Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Progressive Christian Social Action

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note:  This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July. 

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement.  But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on.  Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum.  He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right.  This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party.  The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States.  This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute—a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and nature of the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues.  Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves.  In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.

 

Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. 

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For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology?  Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson. 

Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

Introducing Love in a Time of Climate Change

Progressive Christian Social Action Blog

Love in a Time of Climate Change

final book cover

Hello Friends,

Today I am introducing my soon-to-be released book, Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  It offers a progressive Christian approach to climate change that takes climate science seriously.  It is based on the core teachings of Jesus about loving God above all and our neighbors as ourselves.

Its premise is that in this time of climate change, loving God must include honoring creation—God’s creation.  Likewise, loving our neighbors must include working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, especially those who live on the front lines of climate change, justice for our young and for future generations, and justice for all parts of creation.  For as Albert Schweitzer said, “Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, [humanity] will not find peace.”

This book also draws from the teachings and practices of John Wesley, a key figure in the 18th century Great Awakening and founder of the United Methodist Church, especially his focus on the themes of creation and justice.  The book introduces his teachings on God as immanent within creation and as revealed through creation, and explores the similarities of his thought with that of several contemporary process theologians.  Likewise, it presents his teachings on what he called “social holiness,” his actions as a social reformer, and similarities between his teachings and that of liberation theologians today.

But this book does not tell the readers what to think.  Instead, it demonstrates a process for exploring climate change from a faith perspective in a way that supports readers in thinking for themselves, examining the evidence, forming their own conclusions, and deciding what, if any, actions to take.  The book demonstrates an unfolding process of discovery based on exploring creation and justice, in the context of climate change, through the lenses of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

This process, creatively adapted from John Wesley, takes the Bible seriously, but does not insist that it all be taken literally.  It considers Christian tradition and acknowledges the good, but also shows the great harm dominant forms of Christianity have caused.  Readers are encouraged to think things through by using their God-given faculty of reason, to listen to their own inner voice, and to learn from their own experience.  In this way, readers integrate their understanding of climate change and its implications, including its spiritual implications, at a deep level, and gain insight that enables them to craft a faithful response based on their own understanding.

Finally, Love in a Time of Climate Change offers hope.  From the book:

“Honoring creation and working to establish justice cultivates hope in us as individuals and equips us to offer hope to the world. First, as followers of Jesus, our primary hope is that we can live in faithfulness to the loving will of God in all circumstances, as he did. The fulfillment of this hope is possible only if we live under the influence of the Holy Spirit. As we do so, our ongoing growth in faith, hope, and love is expressed by our lifestyle choices and acts of mercy and justice in the world.

“Second, we hope for the transformation of the world. I stress throughout this book that individual action is not enough to turn the rising tide of climate chaos. It will take many people working together to build a diverse and multi-focused movement that is strong enough to pressure policy makers, transform the system, and make possible the enactment of sane policies and practices that effectively address climate change.

“It may be that the magnitude of the challenge of climate change will motivate the dramatic ideological and systemic shifts necessary for changing direction as a species. As we entrust our lives to God we are empowered to join with others in the growing movement for climate justice and to carry a unified message of healing, love, and solidarity as we live into God’s future, offering hope amid the climate crisis that `another world is possible.’”

“God is ever present, always with us. Love never ends.”

To find out more, to read initial endorsements, or to pre-order, go to Love at a Time of Climate Change

Other blog postings from Sharon about climate change can be found here.

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Guest Post: UMC: Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!

Progressive Christian Social Action Blog

Guest Post from Mark Davies:  “United Methodist Church and Westpath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!”

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Today my blog features a guest post from Mark Y.A. Davies, the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University.  I met Mark a year ago in St. Louis at a United Methodist Women training for Climate Justice Leaders. This post makes the case for the United Methodist Church, especially the company that manages the denomination’s pension fund (Westpath), to divest from fossil fuels. As one of people who has been working with Fossil Free UMC for the past several years on this issue, I appreciate Mark’s clear and persuasive practical and moral arguments.  Although only one-third of delegates at our 2016 General Conference voted to divest, the struggle goes on.  I am convinced that with the clarity and determination of the people I have been working with, including Mark, and with the support of peoples’ prayers from around the world, the United Methodist Church will join other denominations, universities, nonprofits, and even corporations in acting on this basic principle:  “It is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.”

United Methodist Church and Westpath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!  By Mark Y.A. Davies

Thanks to Mark for agreeing to let me post this article.   Find Mark’s original post here

If we think it is morally problematic to invest in alcohol, tobacco, and gambling because of their negative effects on persons and society; but we think it is not morally problematic to invest in fossil fuel companies, then that it is a deeply flawed view of moral and social responsibility.

