Climate Silence in the Church

Two sides of the same winter landscape one desolate the other thriving

In Copenhagen nations are at a standstill. They have been meeting for days and conversations that seemed to be progressing well have now stalled. Environmental change, their reason for gathering, is a complex and important issue that affects all of us. When some make decisions that affect all we can expect struggle. Many people of faith have been watching the developments and some, like myself have been troubled by what has developed and are wandering how to communicate it to local communities of faith.

I'll have to admit that "climate change" is not at the forefront of conversation in my corner of the world. Just a few weeks ago our bishops sent a pastoral letter to all our churches, "God's Renewed Creation" acknowledged that "God has entrusted its care to all of us, but we have turned our backs on God and on our responsibilities" and called us to "rededicate ourselves to participate in God's work." As I stood on the pulpit on the first Sunday of Advent and read this important letter I looked out to a glassy eyed, non-engaged congregation. Some, even looked slightly hostile as I read about "God's blessing, care, and promise of renewal extend[ing] to all of creation" and the call to "re-dedicate [ourselves] to a ministry of peace, justice and hope to overcome poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence."

As a person of faith I sense that we must be having conversations about the environment and its political and social implications. The United Nations Climate Summit is a case in point. The gathering of nations has brought some important issues to the surface including growing gaps between industrialized nations and the developing world. As those in power continue to make decisions that affect all nations, we must stop and reflect upon what the good news of the gospel calls us to.

This Sunday's reading has Mary's "song" in response to the announcement that she will bear the savior of the world. She says in Luke 1:52-53: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

The mighty have spoken, again the lowly are forgotten. The ones that created a model for others to follow are now changing the rules. They were wrong and yet no help seems to be in sight for those other nations who want to prosper also, who want to become what these powerful nations have become. They have reasons to rise up, to protest, to feel victimized again.

With my bishops I join the confession. I and the communities I have served and lead have not taken the environment seriously. We have used it, abuse it, and moved towards prosperity. We have reasons to sit "glassy eyed" when someone dares to question what we have been up to. We also have reasons to scoff and ignore the stories of these other nations who in our minds are "looking for a handout" and who might be our "enemies."

For too long the American church has been silent. We have allowed and benefited from prosperity no matter what the cost. We have built bigger buildings, consumed in excess, and have baptized it as a "blessing from God." Now other nations are becoming the prophetic voices who are calling us to task and hopefully will guide us to acknowledge not just that we have harmed the environment but that we have also been bad examples to the world.

This Advent we have been called to recognize our need for a Savior, to open ourselves to one who prepares the way, and to live fruits worthy of repentance. As we hear Mary's song we hear the call to be part of God's radical turning by using our positions of power and privilege to lift up the need of the lowly, the hungry, and the poor. To begin setting a new example, based on simplicity, stewardship, and the common good.