A Vision for United Methodist Creation Care

Creation Care

Remarks to the 2018 United Methodist Creation Care Summit at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota

When it comes to what the United Methodist Church has to offer in a time of ecological degradation and in a time that calls for an ecological conversion of the entire human community, I think that our denomination’s greatest asset is also perhaps its greatest challenge, and this combination of asset and challenge is what we often simply refer to as the connection.

The connection is clearly an asset in many ways. We see it on full display in the participation in this Creation Care Summit with bishops, boards, agencies, and higher education institutions of the church all coming together to provide resources, leadership, and expertise. Our connection is also a global connection, and this is an important asset as well given that the ecological challenges we face are global in nature even though some nations clearly contribute more to our crisis than others. We United Methodists have shown that when we put our minds to it, we are able to act quickly and effectively to meet the needs of both people and the planet. The work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Nothing But Nets Imagine No Malaria campaign are only two examples among many of how we United Methodists are capable of getting things done for the well-being of others, especially with those who are vulnerable and in need.

Compared to most Protestant denominations, our global connection and the global reach this connection gives us may be the greatest assets we have in addressing the call for a global ecological conversion; but our global connection also creates a set of challenges. Maintaining the institutional structures of a global church is not an easy task. It takes money, time, and energy; and it requires levels of dialogue, cooperation, and compromise that are not required in less connectional denominations. We have to worry about vast health insurance systems, pension systems, board and agency budgets, and many other pressing institutional challenges. We also experience a wide array of theological and cultural differences, and it is not easy to keep a global church together across these many differences and challenges.

As we come closer to the General Conference of 2019, we see how significant and pronounced some of these differences are. Will the connection be able to hold together in a way that it can be an asset rather than a barrier to addressing the great ecological challenges of our time? This is an open question at a time when the ecological challenges we face do not give us too much time to deal with such open questions.

In the midst of our assets and challenges, my big hopes and dreams for the mission, ministry, and witness of the United Methodist Church on creation care and creation justice are that we can live into all of the promise and potential that our connection has to offer for people and all life on the planet while working through our institutional challenges in ways that do not hinder but rather actually enhance our ecological witness.

I dream that our local churches will become places where people, especially young people, might have their first experiences of putting their hands in the soil and connecting with God’s creation.  I dream that local churches will make creation care through advocacy and action be at the core of their ministries. What better way is there to love God and love our neighbors than to care for God’s creation and work for a flourishing ecological community within which our human communities can thrive.

I dream that our United Methodist Churches will see themselves as part of a Connectional Movement for Creation Care, that we will see our global connection and all the people and resources it provides as the greatest asset we have to bring about an ecological conversion in our communities and the world.

Personally I am very happy to have an opportunity to participate in this connectional work at a United Methodist University and as the executive director of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub in North America. Part of our mission at the LEaD Hub is to develop a Global Methodist Social and Ecological Responsibility Initiative that helps to network the over one thousand Methodist related institutions of higher education around the world in their work related to social justice and ecological sustainability. You will be hearing more about some of the programs in this initiative from some of my colleagues in higher education who are also participating in this summit.

Finally, I hope that creation care will be embraced as part of our churches’ evangelism efforts. Creation care is good news for people and good news for all life on the planet. A sustainable revival of churches is dependent on creation care.

As a thought experiment, imagine that we as a denomination will be able to turn around our declining membership in the United States and continue growing in other parts of the world. Imagine that we are able to grow the United Methodist Church beyond our wildest dreams so that in a less than generation our churches are full, our budgets are booming, and our connection is thriving. How sad and tragic it would be if just one or two generations later, the membership of our denomination that had benefited so much from this significant revival saw its membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that our churches had done almost nothing to address.

If we want more people to hear the good news that Jesus has for the world, we must find ways as a church to care for and sustain the very good world that God loves so much. Creation care is good news. Creation care is evangelism. The Church of the 21st Century cannot be renewed without creation care, and if people come to see our churches as places that care for people and all life on the planet and they see that we are actually doing something about it, I think they will come to our churches. We United Methodists ought to know something about renewal, so let’s get down to work because we have some serious renewing and regeneration of the whole creation to do.

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Way Worse Than Nixon

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Like Trump, Nixon was compromised by his insecurities, his ego, his racism, his paranoia, his disdain for his critics and the press, his dishonesty, and ultimately his criminality; but there is no evidence that Nixon was ever compromised by a foreign adversary who wished to destabilize our country and weaken our democracy.

Nixon was an embarrassment to himself and the country, he was mean and vindictive, he committed real criminal acts in the process of covering up Watergate, and it was proper for him to resign in disgrace. If you listen to the Nixon tapes, you hear clearly that Nixon, much like Trump, was a horrible person who surrounded himself with horrible persons. Nixon’s presidency represents a sad and low moment in our history, but as bad as Nixon was, his presidency was not a significant threat to our republic.

