The pope’s recent exhortation urges people to better care for Creation individually, relationally and systemically
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — A theologian, a scientist and a Hebrew Bible scholar stepped into a Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar last week, and the result was an informative exploration of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation published Oct. 4, “Laudate Deum,” which implores “all people of good will” to turn from their consumptive lifestyle and care for God’s Creation before it’s too late. Watch the 72-minute webinar, hosted by PEC Moderator the Rev. Bruce Gillette, here.
Presenting on “Laudate Deum,” which means “Praise God,” were:
- Dr. Bill Brown, the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.
- Dr. C. Mark Eakin of Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland, a long-time oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a member of PEC’s steering committee.
- Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.
“Praise God” are the first words of “Laudate Deum,” and its last words are these, Brown pointed out: “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”
Brown described the document as “indictment and lament.” He added a few scriptural references to Francis’ work, including Psalm 148, which Brown labeled “A Roll Call of Praise.”
“This psalm calls all living beings to praise God and highlights the human function with regard to praise — that is, we have the role of calling things to praise,” including animals, trees, plants and celestial beings.
“In issuing [Francis’] call, it’s up to us to ensure Creation is able to give praise to God, and to do that, Creation has to flourish,” Brown said. “Can trees give praise to God when they’re assigned to be toilet paper? Can rivers give praise to God when they’re flowing with pollution? Creation has to flourish in order to give full praise to God.”
Brown briefly examined “a favorite ecology of praise” found in Hosea 4:1-3 before asserting that Pope Francis “recognizes the intersectional connection between the human community’s well-being and the well-being and integrity of Creation. An attack on Creation is an attack against us all,” Brown said, and the reverse is also true: “Bloodshed and violence within the human community is also cause for lament throughout all Creation.”
Colossians 1:21-23 is “a text I don’t think has gotten enough press in ecological hermeneutics,” Brown said. “Every creature under heaven is to hear the gospel of liberation and salvation.” A “stellar example” of good news to the Earth is Joel 2:21-22.
“I began with praise, went through an indictment like ‘Laudate Deum’ does, and I conclude with praise, an evangelical creational call to preach through actions of freedom and release for the basic elements of Creation,” Brown said.
It fell to Eakin to discuss the science behind “Laudate Deum.”
“Bill pointed out that over the eight years between [Francis’] ‘Laudato Si’’ and ‘Laudate Deum,’ the climate has continued to change,” Eakin said. “In this document he’s gotten a lot more forceful about the certainty of the climate crisis.”
In the recent document, Pope Francis says that “what we are presently experiencing is an unusual acceleration of warming, at such a speed that it will take only one generation — not centuries or millennia — in order to verify it.”
“In an attempt to simplify reality, there are those who would place responsibility [for climate change] on the poor, since they have many children,” Francis says. “As usual, it would seem that everything is the fault of the poor. Yet the reality is that … per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones.”
“We can’t think we can use technology to get out of [the climate crisis] the same way we got into it,” Eakin said. “We’re going to have to think about how we’re walking on this Earth. We will have to do direct carbon capture, but we will have to avoid thinking we can do that” while continuing to pump carbon dioxide and methane “into the air unabated as we are now.”
In “Laudate Deum,” the pope takes direct aim at consumption patterns within the United States.
“If we consider the emissions per individual in the U.S. are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact,” he wrote. “As a result, along with indispensable political decisions, we would be making progress along the way to genuine care for one another.”
“At the same time,” the pope wrote, “I cannot deny that it is necessary to be honest and recognize that the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level.”
“‘Laudate Deum’ builds on solid science,” Eakin said, “and takes us to the solutions.”
Moe-Lobeda opened with an analogy of birds flying in formation.
“With ‘Laudate Deum,’” Moe-Lobeda said, “the Holy Spirit has swept into the front of our flight and is crying out to us, imploring us, guiding us to swoop off in a different direction.”
“Pope Francis’ exhortation is a clarion call to choose life,” she said. “This document gives clear directives on how to make this grand redirection. Pope Francis calls out one country: the United States of America. Folks, this exhortation is directed at us.”
The pope “entreats us to act faithfully on three levels: lifestyle, social structures and worldview, or culture,” Moe-Lobeda said. “It’s easy for us to think that changing our lifestyle is the way to go. This is necessary, and the pope makes this clear. However, he is quick to emphasize that lifestyle change is not adequate. We are called to collective action, to challenge and transform the systems that drive the climate crisis.”
“You and I have far more impact on neighbors through our roles in social systems or structures, such as the economy, than we do through our individual interactions,” Moe-Lobeda said. “Therefore, we are to practice neighbor love through structural change as well as interpersonal relations.”
“The pope’s exhortation is clear: We, every one of us, are to join up with effective civil society organizations,” Moe-Lobeda said. “We can be involved in a divestment or reinvestment campaign, or in public policy campaigns aimed at keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground and aimed at transitioning to renewables in ways that benefit, not harm, the people caught in the claws of climate justice.”
The pope doesn’t “allow us to stop at lifestyle change and systems change,” she said. “He provokes us to a new level: worldview, or culture. He warns us to overturn assumptions including our economy can and should grow boundlessly. The second is that maximizing profit is morally good. The third change is to recognize that we humans are a part of nature rather than apart from nature. This includes human economies.”
“‘Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live,’ cries the God of Jesus,” she said. “What you and I choose to do now in this time matters. It is indeed a good time to be alive.”
During a question-and-answer session, Moe-Lobeda said it’s “impossible to address the climate crisis without addressing the economic powers that are driving it.”
“Any economic system is built by human decisions and actions. Any economic system can be unbuilt and rebuilt by human decisions and actions,” she said. “It’s not God’s will and it’s not inevitable or natural that we would set up economic systems to extract the Earth’s goods to make a profit for a few people. There’s nothing natural or normal about that.”
Go here to the Presbyterians for Earth Care website for information about upcoming webinars.
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