A classic board game offers up a teachable moment for Presbyterians for Earth Care


The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo discusses how a simple rule change can alter outcomes in a big way

November 18, 2023

Photo by the National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, an eco-theologian and Presbyterian pastor who coordinates the Climate Justice and Faith Spanish online program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, went to Matthew 20:1–16, the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, and a landmark study using the board game Monopoly to offer a sermon during the Presbyterians for Earth Care conference.

In “When the Rules are Fair, But the Game Isn’t,” Professor Muktha Jost and two others write about students playing the classic board game but with one alteration to the rules: Players enter the game based on their race, with Black students playing for more than an hour before white students can join in. By the time the white players begin, virtually all the properties have been purchased and they’re dotted by plastic houses and hotels. Jost’s paper reports white players losing their motivation to play a game they see as rigged and which they have little chance of winning.

“The kin-dom of God is not a Monopoly game, and neither is our planet, God’s Creation,” Astudillo said. “The landowner in our gospel story [who pays all laborers the same no matter how many hours they worked] sparks our imagination.”

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo

While the landowner’s actions “do not change the system, they provide us with an understanding of what’s needed to bring about the kin-dom” including “the curiosity to investigate who and where are the people at noon and 3 and 5. Why are they not working? Why are they not thriving? What do each of us have the power to do?” Astudillo said. “The landowner shows us what’s needed to change minds, to change assumptions that leave people spiritually impoverished, fearful that if they give or others receive, there won’t be enough for everyone.”

“The illusion of scarcity is human made,” Astudillo said, “not part of the kin-dom of God,” where “God chooses the least of these to teach the rest.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “has seen the consequences” of a rigged game, Astudillo said, adding a word of appreciation to the Presbyterian Hunger Program and others for working to fix “the problems caused by the game,” including hunger, pollution, land grabs, deforestation and lack of access to affordable housing.

“This is the promise of Creation,” Astudillo said, quoting from Sarah Augustine’s book “The Land is Not Empty.” “In it we see the nature of the divine and the nature of grace — a gift unearned, undeserved.

The Rev. Dr. Patricia Tull

“I have been deceived into thinking I have a choice — that I can choose to live ‘sustainably,’ in symbiosis with this land, or I can choose to participate in systems that are destructive to it. What an infantile notion. There is only one side, and that is the side of Life and its systems. Anything that does not comply with the logic and rhythms of this delicate web is doomed.”

“We need to free God’s Creation from the Monopoly game by nurturing other alternatives for living,” Astudillo said. “It’s time to put the least of these first, for such is the path for the kin-dom of God to manifest on Earth as it is in heaven. Amen.”

The Rev. Dr. Patricial Tull, the Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, led a Bible study on youths and elders with biblical stories where children are featured, in Mark 9:33–37 and Mark 10:13–14.

“I wonder if we value children more in our imaginations than in real life,” Tull said. Child poverty in the United States is among the highest in the developed world, and there’s no system in this country for parental leave or early childhood education. “Growing to one’s potential has become a privilege when it ought to be a right,” Tull said.

Older Presbyterians have more skills than most, more wealth than most, faith reasons for honoring Creation and the collective power of denominational and organizational support, Tull said.

Tull suggested people take three steps: make lifestyle changes, raise their voices and find their own callings, because “we are at the first of a wave of climate activism. I’m not at my best in those arenas,” Tull said, “but I can sure show up to support what activists are doing.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Presbyterians for Earth Care

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Christopher Romine, Associate Mission Director, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Melanie Roney, Mission Specialist, Special Offerings, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

God of all eternity, we thank you for inspiring us. May your Holy Spirit continue to encourage and equip us with love and compassion, so that the world will experience your resurrection hope. Amen.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?