Fossil Fueled Fascism

There are at least four things about which our current president is quite consistent:

1. He is anti-immigrant and anti-refugee in relation to non-white immigrants.

2. He is anti-Islam, except in the case of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

3. He supports Christian Fundamentalism.

4. He supports the fossil fuel industry.

These four things contribute to Trump’s deep and abiding support among racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry; and it is their interconnected interests that have brought Trump to power and which are working to keep him in power.

Racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian fundamentalists support Trump primarily for ideological reasons; but the industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry (all of which depend heavily on fossil fuel) support Trump primarily for financial reasons. Trump’s ideological base and the fossil fuel industry are mutually supportive of each other and mutually dependent on one another. The need each other to maintain power, and they know it. Trump knows it too.

Racists, xenophobes, and white supremacists tend to subordinate any concerns they might have for the environment to their more immediate concern of making America white again, so climate change is easily discarded as a concern of the opposing “globalist” team. From their nationalist perspective, they are easily convinced that increased fossil fuel development for the sake of energy independence is in both the national and nationalist interest.

Christian fundamentalists, few of whom are explicitly racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists, are nonetheless willing to overlook Trump’s popularity among these groups because Trump is supporting their most important agenda items of ending access to legal abortions and protecting what they understand to be their religious freedom – even if that freedom calls for discrimination of other persons in the public sphere. As long as Trump continues to appoint judges who will support their agenda, they will never stop supporting Trump, and given that a very large percentage of them literally believe the world will end in their lifetime, climate change is of little concern to them. They are much more focused on uncritical support for Israel (another point Trump knows how to work) less out of concern for the Jewish people who are living in Israel than as a means to bring about the Second Coming (yes, they really are working for this). This is why Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Ideological support for Trump is crucial to his success, but without the financial and organizational support of the fossil fuel related industries; Trump would likely not have come to power. Trump has rewarded these industries mightily with a massive rollback of environmental regulations and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s problematic ties to Russia are not a problem at all to the fossil fuel industry as there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made on drilling agreements with Russia. This is likely why Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, was appointed as Secretary of State. To Tillerson’s credit, he could not bring himself to continue working under Trump, but his initial appointment was a testament to how closely the fossil fuel industry is connected with this president.

Most fossil fuel executives are likely not racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists; and they are probably no more likely to be Christian fundamentalists than any other segment of society. Most fossil fuel executives probably don’t see themselves as being pro-Putin or even pro-Russia, but their desire to cash in on the trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel yet to be exploited has led them into a mutually reinforcing and mutually beneficial relationship with Trump’s ideological base. The relationship is becoming stronger and more inextricable to the point that, whether consciously or not, the fossil fuel industry is supporting dangerous right-wing nationalist ideologies around the world. The existential danger we are currently facing is that this collaboration of convenience to further ideological and financial interests seems to be leading us down a pernicious path to fossil fueled fascism with dire consequences for people and the planet.

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Clinging to Purity

Religions become divisive and dangerous when they focus on purity more than justice. The codes and standards of purity are more often than not simply the cultural norms of a particular time and place, whereas the call for justice for the community of all creation is timeless and applies to all.

Reason and experience have shown us that most of the purity practices of the past were based on cultural norms rather than on natural or divine law. There are reasons we do not believe that women who are menstruating or those who come into contact with them, men who are uncircumcised, people who have leprosy or any other illness, persons with different dietary practices, and persons who come into contact with certain animals are impure. We recognize today that it would be unjust to treat persons in any of these categories as any less pure than any other persons. We have grown in our understanding.

Reason and experience have also led us to understand that our views and beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity are also based on cultural norms. Many have come to realize that persons who are LGBTQIA+ simply are who they are, and their sexual orientation and gender identities do not cause harm and are therefore not sinful or impure, yet traditionalists within Christianity continue to treat persons with different sexual orientations and gender identities as being somehow impure or sinful and therefore not worthy of full participation within the life of the church.

For some reason Christian traditionalists are rigid in holding to scriptural passages that seem to condemn non-hetero sexual orientations, yet they easily let go of the purity codes found in many of the same books of the Bible they use to enforce cisgender hetero identity.

We would all do well to ask ourselves why it is that some norms are seen as bound to a particular time and place while others are given more permanent status by traditionalist Christians. Might it be that these decisions are based more on our proclivities and prejudices than upon an understanding that everything that is in the Bible is valid at all times and in all places? If traditionalists truly believed that all or even most of the Bible applies to all times and all places, then their churches and their members would look radically different than are today.

