Dec 11, 2015

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Wanting to leave things better for our progeny is not just a value of the church, but a human value.  We think of our children, and theirs, and also generations from now. Climate change is not the only issue humanity faces, but it’s a big one. Faith demands that we deal with it.  We must ask , ‘How do humans exercise our responsibility to care for creation; this gift given to us by God?’

We, in the church, need to be clear about what we have to offer, the spiritual and moral aspect of this global emergency, and be part of the conversation, in the public forum. The only way this kind of change happens is if we’re all working together.  

Asking new questions is the fastest way to understanding and action. What do I mean by new questions? When the Bible was written, there were a few hundred million people on the planet. For early Christians, stewardship meant making good use of land, tending crops and animals, and raising a healthy family.  We have come to view the Earth as a resource bin to be exploited.  The effects of climate change are already being felt in Oregon with our terrible drought, low rivers and intensifying wildfire season. If trends continue this could become our new normal.  We must ask what care for creation means in our time.

As humankind has interpreted the teachings in the Bible over the centuries, the lessons remain pertinent, but our understanding of how we should act needs to be appropriate for the time in which we live.  We are called by God to be stewards of the Earth. Even as recently as the Greatest Generation, who fought World War II, it meant controlling nature through industry. There is no blame for that; it made sense for their time.  Given the human caused effects of climate change, we now know that good stewardship calls for a different way of interacting with nature.   

We’ve got to pay the credit card debt on climate that we’ve run up over the last 100 years.  I know that people have a tough time with this.  Someone said to me, ‘capitalism and fossil fuels have propelled the world to the highest standard of living that it has ever had.’ That is true, but we didn’t pay the price of those gifts. This generation’s challenge is balancing that budget to leave things better for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. The very essence of Christian faith is to reach a point of “metanoia” – repentance, literally “turning around” and taking a different path.

I speak with people all over the state of Oregon. I know farmers who are growing more food on the same amount of land by not tilling. That also helps keep water and carbon locked in the soil. I’ve met farmers who say wind turbines are their most valuable crop. The intersection of a successful economy and care for the Earth can be challenging to find, but it is there.  

We should be respectful of one another, and learn from one another as we move forward together with these new questions and answers. Renew Oregon is seeking to bring everyone to the table to have a meaningful conversation about what’s best. There is a whole lot of middle ground where people do have ideas and are willing to try things. It’s a lot like a congregation, made up of many people who come with different viewpoints, but gather together in faith and praise.

We are called as a church to care for our neighbors. It should be one of the pillars on which we make decisions. Earth Care should be our new phrase.  We must consider the interdependence between people and the Earth and with each other. Those most vulnerable will feel the affects of climate change the worst, but we will all feel the pain eventually. By acting soon, and together, I have hope that we can conquer this crisis.

Bishop David Brauer-Rieke oversees more than 112 congregations and ministries in Oregon as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He previously served with the governor’s task force for Climate Change.