Only one of the above mentioned industries threatens the very future of human civilization on earth, and that industry, the fossil fuel industry, has spent billions of dollars to spread demonstrably false information about climate change and to influence politicians to keep allowing them to continue harming people and the planet.

My church, the United Methodist Church, and the company that manages its pension and benefits investments, Wespath, continue to make this grievous error in the name of keeping a seat at the table to influence the oil and gas companies. It is not working.

These same fossil fuel corporations are the ones working behind the scenes to keep us from making gains for climate justice and to keep us from moving towards clean and renewable energy. These same companies are investing in an infrastructure of pipelines and technology that will keep us dependent on fossil fuel for another generation while climate scientists are telling us that the vast majority of oil and gas must stay in the ground. Despite their public claims to the contrary, these same companies have helped bring people like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt to power, and now they have removed the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement. By continuing to invest in these fossil fuel companies, the United Methodist Church is complicit with the very entities most responsible for creating an unlivable climate for human civilization.

Time and time again the United Methodist Church’s investments in fossil fuel companies undercut our prophetic witness for the care of creation. We United Methodists stood side by side with the people of Standing Rock and wrote statements of support for the water protectors there, only to have our witness tainted by the news that our church was financially invested in the very companies that were building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Talk about an example of not putting our money where our mouth was!

Recently, Wespath has touted the fact that our engagement with Occidental and Exxon Mobil helped sway stockholder votes to make these companies take into consideration and report to the stockholders about the impact of climate change and climate change mitigation on the activities and financial value of these companies. Days later the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord based on the false science that these companies have been supporting for decades. The stockholder resolutions that Westpath is so proud of will have negligible impact, if any, on the actual extraction practices of these companies, while the United States federal government’s decision to withdraw from global cooperative action on climate change will likely bring devastating consequences to all life on earth.

What good are returns on our pension and benefits investments if we do not have a livable climate for human civilization? What good is a seat at the table of the planet destroyers if they keep on destroying the planet? While they may occasionally give us some crumbs that fall off the table to keep us satisfied that we are doing some good, they continue funding the merchants of doubt and the merchants of death that will lead to unspeakable suffering for all life on earth. It is time to stop taking seats at the tables we should be turning over and fully engage the prophetic witness for climate justice that is needed in fiercely urgent times like these.

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Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

One of the last Golden toads of Costa Rica, now extinct.

During Lent, Christians remember and grieve Jesus’ death at the hands of a murderous system that included official representatives, religious collaborators, a public that could be manipulated, and friends who betrayed, denied, or abandoned him.  We remember and grieve the countless others who have been executed over the years by similar systems of worldly power.  Meanwhile, creation is being crucified as surely as Jesus was crucified on the cross.

This understanding has profound implications when we consider the harm being done to creation.  Even though many of us as individuals try to treat the earth with the respect it deserves, the institutions and systems in which we participate are plundering the earth and leaving it despoiled and desecrated.  This does not bode well for humans or the other life forms with whom we are interrelated and interconnected on this earth.  The institutions and operating systems that support industrial civilization are destroying the ecosystems upon which all life depends!  The insatiable appetite of the global system of wealth-driven corporate capitalism continues to devour the gifts of the earth, destroying the goodness of creation, destroying our non-human companions, destroying prospects for future generations, destroying our humanity.

Now the Trump Administration’s federal budget proposal includes cuts of 31% to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was formed in 1970 as the result of grassroots activism and widespread public concern.   The very agency charged with protecting the environment is being cut more deeply than any other program.

The destruction continues and accelerates.  Several climate change feedback loops have kicked in, making runaway climate change more likely each day.  The Sixth Great Extinction is well underway, as the atmosphere and oceans heat up, as toxins become ubiquitous, and as diverse ecosystems are paved over, “developed,” or converted into monoculture crops.  Humans suffer as air, land, and water are overused or contaminated, and as food prices rise.  Fukishima continues spewing radioactive waste into the oceans as more nuclear power plants are built.  Powerful nations wage resource wars and attempt to dominate the earth in an endless cycle of violence, employing drones and other high-tech weapons that kill civilians, obliterate communities, and create toxic wastelands.

No one on earth will be left untouched by the current system of death, for it is destroying life itself.  The web of life is being unraveled.  The air, water, land, and stable climate necessary for sustaining life are being destroyed by the institutional imperatives of today’s global corporate empire.  The earth is dying—signs of death are all around.  Creation itself is being crucified.

In this dying of Earth’s life systems, her children, both human and non-human, suffer.  Songs of praise become cries of pain and lament, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”  “God help us!  Has God forsaken us?  Where is God?”