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Giving Up the Discriminatory Clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline

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For Lent I am going to continue giving up the discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that judge and marginalize my siblings who are LGBTQIA+. During Lent, as I have before Lent and as I will after Lent, I am going to live and love and be in ministry as if those discriminatory clauses do not exist. I will not treat my LGBTQIA+ siblings any differently on any matter than I do my cisgender hetero siblings. We are all family, we are all in community, we are all beloved children of God, we are all of sacred worth, we all deserve to be married by our ministers within our church communities and within our church buildings, and we all deserve not to be barred from full participation in the life and ministry of our churches simply owing to our sexual orientation or gender identity.

During Lent and beyond, I affirm openly that we are all sinners, but that has nothing to do with our sexual orientations or gender identities. Our sin has everything to do with our willingness to harm others. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline harm others who do no harm. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline are therefore the product of human sin. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline replicate the sin of Sodom, the sin of lack of hospitality in community. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline were born out of fear and are often expressed through hate. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline do not represent the way of love, grace, and justice in our world. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been given the status of law, but in their injustice they are no laws at all.

During Lent and after Lent, I will do penance for any time I may have knowingly or unknowingly treated people differently because of my fear of the consequences of living fully into a renunciation and rejection of these discriminatory clauses. During Lent and after Lent, I will repent from any vestiges of sinful adherence to these discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. During Lent and beyond, I will reaffirm my Wesleyan and Christian commitment to do no harm, and I will reaffirm my baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves – even when, especially when, they present themselves in the pronouncements, policies, and practices of my own church.

The United Methodist Church’s fetish for exclusion has distracted us from recognizing that the whole creation is groaning in travail. In a world of injustice, poverty, war and violence, destruction of creation, and climate change that is hurling us towards an unlivable climate; we do not have time to be bound by discriminatory proclamations and practices that perpetuate fear, injustice, despair, and division in a world that so desperately needs love, justice, hope, and community.

If my rejection of the sinful discriminatory clauses of the United Methodist Book of Discipline prompts my denomination to reject me and cast me out from ordained ministry within the walls of the United Methodist Church, so be it. I would rather be excluded for including than be included for excluding, and as John Wesley affirmed when the church of his time worked to put constraints on his ministry, the world is our parish anyway.

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The Way Backward

My interaction with traditionalists in what has been known until now as the United Methodist Church is that they will not stop at enforcing a ban on same gender weddings and on the ordination of persons who are what they refer to as “self-avowed homosexuals.” This has always been about gaining a foothold to reverse what is perceived by traditionalists as the progressive agenda of the United Methodist Church.

Most traditionalists do not want any persons who are LGBTQIA+ working in any capacity in their churches, so don’t be surprised to see that coming down the pike in the future.

At some point, whether unrepentant “self-avowed homosexuals” can be baptized or become members of Traditionalist Methodist churches will be a topic of debate.

Eventually, whether unrepentant “self-avowed homosexuals” should even be allowed in the church buildings will be discussed in earnest.

The Traditionalist Methodist Church probably won’t go after women’s ordination, but a Traditionalist Methodist Church will be much more patriarchal in language and practice, and don’t be surprised by much more emphasis on “complementarian” views of women being advanced in the Traditionalist Methodist Church, with women taking on less equal but “complementary” roles in the church and in Traditionalist Methodist families.

It won’t be long before the Traditionalist Methodist Church begins to enforce other “orthodox” dogma and practices based on their narrow interpretation of scriptures.

Traditionalist Methodist seminary professors will have to sign statements pledging adherence to “orthodox” theology and find themselves censured, silenced, and without employment if they stray too far from the prescribed doctrinal teachings.

Traditionalist Methodist ministers will sign loyalty oaths to the Traditionalist Methodist Book of Discipline and face harsh penalties for breaking any of the rules.

“Right” belief, “right” practice, and “right” behavior will all be enforced by the Traditionalist Methodist Church for the “people’s own good” and the “good of the Church.” It will all be done “in love.”

The circle of harm will be widened by all of this as the circle of care is increasingly diminished. This is not just wild speculation. One only need look at traditionalist takeovers of other denominations and religious traditions in and outside of Christianity to see where this is heading – backward – and it will not be great.

