Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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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. 

To receive an email notification each time Sharon posts to her blog, click the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right.

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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Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Progressive Christian Social Action

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Poppies in our yard.

 

This Easter season has been filled with paradox.  How can we understand and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus when ignorant or ideologically-driven men in high places dominate public policy and endanger the world?  In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who was supported overwhelmingly by white Evangelicals, the question for socially-concerned Christians is:  How can the story of Jesus and the lived experience of the Risen Christ be relevant in this context?  Today I point to the reality of the Risen Christ as an antidote to despair and paralysis, and as a spiritual motivation for the ongoing struggle for peace, justice, and the healing of the world.

The presence of the Risen Christ is the basis for Christian life.  One way this presence is expressed is through the concept of the Mind of Christ (1Cor. 2:16). The mind of Christ is a lived experience, an awareness of the presence of God, a tangible sense of the Holy Spirit.  This experience itself is resurrection: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”(Galatians 2:20).  In words attributed to Martin Luther:  “My head has been raised, my Head is Christ.  My heart has been raised, my heart is with Christ.  My tardy body will follow.”

Reflecting on the Mind of Christ also provides a safeguard against the faulty idea of a violent God.  For those of us who believe that the personality and love of God are revealed in Jesus, our understanding of God must be consistent with the biblical view of the life and teachings of the nonviolent Jesus.  Biblical literalism has no place here, but the overall “tenor and scope” of scripture, especially the stories of Jesus, point to a God of mercy and love.

What does this understanding have to do with the way we live our lives? Opening ourselves to the awareness of the Mind of Christ means living into the ongoing consciousness of God.  It means living in a way that reflects the life of Jesus and his way of fostering inclusive community, even if it comes at great cost.

It’s important to remember that Jesus died in a way that was consistent with how he lived his life.  After demonstrating compassion and confronting the Ruling Powers nonviolently throughout his ministry, he refused to back down when those Powers threatened him with death. In this way, he “gave his life” for others, for the the sake of the greater good, trusting that somehow, in some way, God could bring life even out of death.

Others have followed his example.  Archbishop Oscar Romero, after being converted to the side of the poor in the US-backed war against the Sandinistas, said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  This, too, is resurrection.

Living a resurrected life means joining in solidarity with all who seek justice, especially those who are most vulnerable, challenging injustice and oppression, and courageously following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.  I, for one, plan to keep my eyes open for those outbreaks of spirit, those moments of social breakthrough, when people of many faiths and philosophies rise up together in resistance to oppression, with hope and determination.  By courageously acting for justice, we participate in resurrection, working for a world that reflects the love that brought us into being, the love that can’t be extinguished by any empire, the love at the heart of the universe.  In the words of the great hymn by Martin Luther, updated for our time:

Let goods and kindred go

This mortal life also

The body they may kill

Love’s truth abideth still

God’s kin-dom is forever.

This post is the culmination of my Lenten series, A Lenten Call to Resist.  I began by writing Resisting Cultural Possession.  I wrote later about The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified and about Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth.  In Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age, I pointed to the ideology that rationalizes and the systems that justify such harm.  I also wrote about The Subversive Jesus, putting into perspective why he was killed by the ruling powers of his day.  I challenged the view of God promoted by the Religious Right in Rejecting Theological Sadism and in Jesus Was Not Born to Die, and presented an alternative in God’s Restorative Justice.  Finally, right before Easter Sunday, I wrote about prayer and action in Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance and Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus.  This final post is about Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ.

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Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The idea that Jesus was “born to die” is central to the theology of the Christian Right.  Bestselling author John Piper wrote Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die.  Among the reasons he lists are:  to absorb the wrath of God, to cancel the legal demands of the law against us, to provide the basis for our justification, and to rescue us from final judgment.  The introduction to this book on Amazon.com states: “The most important questions anyone can ask are: Why was Jesus Christ crucified? Why did he suffer so much? What has this to do with me? Finally, who sent him to his death? The answer to the last question is that God did.”

Deterministic teachings such as these raise troubling questions about the nature of God.  They also disregard the value of Jesus’ life, ministry, and freedom of choice, and ignore the social and political factors that led to his death.

To believe that Jesus was born to die and that God’s intent was for Jesus to die can lead to the acceptance of the suffering of ourselves and others, and to apathy in the face of injustice.  This allows us to justify not only Jesus’ execution, but other injustices as well. For if all is well and it is God’s will for one man, Jesus, to be tortured and executed by the State, why not others?  (This question takes on new meaning as Donald Trump promises to revive and expand the policy of torture practiced during the Bush administration.)  If things have been set right by the death of Jesus and everything is going according to God’s plan, why try to change anything?  Why not accept everything that happens, every injustice, every execution, as God’s will?

This is religion that supports Empire.  This is the antithesis of the spirituality of Jesus.  It serves the Powers.  Entrapment of the innocent, torture, and execution by the State are not now and never have been in accordance with the will of God.

The death of Jesus was not God’s intent.  God’s intent in sending Jesus was to show us what God is like and what human life and community can be when lived in the presence of God.  Clearly, such a life is a threat to the Powers that Be.  Jesus had settled for himself long before that being a beloved child of God meant being at odds with the world’s power structures.  He had been tempted early on to seek status, wealth, and worldly power. Instead, he chose the “foolishness” and “weakness” of Love.  He chose “the wisdom of God, secret and hidden,” which the rulers of that age did not understand.  “If they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2). That’s why Jesus died—because the ruling Powers killed him.

Fortunately, we don’t need to jump through ideological hoops in order to have a personal, life-giving, Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to adopt a deterministic belief system in order to come to terms with suffering and to experience forgiveness, spiritual connection, and the unconditional grace and love of God.

The story of the execution of Jesus brings about a great reversal of spiritual perspective.  Instead of seeing God as a King, Judge, or Director of human events, in the crucified Christ we see God as the object of scorn, shame, ridicule, and judgment, as abandoned and broken-hearted, as lover, as Love.  God rejoices with us when we rejoice, weeps with us when we weep, showers both the just and unjust with all the blessings of creation, and calls us to embody Love in this world.  Jesus was one who did just that.  Those of us who follow him are called to do so fully and completely, renouncing fear and paralysis, living in the power of the Spirit, and heading straight into the heart of the struggle for a better world, as he did.

Previous Post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  Coming Next:  The Subversive Jesus.  

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