But it is not God who has forsaken us, it is we who have forsaken God.  God is right here in the midst of the persecuted and tortured earth, suffering in and with Earth’s creatures, including but not limited to humanity, experiencing forsakenness.  God weeps for the harm done, because God experiences it all from the inside—the terror of the Polar Bear who discovers she cannot swim the distance to the next ice floe, the confusion of the Monarch butterfly whose migratory home has been destroyed, the loneliness of the last Golden Toad who croaks unceasingly for a mate.  God experiences the alarm of people in island nations that are being subsumed by rising seas and the panic and grief of families whose crops fail and children die because of increasing drought.  God experiences the “great loneliness of spirit” of the child who realizes that species are dying, and who wants a future of abundant life.

Where is there hope for new life?  I see signs of resurrection in the rising up of people who are no longer willing to consent to the current global system of death and are rising up in nonviolent resistance and creative action.  Surely God is on the side of those who love life and are willing to give themselves fully to the struggle out of love, as Jesus did. The compassion and passion that motivated Jesus may save us yet, as his risen Spirit lives and loves through us.  If we are willing, God will breathe new life into us, inspire us, empower us, and work through us to bring about healing and new life for all creation.

Previous blog post:  The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified
Next Post:  Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of this World

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Another Dam is Not a Solution to Climate Change

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An area of the Bear River that would be submerged by the Centennial Dam.

The excessive rainfall that we have experienced recently is something that we can expect with climate change.  As average global temperatures rise, weather patterns are thrown off balance. We can’t know whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by such warming, but we do know that it makes such events statistically more likely. In recent years, there have been thousands of record-breaking weather disruptions all over the world.  As air warms, more water evaporates, drying out the land and causing drought, as it has here in California.  Clouds carry this additional moisture, making storms more likely. This results in the excessive rainfall, super storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and floods that are creating disasters on every continent.

Recent storms have stressed the Oroville Dam to a point where 200,000 people had to be evacuated.  I grew up in Oroville while the dam was being built.  My family and I lived just a few blocks from the Feather River.  As kids we spent most of our summer days there. The dam flooded habitat of plant and animal species.  The fish ladder and hatchery were built to counteract its toll on salmon and steelhead.  The dam also flooded our upstream swimming sites and areas where local teenagers used to find arrowheads, that is, the ancient homelands of the Maidu people of the region.  My Maidu step-brother Lee, whose mother was born on at the Moorehouse Rancheria near Oroville, still lives there.  When the dam failed, his grown kids and grandkids evacuated and joined him at his house above the dam.

Nevada County responded to flood evacuees with great generosity.  Now that people are returning to their homes and the immediate danger has been alleviated, we can hope that the damage will be repaired and people will be safe.

Now our community is facing another dam-related challenge: the proposal to build the Centennial Dam near Colfax and create another reservoir on the Bear River. This project is being billed as a response to ongoing climate change. We can expect many more such proposed solutions as the planet continues to warm.

Recently my husband and I spent time with our daughter and several grandchildren at a nearby campground on the banks of the Bear River, in an area that will be submerged if the project goes forward. Concerned people opposing the dam displayed maps and charts showing the areas that would be taken by eminent domain, destroyed, and submerged: 125 existing homes, trees and native plants, downstream waterways, ecosystems and various species that thrive here. Members of the local Indigenous community told the children stories and demonstrated traditional uses of particular stones found on the river bank, then invited everyone into a circle for a ritual of protection for all the beings who inhabit this place, and for our descendants who will come after.

Whether or not to build this dam is a climate justice issue. From one perspective, another reservoir makes sense, since precipitation is less dependable and the snowpack no longer ensures a continuous supply of water. But there would be great social and environmental costs, including the loss of people’s homes, destruction of Native cultural sites, loss of habitat for many plant and animal species, damage downstream to fish and other wildlife, and the forfeiture of people’s ability to enjoy this unique part of the natural world. Furthermore, logging the trees, bulldozing the plants, scraping the soil, building the dam, and flooding the region would release stored carbon into the atmosphere and eliminate the carbon sequestration function that the living trees, plants, and soil provide. There are alternatives that would avoid these social and environmental costs, including recharging groundwater that has been depleted by over-pumping. This dam is an example of a so-called solution that exacerbates the problem of climate change.

This proposal to respond to climate change by building a dam, along with the controversy it is generating, is an example of difficult policy decisions that will face us for the foreseeable future. It is also an example of a regional struggle to prevent ecosystem destruction, block further carbon pollution, and link the rights of Indigenous people with the rights of the earth. For people who live nearby, go to the SYRCL website at yubariver.org/ to find out more and send your comments.  This struggle may yet become another example of people around the world doing what we can to preserve the integrity of the places we call home.