And what will happen to what the traditionalists call the “progressive agenda” of what has been known until now as the United Methodist Church? Well, radical inclusion, participation of all persons as equal beings of sacred worth, freedom of thought and conscience, social justice for all people, and responsible care for the community of all creation will have to find new and different incarnations in the world because that will no longer be the agenda of the Traditionalist Methodist Church.

The good news is that the Traditionalist Methodist Church will likely not last that long as is most often the case when the circle is drawn to be more narrow rather than more wide. There is a way forward for the community of all creation, but that way is not in the Traditionalist Methodist Church.

Perhaps there may come a day when some who favored or even voted for the Traditionalist Plan will look back on this past week and ask the question “What have we done?” They will be welcome to join the new way forward towards Beloved Community, and they won’t even have to sign anything.

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What matters most is not up for a vote…

No matter what happens at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in the next couple of days; the world will still be my parish, doing no harm will still be my focus, grace will still be the air that I breathe, all persons will still be of sacred worth, social and ecological holiness will still be my mission, bringing good news to the poor and oppressed will still be my witness, and loving all of my neighbors and doing justice with the most vulnerable will still be my calling. The Methodist movement is greater than the United Methodist Church, and the way of Jesus is always greater than any denominational expression.

During his time, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, drew the circle wide. He drew the circle of grace wide to include all persons; he drew the circle of his parish wide to include the whole world; he drew his circle of care wide to include all creation; he drew the circle of his mission wide to be with people outside of the church and on the streets; and he drew the circle of holiness wide to include the social. Wesley drew the circle of the church much wider than how he had found it, which makes it all the more ironic that the end of United Methodism may come through drawing its circle of community to be more narrow rather than more wide.

Those who are “traditionalists” in what is for now still called the “United Methodist Church” have the power, they have the votes, and they are more organized than those who are working for a denomination that is open and affirming of persons who are LGBTQIA+. As I write this, it is not absolutely clear what the final result of the General Conference will be when it adjourns on Tuesday, but given today’s votes which prioritized the Traditional Plan over the One Church Plan, the likelihood that the United Methodist Church will leave this General Conference less inclusive than it was before is quite high.

For persons who are LGBTQIA+ and for all who want a more inclusive church for all people, there is much to mourn about the direction General Conference took today, but it is not a really a surprise. The hearts of the majority of the persons in our denomination have been hardening against our LBGTQIA+ siblings for quite some time.

In this moment of defeat for a more inclusive United Methodist Church, let us not be afraid, let us support and love one another, and let us continue to work for justice for all people. And let us be reminded that followers of the way of love and justice have done some of their most transformative work when it looked like they had been knocked out by the powers that be. The power of love will not be entombed forever. We will bring forth new life in Beloved Community, somehow.

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Hope and Climate Change

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What most climate scientists and climate justice advocates don’t want to publicly admit is that the die is likely already cast when it comes to catastrophic climate change. Given the amount of greenhouse gases we have already emitted into the atmosphere and the amount of warming that has been baked into the system, coupled with the fact that countries like the United States, Russia, Brazil, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are doubling down on our collective suicidal behavior of increasing fossil fuel use at a time when every climate indicator points us towards a moral responsibility of keeping almost all of the known fossil fuel deposits in the ground; it will take some sort of unforeseen occurrence or series of occurrences to keep global temperatures from moving us into a period of climate chaos in which human civilization as we know it will not survive more than a few more centuries.

We humans tend be hopeful creatures. It is difficult to live without hope. This has been one of the great strengths of our species, the ability to hold on to hope even in the midst of great challenges and be able to persevere. Hope has led us through dark times of war and injustice and given us strength to overcome numerous crises in the history of human civilization, even at times when all seemed lost. In some ways, however, when it comes to climate change, our ability to hope may have become a weakness for humanity. Perhaps our hope that the future will be better than the past has led us into a societal denial of the breadth and depth of the challenge we have been facing with climate change. Perhaps an overly hopeful attitude of a better future has led us further down the slippery slope towards a more and more unavoidable climate chaos.

Some of us have put our hope in God that somehow the Divine would not let us collectively ruin a livable climate for humanity, but surely we have seen enough evil and suffering play out in the world to realize that this is not how the Divine, whatever the Divine may be, works in the world. If this is how God worked in the world, we would not have had the Holocaust and other genocides, and we would not already be entering into the sixth great extinction on our planet. Whatever the Divine is, the Divine does not seem to take matters into the Divine’s hands in the way that those who hope God will deliver us from global warming would like to think.