The situation with our current president is much more dangerous. It appears more and more likely that in addition to the faults of Nixon, our current president is compromised by a foreign adversary who wishes to harm our democracy at home and weaken our alliances around the world.

Never before has a president of the United States spoken more highly of a murderous dictator than he does of democratically elected leaders of our closest allies. Never before has a president shared the stage with a murderous dictator and sided with his assessment of Russian activities to attack our democracy over the assessment of our own intelligence agencies. Never before has a president publicly denigrated the NATO alliance that Putin so wants to weaken. Never before has a president met privately with a murderous dictator intent on harming our democracy and our alliances without other U.S. officials present.

Past presidents have made significant mistakes and at times have committed horrific sins against humanity and the environment, but never before in our history have we had a president who seems intent on serving the interests of an adversarial country more than our own.

If we survive the threats that our current president and his Republican and Russian enablers represent to our republic, we will look back on the time of Nixon and the time of Trump and see Nixon as a very low point in our nation’s history, but see Trump as a clear threat to our very nation.

The hope for our country now is that Trump’s presidency will end much as Nixon’s presidency did or that Trump will at least be held accountable by a new Congress elected in November of 2018. Whether by impeachment and conviction, resignation, or by election; we must keep the worst president in U.S. history from creating further harm to the republic that Benjamin Franklin so hoped we the people would have the wisdom and courage to keep.

 

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The ‘Evolving’ Views of Trump Supporters About Russia

Putin Trump

The following depicts the “evolution” of Trump supporters’ views about Russian interference in the 2016 election:

  • There was no Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump has absolutely nothing to do with Russia. This is all made up by Democrats and the fake news to discredit our president and is just an excuse being used by the Democrats for losing an election they should have won.
  • There might have been some Russian interference in the 2016 election, but it did not have any effect on the outcome of the election, and Trump’s campaign had nothing whatsoever to do with the interference. No collusion.
  • There was probably interference by Russia, and some people in the Trump campaign were talking to Russians to work for better relations with Russia, but they didn’t cooperate with the Russians to influence our elections, and whatever interference there was still didn’t have any effect on the final outcome of the election. And, there was no collusion! Definitely no collusion!
  • There was interference by Russia in the election, and some people in the Trump campaign might have known about it and might have talked to Russians about it, but what they did was not nearly as bad as Uranium One and her emails. Oh, and did I mention Benghazi? No Collusion, No Collusion, NO COLLUSION!
  • The Mueller investigation is a partisan witch hunt. The investigators all hate Trump, and the grand jury is biased. The dozens of indictments, hundreds of charges, and the handful of guilty pleas are all bogus. WITCH HUNT! NO COLLUSION! URANIUM ONE! BENGHAZI! HER EMAILS! Trump is doing everything we want him to do. I love how this is making all those libtard snowflakes so upset!
  • So what if Trump may have colluded with the Russians. Is that so wrong? I mean if he hadn’t colluded, we might have Hillary as president, and that would have been a disaster! I kind of like Russia anyway, and Trump is just trying to improve our relationship with Putin and Russia, and that can’t be a bad thing. I don’t like all those liberal European countries anyway, and I still eat freedom fries with my burgers. AMERICA FIRST!
  • I don’t care if Trump colluded with Russia. He had to do what he had to do to win! This is just politics, and thank God Hillary is not president. MAGA!
  • THANK YOU RUSSIA for helping elect Donald Trump to be our president! We love you! We also love your woman spy who likes guns and the NRA! She is awesome! Thank you Russia for making America Great Again! Please help us again this November. Please!
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The Darkness Did Not Overcome It

When we love one another, when we do justice for our neighbors, when we care for the poor and oppressed, when we feed the hungry, when we give drink to the thirsty, when we clothe the naked, when we visit the prisoner, and when we welcome the stranger; we participate fully in the resurrection of the love and justice of Jesus.

When we hate one another, when we commit injustice against others, when we oppress the poor and vulnerable, when we ignore the naked, hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, and the stranger; we participate in the hate, violence, and injustice that executed Jesus and has brought suffering and death to so many through the ages.

The continued resurrection of the way of Jesus is empowered by the people who continue to live out the way of love and justice in this world, while the ways of death are perpetuated by those who seek their own power and prestige to the detriment and destruction of the most vulnerable among us.

Our lives provide us with a choice of whether we will side with the ongoing resurrection of life, love, and justice in this world or become complicit in the ways of hate, fear, violence, injustice, and death. Those who have chosen the latter keep trying to kill the way of love and justice in this world, but it won’t go away because it is alive in the resurrected Beloved Community that keeps seeking ways to overcome the ways of death in this world.

