When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their long-awaited report back in the fall, its shockwaves quickly reverberated around the globe. Predicted serious environmental collapse by as soon as 20 years, the church world is approaching the environment with an intensity not seen in more than 20 years. We Talk. We Listen, too, has been neglectful in talking about this subject so we have dedicated every Monday in April – five total – to writers speaking specifically on subjects related to theology and the environment. The first, by Pastor Steve Jerbi of Bethel Encino Lutheran Church in Encino, California.
Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor
, a new standard of behavior for rostered leaders and candidates for ministry has been a buzz among rostered leaders, seminary students, and candidates for ministry. As I write this, the document is being challenged on several fronts. I want to specifically address the section Trustworthiness With Creation, which begins at line 290 of the draft.
The section focusing on creation is consistent with previous eco-expressions within the denomination. There was the 1993 social statement. There is the devotional series and a host of curriculum resources. The previous standards manual, also included creation care as an expectation for the leaders in the church. What we are hearing is a sincere yearning for greater care for the creation God calls good.
All of this emerges from the voices that shaped the first Earth Day in 1970. Air pollution, pesticides and oil spills were the dominant issues that spawned an ecological teach-in day.
The impact was impressive as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were all passed later that year and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. It was in this spirit that environmentalism went mainstream – so much so that by the 20th anniversary I was planting trees at my junior high. We all loved trees and clean air and clean water.
These elders shifted the conversation – and the policies – of the United States of America. Yet much of the conversation around environmentalism – like the Trustworthy Servants document – focus on personal responsibility. Are you taking shorter showers, recycling your single-use plastic, driving a Prius? Are you doing your part to help the environment? The document states:
As leaders in the congregation and in the community, pastors and deacons are in a unique position to raise awareness of the human impact on the environment and lead people towards behavior and practices that minimize damage to natural resources. (lines 294-296)
It goes on to say recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation is a witness to the care of God’s creation.” (lines 297-298)
And this is problematic AF.
First off, this call centers the role humans play on impacting the environment. This is sanitized language that does not take into consideration the constructs around human impact. The impact of industrialized nations look vastly different than the impact of developing nations. The pollution of creation is tied to whenare violated, coal-fired in African American communities, and fracking in . We are not only devastating God’s good earth but specific communities are being destroyed by this action. Just ask the people of the .
The goal of Trustworthy Servants is to have leaders raise awareness and shift personal behavior. That behavior is tied to a consumer-driven understanding of recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation. With Chinaour recyclables, cites like my own, are looking to dump recyclable materials into landfills. While reusing and conserving are great household ideals, they seem weak when our country has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Being trustworthy with creation needs the radical roots of a movement that changed the environmental policy of a nation for a generation. We need churches to be following the students leading climate strikes like the oneWe need to name the corporations in our communities that are contributing to a climate crisis. We need to say I don’t care how much funding comes out of North Dakota fossil fuel driven communities, the protection of creation is more important than our institutional endowments. We need to denounce leaders that deny climate change. We need to hold crafters of a green new deal to a standard that moves beyond feel-good personal responsibility quips and toward an entire overhauling of our economic system. It isn’t just that what we’re doing isn’t working – it is that it is literally killing us.
We are beyond raising awareness and starting recycling programs in our congregations. We need to be mobilizing our communities against the very powers and principalities that seek to destroy us.
Rev. Steve Jerbi, is the lead pastor of Bethel Encino, a progressive congregation in Los Angeles. Before coming west in 2017, he served as the senior pastor at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, WI. He earned a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Montana – Missoula in English Literature with an Environmental Studies minor. He graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago with a Masters of Divinity and an environmental ministry emphasis.