One week out, the effects of Sandy are becoming clear: devastation in Haiti and throughout New York and New Jersey; over one hundred people dead and an estimated 50 billion dollar price tag. As the human and economic costs of the storm are growing, something else seems to be growing too: a scientific consensus that climate change had something to do with it.
But you wouldn't know it by listening to the post-storm responses. Our presiding bishop gave a nice pastoral message, but didn't mention climate change. The telethon Friday night raised lots of sympathy and money, but didn't mention the human activity that exacerbates such a storm. I was agitated and yearned for more people to follow Mayor Bloomberg's lead and connect the dots. Against that backdrop, I decided to preach yesterday about climate change and our Christian calling to care for creation.
Yesterday was All Saints Day. I wrote a sermon that linked the saints of the past who applied their faith to make a better world with our calling - as the saints alive now - to care for the earth for
future generations of saints. I focused the earth-affirming texts that we read in church (Raising of Lazarus into this world; Revelation 21 where God dwells with mortals and creates a new heaven and a new earth). My sermon was risky and carefully wrought. I was nervous about it. I prayed all morning that what I said would be appropriate and would be good news.
And then, I didn't preach it.
Mid-sermon, it became clear to me the congregation was hungry to hear a basic message about God's compassion and hope for all those in grief. My preaching about climate change - at least as I'd planned it - would not have added to the message.
Preaching about root causes for human suffering - like war, unjust economic systems, and climate change - is a critical aspect of compassion. A doctor doesn't just console the person who is sick but also works to figure out how to heal them. But every cue I picked up on from the congregation as they listened, was that this was the time for consolation. (Thank you Holy Spirit). I switched my sermon mid-stream and took out the climate change part completely. It wasn't the time. It wasn't the place.
I'm glad I was inspired to make the switch yesterday, but I hope that soon, I will preach about our calling to care for creation with courage and conviction.
Two things hold me up. The first is that climate change is still seen as a politically partisan issue. If an issue is "political" I don't think it means the church should avoid it. Quite the opposite: the church is a place for moral discernment and action about issues that are also political. But because climate change is still seen as "political," it also means it is potentially divisive. Our congregation has been through a lot in the past few years. As a new pastor to this church, I want to heal and unite first, and thus I am hesitant to wade into anything that could divide.
The second is that I just hate arguing the science. There are still plenty of people who don't believe that human activity can affect the weather so dramatically. In the sermon I didn't preach, I wrote that if, in 50 years, the scientific evidence changes and we discover that all the consensus about climate change was misguided, I will be overjoyed. My concern for climate change doesn't come from some twisted desire to curb the ease and pleasure in our lives. I would love to drive all over the place without regard for how it affects the planet; or dry my clothes in the dryer without the nagging guilt that the sun and air do the job without even a microwatt of fossil fuels; or heat my house to 80 degrees in the winter instead of putting on slippers. But that just doesn't seem to be the way of it.
I am especially grateful to Christiana Peppard, who blogged for the Huffington Post last week, for giving thoughtful reflection on both of my hangups. Peppard connects science and faith and politics in a creative and readable way. I found her article gave a fresh perspective and I encourage people to read it and share it.
I know at least one pastor in our synod gave a prophetic sermon on climate change. Thanks to Karen Brau at Luther Place for her boldness. I hope it will be posted on their website soon.
That's all for now. Don't forget to vote tomorrow.