Even if we lose our lives in the struggle for love and justice like Jesus did and like John the Baptizer did before him and like many others throughout human history have, our lives and work will be taken up and will continue to live in the Beloved Community of all who seek love and justice for all of our neighbors. Perhaps this is what is meant by the communion of the saints. All of the love and justice that has been brought into the world by all people from all times and places will forever be a part of the world and continue to urge it on towards a more Beloved Community.

In times that are dark and full of fear, hatred, and violence; it is important to remember that the forces of evil in days, years, and centuries past often thought they had the last word, only to see that love and justice have a way of not being fully overcome by the darkness and continuing to live on.

In Jesus’ time, King Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptizer resurrected whom Herod imprisoned for speaking truth to power and whom Herod beheaded so as not lose face with those whom he considered more important than John. I think Herod was more right than wrong in his assessment that Jesus was the John the Baptizer resurrected. All that John the Baptizer had done to prepare the way for Jesus through John’s radical message of love, justice, and repentance led to Jesus being baptized by John. All of John’s work and love was fully present and fully alive in Jesus even after John was killed. Like John, when Jesus spoke truth to power, he was also arrested and executed. In a very real way, all of the love and justice that Jesus lived, practiced, and taught as he prepared the way for those to follow is resurrected, fully present, and fully alive in the Beloved Community working for love and justice in our world today. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5), and the darkness will not overcome it.

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Criminal President

Our current president recently mused on Twitter that his meeting with Vladimir Putin might be easier than his meeting with NATO leaders. In other words, he is more at ease meeting with an international criminal who has illegally annexed Crimea, murdered political opponents and journalists, and meddled in our elections and in elections across Europe than he is meeting with democratically elected leaders of our long-standing allies who are members of an alliance that has contributed to over 70 years of relative stability in Europe and the North Atlantic.

There is a very simple reason that our current president is more comfortable talking with world leaders who are international criminals like Putin, Kim, and Duterte. He is one of the them. They are his people.

We have to come to terms with the reality that our president is not just immoral, not just a liar, not just mean, not just vulgar, not just a racist, and not just a narcissist. Our president is a criminal, and the evidence may yet show that he is a treasonous criminal.

Our president is alienating our allies through tariffs, tweets, and trade wars while propping up international criminals through his praise and policies. Our president saves his most critical words and actions for the leaders of Canada and Germany while giving compliments and cover to dictators and despots. Perhaps he knows they won’t point out his human rights violations if he doesn’t point out theirs. Over and over again, he shows himself to be more at ease among criminals than he is among our allies.

We don’t even need to wait for the Mueller report to be completed to know that our current president is a criminal. We have over 2000 children forcibly separated from their parents at our borders as evidence of this president’s criminality.

Federal law categorizes kidnapping as a serious felony offense with a prison sentence of 20 or more years. In a just society; Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and the Director of ICE would be serving 20 or more years in prison for kidnapping. The only reason they are not being prosecuted is that they currently control the definition and enforcement of law, but an unjust law is no law at all, and unjust enforcement of unjust laws is in and of itself criminal.

Why is Congress failing in its constitutional duty to impeach and convict the President of the United States for over 2000 counts of felony kidnapping? What is being done to children at our border is precisely that – state sponsored and state implemented kidnapping, and it is being used to intimidate immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, with the effect of long-lasting trauma in families and children.

When the United Nations Human Rights Commission rightly called out the United States for these crimes against humanity, the United States quickly removed itself from participation in the UN Human Rights Commission citing its bias against Israel, but the timing points clearly to the Commission’s criticism of our human rights violations as the main factor in our exit. As we withdrew from the Commission, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley cited the hypocrisy of the member states of the Human Rights Commission in what may have been the most hypocritical speech ever given by a U.S. Ambassador.

Kidnapping of children, coddling of criminal leaders, hostile actions towards friends and allies, and the propping up of our foes. This is not just a coincidence or passing phase, this is the reality of life under a criminal president, and it is time the people make a citizens’ arrest if Congress is unwilling to do its duty.

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Hardened Hearts

hardened heart

What we are seeing in our country and in our world today is not new but rather a refrain of a recurring phenomenon in human history and one that is often portrayed in our sacred literature. When new things are breaking into the world, there is a tendency for many persons’ hearts to be hardened. Fear of change and a feeling of loss of power are likely the greatest reasons for the hardening of the heart. In Exodus, the Hebrew Bible portrays Pharaoh’s heart as hardened when confronted with the prospect of Israel’s liberation, and the people of Israel’s hearts were hardened in the wilderness when they feared they had lost their way. In the Christian Bible Jesus wondered aloud if the disciples hearts were hardened when they feared they had no bread (Mark 8:17). In both the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Bible, hardened hearts are portrayed as a barrier to the healing of relationships with God and other people. Proverbs warns that a hardened heart will lead people to calamity (Proverbs 28:14). In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul warned that our hardened hearts are a way of storing up wrath for ourselves (Romans 2:5).

