What Would Jesus Say About Climate Change?
So often any talk about the planet, the environment, care for the earth, and climate change revolves around quoting verses from the Book of Genesis. It’s always about “care for creation” but this ancient origin-of-the-world story doesn’t take into account the world we’re living in today, in the hotter-than-ever 21st century.
According to Zach Christensen, an American social worker with a Masters in Theological and Biblical Studies, “The first chapters of Genesis were not written to communicate history or science. Creation stories had an entirely different purpose in the Ancient Near East. They were written to give people a vision of their place in the world, and to help them make sense of existence.”
Give people a vision of their place in the world, and help them make sense of existence.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and we have someone trying to create a new heaven and a new earth – trying to make the world a better place through kindness and mercy and justice rather than through violence and war and power.
But we don’t associate Jesus with “care for creation”, do we? He’s the guy who talked a lot about the poor and the vulnerable, and how we should turn the other cheek, give the guy that stole our coat our shirt as well. He’s the guy who talked about love a lot.
So how does Jesus fit into the climate crisis?
As part of his radical ministry of love, Jesus updated the Mosaic laws,
taking the ten “You won’ts” and paring them down to two “You wills”:
Love God and love your neighbour.
Perhaps for the too-hot-to-handle 21st century, Jesus would amend his commandment to
“Love God, love your neighbour, and love the earth.”
The thing about Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another”
is that it applies to everyone –
neighbour, stranger, alien (a nod to our current deep space exploration) –
even those who make us uncomfortable,
those whose behaviour contradicts the Ten Commandments,
not to mention Jesus’s two,
and those who demand an action we aren’t prepared to do –
because it’s hard or involves giving something up or might get us arrested.
Wait – Jesus was one of those people, wasn’t he?
By loving each other, Jesus meant these six things:
feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty,
welcoming foreigners, clothing the naked,
caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36).
When we take these verses literally,
read them shallowly, don’t really think about what they mean,
we miss the vastness, the expansiveness,
the not-as-obvious-but-now-makes-total-sense-ness of Jesus’ statement of six:
He advocated for the kind of hospitality that
offers a helping hand – to people and plants –
regardless of what risk there might be,
the kind of hospitality that puts the needs of others before ourselves,
that treats others the way we want to be treated –
with respect and dignity, compassion and mercy –
including cows and goats, migratory birds and fish in the sea, worms and bees.
Visiting those in prison?
Perhaps we are called to bail out those jailed for protesting pipelines.
Maybe it’s not even a literal prison but an overcrowded refugee camp.
Perhaps we are called to abolish prisons altogether,
especially considering they are disproportionately filled
with people who are Black and Indigenous.
Could “clothe the naked” also apply to affordable housing?
Making sure everyone has adequate shelter that is safe and secure.
Allowing house-less citizens to make camp in public spaces,
rather than calling in police to remove them.
Why wouldn’t Jesus’ statement of six apply to climate change as well?
Can we honestly know Jesus, and believe he’d sit this one out?
Nope, there goes Jesus, in the middle of the marching crowd,
holding up a sign that reads,
NOT CLIMATE CHANGE
Jesus was all about changing the system. Whether that was in 31 C.E. or 2021 C.E.
And who was he changing the system for?
The hungry and thirsty.
The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
The persecuted and the reviled.
Natural disasters and climate change – like heat waves and droughts, wild fires and flooding – have a far greater impact on those living in poverty.
According to Mercy Corps, an international non-governmental humanitarian agency, in 2019, 396 events — more than the annual average over the previous decade — affected 95 million people globally and caused $103 billion in economic losses. These damages can be nearly impossible for families living in poverty to overcome.
Droughts alone impact around 55 million people every year, and the damage hits the agriculture industry — the primary source of food and income for many people in developing countries — particularly hard.
Earlier this week, when CNN actually lead its top of the hour newscast with the heat wave in Europe – meaning the network lead with a story about climate change – their reporter in Italy detailed the impact on crops, particularly rice fields, that the devastating heat wave is having. In fact, a rice farmer says the impact of climate change has been impacting his rice fields FOR THE PAST DECADE.
Pretty soon, it won’t just be the third world that is feeling the impact of climate change. Already, those who can afford home and property insurance are finding their coverage more expensive and less inclusive as natural disasters sweep through communities. And as this summer’s heat wave in Europe wipes out crops, coupled with the war on Ukraine preventing wheat exports, can we expect food shortages even in our always-stocked groceries stores here in Canada?
Mercy Corps says three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. When agriculture and natural resources are damaged, even destroyed, by natural disasters, it means those living in poverty – the poor that Jesus talked about so much – find it much harder to survive.
Okay, so Jesus has a lot to do with climate change. But does he give us any suggestions about what to do, how to act, what to say?
Of course he does. This is Jesus, after all.
“None of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have,”
Jesus said (Luke 14:33, NRSV).
Let’s consider this statement in the context of the climate crisis:
To become followers of Jesus, we must give up our stuff.
Give up everything that runs on a fossil fuel.
Give up the air conditioning.
Give up the Tim’s cups and the Styrofoam containers.
Give up the new smart phone.
Give up the coffee pods.
Give up the plastic bags and the plastic water bottles…
While riding in a boat during a storm, Jesus asks his fearful companions,
“Where is your faith?”
In the context of Creation, and our impact on it,
we can interpret this as Jesus reminding us that we created this planetary mess.
The storm we are caught in the midst of is of our making.
Our sleep – our comfort – will be disturbed
by the chaos and catastrophe we have failed to prevent.
Where has our faith been for all these years?
If we call ourselves Christians,
if we are disciples of Jesus,
if we follow his way, his truth and his life –
where was our faith that calls us to do six specific things?
All things we’d want done for us
if our life, our world suddenly, unexpectedly went sideways.
Are we ready to fall into line behind Jesus
as he asks us to change the system for the better
rather than change Creation for the worse?
After all, the world needs more Jesus.
More than ever.