Climate change is a very real challenge, requiring prophetic responses

The extraordinary and history-making cold spell we experienced several weeks ago reminded me of a time that one of my good friends posted on Facebook that, with all this cold weather, human-induced climate change is certain to be a hoax.

Although I’m sure that my friend confused weather with climate, it made me think of the importance of caring for God’s creation.  Aside from the science, we are called to be stewards over the earth, for “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

Most people now realize that climate change is a very real challenge, that studies show a dramatic shift in the earth’s climate following the industrial age in the last century or so.  In fact, just recently, a group of 200 evangelicals petitioned Congress to take climate change seriously, echoing President George W. Bush’s worldview that “an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem [of climate change].”

climateworldbankI have a feeling that my friend’s personal opinion is a result not of his biblical worldview but his place in our great society.  Ours is a nation of plenty and abundance.  We can eat meat, vegetables, fruit, and other foods whenever we want, wherever we want.  Most of us don’t have to farm the land, rely on seasonal changes for produce, and slaughter our own beef in order to provide for our families.  We can drink more water in one movie sitting than most impoverished villages get over a period of several days.

Frankly, this abundance keeps us from experiencing what other nations experience when it comes to farming and food sustenance (or lack thereof).  Currently, because of climate change, people around the world face severe droughts, flooding, deforestation, and famine.  Economic, political, and social conflicts also ensue wherever climate change is most devastating.

Scientist and director of Global Environmental Relief (and, admittedly, one of the co-chairs of our church’s Faith in Action Committee), Darrell Smith, has experienced these issues first hand in his own travels around the world:  “In Sub-Saharan Africa,” he explains, “most climate change effects are expected to have their greatest impact on food security.  Droughts and floods are already increasing due to shifts in rainfall, as I saw in South Sudan last year.”

The U.S. Department of Defense now perceives climate change as a threat to our national security.  The department funded the University of Texas to the tune of $7.6 billion for a study called “Climate Change and African Political Stability.”

What does all of this mean to us Christians?  For one, it means we have to take a closer look at how God ordained our partnership with all creation.  God did not give us “dominion” over the earth to destroy it, but to care for it.  We have a God-given responsibility to take any and all threats to our environment seriously.

For Princeton professor, George Philander, this biblical worldview should shape a positive approach to creation care.  He encourages scientists and Christians to focus less on “stories of gloom and doom” and “tell people what an amazing planet we live on” (http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-08/temperature-rising).

Second, we need to raise awareness about how other people in our globe live.  Then we need to take responsibility for our relationship to them and our interdependence with the wider human community.  We are not an island unto ourselves, and our actions, spending habits, and way of life make an impact, either positively or negatively, on entire people groups.

Since we are not likely to have personal, intimate relationships with many of these people groups, common-sense legislation related to environmental concerns can help us balance our ignorance with a healthy sense of corporate stewardship.

Last, we need to de-politicize creation care.  It does not help to side with partisan issues on this subject when this subject is (1) so close to God’s heart and (2) larger than our political debates make it out to be.  Creation care should be one of those things we find common ground on.  After all, why wouldn’t we all help nurture and restore a world that “God so loved”?  If God didn’t condemn the world than neither should we.

With “Nones” on the rise, church needs to transcend political discord to spead Gospel

Over the last week, politicians have been clamoring to move the GOP forward after losing the While House.  Stories abound on how they lost ground with young people who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama.  That caught my attention because it seems that this is the very demographic least likely to attend church.

I’ll leave the politics to the politicians; but, when it comes to the church, Christians need to be concerned.  A recent Pew Research poll found the number of “nones” (people who do not associate with organized religion) rose from 14% to nearly 20% in the last five years.  A third of adults who follow this trend are under the age of 30; and, worse still, 88% do not want to look for a religion to call home.

Upon closer inspection, however, the very same poll provides the church with avenues of hope–of spreading the Gospel message–even in the least expect places.

For one, a majority of nones may not consider themselves religious, but they do consider themselves spiritual.  I don’t know about you, but I think that the church should have a monopoly on all things spiritual.  We should lead the way in spiritual experience by putting a name and face to the Source of that experience, just like Paul did by naming that unnamed god in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

But that simple message has been clouded by our political bickering even in the church.  While so many “nones” believe they are spiritual, just as many–if not more–feel a “deep connection with nature and the earth.”  So, spirituality is tied to an ever-growing concern for creation and the individuals who live in that creation no matter how different those individuals may be.

Many segments of the church, however, have fallen into the temptation of believing that creation care and the shaping of social legislation is a purely political concern.  This politicizing of God’s creation–and the people involved in legislation–is an immediate distraction in reaching the nones.  The nones see such culture wars as a war on their very personhood and values.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think individual churches need to compromise their values or their reading of the Bible–Christians are just as diverse on these issues as are those in society–but I do think that our rhetoric related to creation and local communities needs to change.

Concerning ourselves with a more nuanced understanding of all things “spiritual” will provide us with an evangelistic–and evangelical–avenue of hope towards reaching the nones out of compassion rather than condemnation.

Another avenue of hope is in broadening the church’s message that prayer and miracles are most compatible with a compassionate Christianity.  Just as the number of “nones” is on the rise, so too are people who pray and believe in miracles.

Again, you’d think that the church had a monopoly on these two areas of spiritual connectedness, but it seems that more people find Oprah to be a source of inspiration for prayer than the prayer-filled sacred spaces of our churches.  How in the world the church lost young people to self-help books and celebrities in the cultural election on prayer is beyond me.

Our failure in reaching the “nones” is not as bleak as I suspect.  We already have what it takes to make connections with folks who have given up on church, now we only need to learn to how to speak their language when it comes to spirituality, prayer, creation and people care, and the miraculous when it comes to outreach and collaboration.

If we are too busy fighting one another and participating in culture wars that birth vitriolic rhetoric, then we will continue to lose the hearts, minds, and ears of the nones for years to come.  Only when we make an intentional effort to reach out with compassion and a search for common ground, will we gain ground for Christ.