In our country’s past we hardened our hearts against our indigenous neighbors as we ripped away their land and culture and committed genocide against them; we hardened our hearts against our African American neighbors as we enslaved, segregated, lynched, imprisoned, and committed violence against them; we hardened our hearts when we turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Europe prior to our entry into World War II; we hardened our hearts against our Japanese American neighbors as we tore them from their homes and livelihoods and put them in internment camps; we hardened our hearts against our immigrant and refugee neighbors (especially those who are not white and not Christian) as we turn them away, deport them, separate their children from them, and as we ban them based upon their religious affiliation; we hardened our hearts against our women neighbors as have treated them unequally, paid them less, and objectified them; we have hardened our hearts against our LGBTQ+ neighbors as we have rejected them, physically and spiritually bullied them, and driven many of them to seek escape from their pain through suicide; we hardened our hearts against our non-human animal neighbors as we have forced them into concentrated animal feed operations and made their lives miserable until we butcher them for the fast food meals that are good neither for our bodies nor for our souls; and we have even hardened our hearts to future generations as they will inherit the climate chaos that we are creating for them.

Today in the United States we are experiencing another wave of heart hardening as white Christians (especially white Christian men) fear their loss of control in our country. This hardening of the heart is expressed in the guise of faith and patriotism, but it is hardening of the heart nonetheless. If our hearts could be softened, it would open us to new possibilities and relationships with one another in a richly diverse community in which we care for all people and the planet instead of experiencing the increased fear and hatred that comes with a hardened heart.

Our hearts have been softened in the past as we continue to recognize and repent from the evil we committed against our indigenous sisters and brothers, as we rejected slavery and Jim Crow, as we created women’s suffrage and expanded the protection of women’s rights, as we lamented and repented from the internment of Japanese Americans, as we reached out and cooperated with our friends who relate to religion differently, as we embraced marriage equality, and as we have worked to care for our environment.

If our hearts continue to be hardened, much of what we have gained in the new relationships and communities made possible by a softened heart could all be lost, and that would be the most tragic calamity of our time. May our hearts not continue to be hardened, and may we all do the hard but life transforming work of softening our hearts for the creation of Beloved Community.

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Fourth of July Repentance

American-flag-upside-down

We can never make right what has been done to our indigenous siblings on this land, but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that was done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for our indigenous neighbors. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the genocide upon which this nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace. and justice among all members of the human family on this stolen land.

We can never make right what has been done to our siblings from Africa who were separated from their families, forced from their homelands, shipped in shackles to this continent, and forced to work in slavery subject to the constant threat and reality of rape, torture, and execution; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for our African American neighbors. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we fully recognize and reject the human slavery and human misery upon which our nation was built and that continues to be expressed in the systemic racism of our culture today and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice among all members of the human family within this deeply racist land

We can never make right what has been done to our sisters on this land who for much of the history of this country were treated more like the property of men than as full and whole human beings, who did not even have the right to vote until 1920, and who still experience economic, social, and political inequality; but we we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all women. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the misogyny upon which this nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all women within this deeply sexist land.

We can never make right was done to immigrants on this land who have been exploited for economic gain, who often work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions without basic benefits and under the constant threat of deportation; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all persons who are immigrants. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the xenophobia upon which the nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all immigrants in this deeply xenophobic land.

We can never make right has been done to persons who are LGBTQ+ on this land, who for most of its existence had to hide their sexual orientation or gender orientation from the community around them, who have been ostracized and bullied, and many of whom suffer from depression because of rejection by family, friends, and churches; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all people no matter what their sexual or gender orientation might be. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the way persons who are LGBTQ+ have been treated and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all in this deeply heterosexist and cisgender biased land.

We can never make right the great violence that has been done to so many people on this land. We are violent nation whose very birth came through violent revolution. We have committed the violence of genocide, the violence of slavery, the violence of a civil war and wars abroad, high rates of gun violence, and ongoing systemic violence against persons of color. We can never make it right for all who have suffered from this violence, but we will never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work to establish non-violent human community on this land. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject our over reliance on violence and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice in this deeply violent land.

We can never make right the ecological devastation that has been done to this land, the destruction of once great forests, the decimation of the great Bison, the extinction of species, the pollution of air and waterways, and now what is becoming catastrophic climate change; but we will never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all life on this land. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject our exploitation of our ecological community and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice with all life in this deeply human centered land.

If we look straight into the eyes of the evil of our past and present, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for meaningful justice for our human and ecological communities; we will not allow ourselves to continue to go down the path of Muslim bans, children being separated from their parents at our borders, denial of the climate crisis, and isolating ourselves from our neighbors around the world. If we do this hard work together, we will repent from what we have been and turn towards what need to become for the world today – a land of responsible freedom and justice for all. This would be a land that we could all truly celebrate together as one.

 

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