I have been considering various Faith Responses to Climate Change. For much of my life I identified as a born-again, Bible-believing, Republican Christian. I then read the Bible not as an ancient text to study but as a holy guidebook for living in the modern world. I sat through thousands of sermons in Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches where preachers used the Bible as the authoritative text for our lives.
What if one of my pastors grew alarmed about climate change and the effects greenhouse gases are having on humanity and our future peace and prosperity? What might a sermon look like?
If I think like an Evangelical pastor (NOT like a Bible scholar) I make the following connections based on a verse from the book of Numbers:
The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. (Numbers 14:18.)
The belief that the consequences of sinful actions from a previous generation can plague the current and future generations comes up multiple times in scripture–both Old and New Testaments. Many people can see this when we hear of a father burning through the family’s savings with his gambling or drinking. Not only are there financial consequences, but the turmoil in the home can leave lasting scars. Something someone does in our past can affect us in the present, and the harm left unaddressed, may get passed on to our children who will have to deal with it in their lives.
God created a beautifully designed system where carbon dioxide is naturally released into the atmosphere by our own breathing as well as through decaying trees and decomposing animals. This carbon dioxide helps keep the earth warm and full of life. Through living trees, plants and the oceans that cover the earth, the carbon dioxide is new absorbed and transformed and provides more life. The process of releasing and transforming a CO2 particle can take one hundred years–generations.
But God’s once perfect system has become overtaxed through pollution. While our ancestors did not understand the impact burning greenhouse gases would have on their offspring, today we know what will happen if we do not stop and address this problem. Looking at the warning in Numbers 14 that the sins of the parents fall on the heads of the children for generations, we see a direct application to the greenhouse gases trapped and stockpiling over our heads, poisoning the seas and warming the planet, altering natural weather patterns, causing drought, floods, and suffering for the people of the earth in the USA and beyond. Greenhouse gases released by humans have clogged the earth’s renewal process, something that will take generations to resolve. Here we see a perfect example of the cycle of parental/child sin and consequence–a generational curse.
The proper response? Repentance. Turn from the harmful behavior and start anew in a new direction, one that will bring blessing and not a curse to our children for generations to come. We have the power to bless our offspring for generations if we repent from polluting and clean up the mess that we inherited.
As believers we are required to care for our loved ones:
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
The rewards that come to those who obey the call of repentance not only affects our own family, but benefits the nation.
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
We often think of sin in terms of individual moral failings, but as a nation and as a people we can engage in long-term sinful actions that reap a bitter harvest. Consider the institution of slavery in the United States supported by churches and ministers of the day. We needed to repent of our actions as a nation, and today we need to continue to address the harm caused by racism and inequality. We have been in a process of healing for over 150 years, and we are not done yet.
We do not live on the same planet earth that was created in the book of Genesis. It has changed and bears scars and suffers from a deep sickness that we inadvertently inflicted upon it. We have the confidence that with thorough and thoughtful repentance comes healing.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Closing the sermon, the minister gives the congregation an opportunity to commit to action:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live
The minister then provides practical plans of action: read a particular book or article, join a committee that explores the church’s role on a changing planet, join the Citizens Climate Lobby, and as a member of the congregation, lobby our members of congress. They sing a hymn, perhaps, All Creatures of our God and King, then meet for coffee in the Narthex.
Of course this is just a thought experiment of what an Evangelical sermon on climate might look like. I’d love to hear your thoughts, responses, and ideas in the comment section.