Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Churches on Strike
distributed 8/2/19 - ©2019

When is the right time to tell the truth?

Always, of course, is one answer -- but when there are many truths which need to be spoken, it is necessary to pick and choose the most opportune moments. Hate crimes and gun violence, looming threats of war and crises of immigration have an immediacy which may call us to speak out, to stand in witness, or to take other action in support of our values and beliefs.

When is the right time to tell the truth about the climate crisis?

Because of the relentless and ongoing deepening of this crisis, there are few "breaking news" occasions that demand our voices. Every May, the global CO2 levels hit a record high, so we can schedule that annual lament well in advance. Major scientific reports, with their carefully couched language, reliably tell us that things are more urgent than we thought, but with so much detail as to deaden our reaction. Perhaps a massive hurricane, strengthened by climate factors, will inspire some to speak the truth of how climate is a "multiplier effect."

Or maybe, climate is just so big, so complex, so pervasive -- and in the US, so controversial -- that we'll never name the climate truth at all. That silence, I fear, is all too common in churches. Because, let's admit it, the cycles of the church year and the assigned scripture texts of the Lectionary will never force us to speak boldly and urgently about such an inconvenient truth.

There may be no mandatory, compelling moment where pastors and church leaders will feel a need to bear witness to the truth of the climate emergency. So we need to claim a manufactured moment to provide a suitable and timely occasion.

On Friday, September 20, 2019, communities around the world will join in a Global Climate Strike. Building on the remarkable pattern of student strikes, people of all ages will stop work, leave homes, break routines, and join together in calling for rapid action on climate justice.

Eco-Justice Ministries invites and encourages -- dare I say instructs and demands? -- people of faith to take part in the September strikes. Join the events on Friday. Use church services on Sunday the 22nd to tell moral truth about the great climate emergency.

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Plans are still taking shape for the multitude of events that will center the Climate Strike on September 20. The website for the strike will list events by location sometime in the near future. You can "pledge to join" the strike to be sure to get updates -- and also to pledge your help in organizing a local strike.

It will be nice if you spread the word in your congregation about the upcoming strike, and invite members to take part. Put information in bulletins and newsletters. Put up a poster.

It will be far better and more productive if your congregation's leadership actively recruits members to take part in the strike. Talk to members one-on-one. Encourage people to be part of a church delegation. Set a goal for how many members you want to join the strike, and then work hard to exceed that goal.

Let members of the congregation know that this is an important occasion for moral witness -- whether on the streets, in a workplace activity, or through some other form of participation. Don't wait until the last minute. Start organizing now.

The theme of a climate strike offers some creative possibilities for churches to plan worship services or events. (No, pastors are not being instructed to "go on strike" and skip work that Sunday!) For today, I'll briefly suggest two approaches. More details and resources are posted on an Eco-Justice Ministries webpage that will be updated and expanded frequently in the coming six weeks.

1) Take a "strike" from the Lectionary readings for the day (which are totally inappropriate for a climate emergency message!). Turn, instead, to readings from scientists and the global church as the focus of worship.

Let testimony from scientists and researchers tell truth about what is happening to God's creation as greenhouse gasses pollute the atmosphere and warp the global climate. Hear from denominational resolutions, theologians and church leaders about the moral imperative to act in this unprecedented situation. The environmental encyclical from Pope Francis is one possible source. On this day, too, let youth speak powerful truth about their experience, their perspectives, their fears and anger -- either in direct words from young members of the community, in videos, or in readings.

Perhaps build on those words of truth with a traditional sermon or homily. Or maybe this day "on strike" from the biblical texts could be an opportunity for other ways of "preaching" words of instruction, hope and challenge. A panel of concerned members, or words from a local expert, would be appropriate for this special service.

The climate crisis is unprecedented in all of human history. As one theologian wrote, "For the first time, our power to destroy outstrips Earth's power to restore." While the Bible has timeless wisdom about many things, it does not have a prophetic word about the astonishing new way that humans are distorting and destroying God's creation. Use this day to hear truth from other sources.

2) Encourage youth -- or others with commitments to climate justice -- to interrupt the service with an enactment of the strike for that congregation, and take over the pulpit. (Obviously, this works best if the pastor knows it is coming, but some in the congregation are surprised!!)

Let the service begin as usual, then have protestors with signs and chants enter the church space. After a few minutes of disruption, leaders of the strike can be invited to the pulpit to explain their case. They can issue demands -- for the congregation to pay attention to the climate crisis, for political leaders to step up on the issue, or for other actions that are appropriate in that setting.

Those on strike can bring reports and demands from the global strike the previous Friday. They can bring challenging messages from scientists, theologians, and the global youth who have energized this movement with school strikes.

This staged strike should be planned in such a way that there is some sense of resolution -- a promise to keep addressing climate in church programs, for example -- without making the conflict and demands go away. A theological message of hope and challenge should be expressed toward the end of the service.

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In last week's Notes, I said that the biblical Christian faith is intimately concerned with the "worldly" events of the day. To be true to our faith tradition, we need to address hard issues like the climate crisis, with both moral reflection and calls to specific action.

The Global Climate Strike in September is an occasion that can call churches into that kind of engagement. Congregations can take part in the Friday strike events, and they can bring the truth of climate crisis into worship on Sunday morning.

How can you make this happen in your congregation?


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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