Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Climate Crisis as Opportunity
distributed 7/27/18 - ©2018

"Climate change is an opportunity for which the church was born." That's what Bill McKibben said back in 2006. His words are still quoted by leaders of the faith-based movement for climate justice.

What a remarkable re-framing of the climate crisis -- to see it as an opportunity. In a time when the church is seen by so many people as irrelevant, to see it as an opportunity for the church is even more remarkable. And to see it as an occasion "for which the church was born," as going to the core of our reason for being, well, that's an opportunity that we mustn't miss.

The climate crisis is one of the primary indicators that we are living in a time of great change, great conflict, and great confusion. It is a time when there is no consensus on the moral principles that should ground our society. Factions define progress by conflicting standards -- economic growth for corporations and the wealthy, individualistic freedom to act and believe in almost any way, technological advances, or health for communities both human and ecological. Deep divisions about our values and aspirations lead to disputes about whether climate change even exists, or whether that change matters.

Precisely because these are times of such profound conflict and uncertainty, there is an opportunity for the church to provide moral witness, to build community, and to act boldly in protecting creation.

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"Climate change is an opportunity for which the church was born." That does not mean that the church is well prepared to embrace the opportunity.

Not only does the climate crisis create an opportunity for the church to be fully and faithfully engaged in mission, it is also an opportunity for the church to rediscover and reclaim our purpose. If the Christian church does not claim this internal opportunity, then we'll be unable to respond to the broader calling for witness and action.

This spring, my friend Jim Antal published an important and helpful book, Climate Church, Climate World: how people of faith must work for change. The preface begins:

These pages are a guide for people of faith. We need to make God's hope our own as we respond to 'the long emergency' known as the climate crisis. ... [This book] offers a way forward for people of faith -- individually and in our lives together -- to repurpose the church and inspire humanity to engage a new moral era.

Jim knows well the challenges of repurposing the church. He served for over a decade as the Conference Minister of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, a role of pastoral leadership in close conversation with hundreds of congregations and clergy. This summer, he was appointed Special Advisor on Climate Change to the UCC's General Minister and President. As one steeped in the institutional church, Jim knows full well how essential it is for congregations and denominations "to embrace a new vocation" for this time of peril. He knows what churches need to do in working through a period of discernment.

That intentional discernment, specifically in the face of the climate crisis, opens the door to many opportunities.

  • There is an opportunity for theological renewal. If we take seriously what science tells us, we can come to new wonder and commitment about the intricate creation in which we live and which is held in love by God. As we re-read our sacred texts and examine our traditions, we can rediscover that the promise of faith is for communities as well as individuals. As we recognize the urgency of these times, we'll see that faithfulness is about action as well as belief.

  • There is an opportunity for renewal in preaching and worship. When our worship springs from compassion for a global and intergenerational community, we're drawn out of self-centered and domesticated rituals. Worship and prayer may be taken to the streets and the statehouse, as well as the church building. Preaching that speaks to this time of crisis will be both pastoral and prophetic.

  • There is an opportunity for discipleship and witness. Theology and ethics will draw us into service of those who face injustice and suffering in this climate-distorted world. We will speak, not only within our church communities, but in the broader society about the standards for justice, for the expansive range of neighbor love, about hope and the possibility of transformation. We'll be called to speak good news that is equal to the scale of this crisis.

  • There is an opportunity for community and collaboration. In a time of division and partisanship, honest and confessional conversation can bridge disagreement and rebuild trust. When we join forces with scientists and activists and community leaders, we'll find energy and effectiveness in new coalitions.

"Climate change is an opportunity for which the church was born." Claiming this opportunity will revitalize the church in its mission and ministry. That's good for the church, and it is a gift to the world.

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Jim Antal's new book is a gift to the church. It is practical and well-grounded, readable and accessible. The book is a guide, walking us through big ideas and important questions, offering suggestions and resources, with questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.

Jim's writing is deeply authentic. He draws on his own faith, and his years of experience in the church. He carries the authority of a leader in the work for climate justice, having shaped the positions of his denomination, and having been on the front lines of climate activism.

Climate Church, Climate World parallels and enriches many of the messages that I've expressed through Eco-Justice Ministries though the last 18 years. I highly recommend Jim's book to the readers of Eco-Justice Notes who are church leaders. Pastors and laity alike can be nurtured, guided and inspired by Jim's witness to and through the church.

I am deeply grateful to Jim Antal for compiling this call to the church. Jim helps us to see the opportunity in this time of crisis, and to respond effectively. I pray that you'll read it, reflect on it, and then do your part in repurposing the church for climate justice.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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