Some of us have put our hope in political action and activism, believing that when it became obvious based on scientific evidence that human activity was driving climate change that we would come together as one humanity to make the necessary social and economic changes to avoid the path towards climate chaos. In the early 1990s, it felt like things might have been moving in this positive direction, but those of us who hoped for sweeping global political action for climate justice were perhaps caught off guard by the breadth and depth of global greed that hindered any meaningful action to address climate change before it is too late.

Some of us have put our hope in technology, believing that when we humans put our minds to it we are always capable of coming up with technological solutions to overcome challenges and adversity. We hoped that alternative and clean energy would be developed and utilized quickly enough, and now given that this scenario has not played out, we look to technologies that might help us geo-engineer the climate of the planet. Such desperate geo-engineering scenarios are becoming more and more acceptable as we have allowed the window to close on the possibility of shifting away from fossil fuels quickly enough to avoid climate chaos.

Realistically, when it comes to addressing climate change in ways that will avoid massive amounts of human suffering, economic and ecological collapse, and a significant die-off of human beings; there is not much hope left. The great ice sheets and glacial systems of the world are disappearing, the permafrost in the arctic is melting and releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, and arctic sea ice is declining with larger areas of open ocean leading to more absorption of heat and an increase in global temperatures; yet we seem more concerned about energy independence in the short run than we are about a livable climate in the long run.

As a person who has attempted to be hopeful for positive change in relation to our environment and climate change, it feels horrific to admit that we have likely come to a point of being hopeless, but I am afraid it is a truth with which we must begin to grapple. But whether there is hope or no hope, let’s at least not go down without a fight. Let’s take the climate scientists at their good word based on strong empirical evidence and take seriously their estimates that we have about 11 years left to make significant systemic civilizational changes to avoid the very worst of climate change. Let’s move on something like the Green New Deal that is being proposed by our most visionary elected officials. Let’s give ourselves every chance at survival that we can. Maybe we will be fortunate that some unforeseen natural events might assist us in arresting climate change and help us maintain a stable and livable climate. We do not fully know what the future holds, but we can be fairly certain that if we simply continue as we currently are that it really is hopeless.

Hope has so much power. As you can see, it is difficult for me to fully give up on hope, but we cannot allow what little hope we might have left to keep us from seeing the fierce urgency of this moment, nor can we allow a sense of utter hopelessness to sink us into a perpetual state of non-action. Against all odds, we still need to work together to give ourselves the best possible chance for a livable climate and somehow find ways to do all we can to treat one another with love, respect, and justice in the process.

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State of Emergency

Two things are clearly of great concern to our current president at the moment – low approval ratings and expanding investigations. Over the next year, Trump will become increasingly desperate to increase his ratings and stop the investigations, and he will need some sort of national crisis in order to accomplish both.

Trump’s manufactured “border crisis” is an attempt to create an excuse to declare a national state of emergency in order to shore up his base, expand his powers, and call for an end to the multiple investigations that are currently being conducted. Thus far, his attempt at making the case that we are experiencing a border crisis has been unconvincing to all but his unwavering base, but whether it be a “national emergency” of a “border crisis,” a war with Venezuela, or some unforeseen terrorism event; Trump has been intently looking for a way to expand his power in response to a threat whether real, manufactured, or completely fake.

When Trump makes his expansion of presidential powers move, we will need to do more than simply tweet our opposition. This would be a moment that would require relentless and massive opposition, for if Trump is allowed to get away with declaring a national state of emergency, we will likely be under such a state of emergency with expanded presidential powers until the end of his presidency.

The use of national emergencies is one of the most tried and true methods used by authoritarian leaders to gain, maintain, and expand power. Once given such expanded powers, authoritarian leaders do everything they can to keep them. They do not simply give the powers back, and they usually figure out ways to take more and more.

If you think our country simply will not allow any president to take such expanded powers, think again. We have already allowed him to ban persons’ travel based on religious discrimination, separate refugee children from their parents and put them in detention centers, shut down our government for the longest period of time in history putting families in financial distress, and meet alone with President Putin twice without any American senior officials present. Trump keeps crossing what should be red lines with virtually no consequences. We have given him very little reason not to continue doing so.

Tyranny and fascism can happen here, and it will likely happen here, unless we stop it; and when Trump declares a national emergency to expand his powers, it may be the one of the last opportunities, if not the last opportunity, we will have to stop it.

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