Systemic sin, climate change and choice

Thursday, April 16, 2015 8:52 PM

Small churches, like other small groups, tend to be homogenous. Members most often look at the world through the same, or similar, lenses.

For the most part they believe the same things; they hold the same values; they subscribe to the same politics; and they reinforce the way they engage with the rest of the world by limiting their encounter with it.

All that makes for a comfortable life. It also makes for an “us and them” world in which “our way” becomes the “right way.” One of the outcomes of living in a world like that is we can lose sight of why listening to “those” other people might be a good idea. After all, we know they are wrong.

This was brought home to me this week when a gentleman I know, a good and well-meaning human being, sent me an email questioning a recent headline about Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the presiding bishop of our denomination. (FYI: the presiding bishop, while having no greater authority than any of our other bishops, does represent us to national and international communities.) The headline on Huffington Post (3/26/15) to which he referred read, “Head of the Episcopal Church Says It’s ‘Sinful’ to Ignore Climate Change.”

This gentleman questioned Bp. Katharine’s credentials for speaking out on a matter that was so purely “secular.”

Those of us who serve small congregations need to be sensitive to folks of good will who hold differing beliefs, different values, different politics, and different world views. At the same time, it is incumbent upon us to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ (Notice the preposition. It is not the Good News “about” Jesus Christ. It is the Good News “of” Jesus Christ.) And the Good News that was, and is, “of” Jesus is what he knew from God, the Creator. This Good News was, and is, the Reign or the Kingdom of God.

That’s what Jesus preached. It’s what he taught, and lived, and died for – the Realm in which all are one; no one is less than; and in which harmony (read: Love) is the overarching construct that holds it all together. That construct includes not just other human beings (friends as well as foes). It also includes the whole of Creation and everything that affects its life and health. Scientific nomenclature calls this the “Environment.”

We have so long been taught by the Church that sin is a private matter (those bad things I do), that we have lost almost all awareness of sin as a systemic matter (systems that support oppression and marginalization and death-dealing.) When “sin” is understood systemically, all of a sudden the way we treat the very planet on which we depend is seen in stark relief against the goodness of God’s creating force. And how we care for our fellow creatures (or don’t) becomes a profound theological issue.

Jefferts-Schori’s credentials for speaking about the “sin of ignoring climate change” have as much to do with her theological acumen as they do with her doctorate degree in marine biology. Our care for the planet is anything but a secular matter.

Jesus taught about and revealed in his life that the Reign of God is ours for the choosing. We can acknowledge our participation in the harmony of God’s finely tuned, self-correcting system we call Creation, or we can fancy ourselves outside it. We can call issues of the stewardship of the planet a secular matter or we can read our Bibles and know that what God called “good” is in our care.

The future depends on our choice.

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or