up God's kin-dom. Our modern age has belief systems, economic systems and political systems that are devastating the planet.

Here in the United States, my great and ongoing lament is that our national political institutions -- the executive branch and the congress -- are driven by the mindset and the values of the Anthropocene. They, and parallel forces in state governments and business, are moving rapidly and brutally to exploit and abuse the community of creation, and to build human power and wealth. This veering of public policy away from Earth community demands that Christians be involved actively in political and social change.

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It is not a surprise that two startling new terms have emerged in recent years. The emergence of the Anthropocene is one reason why Christians have found it necessary to emphasize the blessing of God's kin-dom. Kin-dom is a profound theological hope that can guides us in this age of destruction.

Wirzba ends his article with this statement:

The dream of a perpetual growth economy that will fuel the individual ambitions of billions is over. In our Anthropocene world, it has become more important than ever to devote ourselves to the sort of homemaking that makes hospitality to all people and all creatures a distinct possibility. Christians have much to contribute to this work.

The choice before us is stark and vivid. We can continue to accelerate the destruction and destabilization of the Anthropocene, or we can turn toward the hope and healing of God's shalom for all creation.

In the preaching and teaching of churches, I pray for a dramatically stronger emphasis on God's kin-dom, and the value of the community of creation. In our advocacy and witness, I pray that we can be clear and compelling in the turn toward Earth community.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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