The next generation in our family rarely attends church but they grew up in the church, not only attending the usual activities in a local church but also annual conference. At critical times over the years as they have become adults, a couple of them have called or texted and asked, “Aunt Sally! What are you going to do about (fill-in-the-blank) ?!”
Sarah Ehrman O’Connor asked such a question about fifteen years ago as she prepared lessons to teach high school environmental studies. Sarah was convinced that the church could do something about saving the planet from humanity. I’ve often said that in some ways she believes in the church and its potential influence more than most of us who attend regularly and might even get a paycheck from it! Sarah also believed that if Christians just knew the science of environmental issues such as climate change, they would understand the urgency of changing our lifestyles in order to care for God’s creation.
In the last seven years since A Hopeful Earth was published, the climate has gotten worse, the knowledge or acceptance of science has declined or at least been dismissed by many citizens (presumably some United Methodist Christians), but the moral as well as biblical and theological mandate has grown.
There was “hope for the earth” when the Paris Climate Accord was agreed upon in December 2015, led by the United States but in conjunction with almost 200 other countries. Now the President of the United States has called to withdraw from the Paris Accord even though many CEOs of major companies in all kinds of industries discouraged him from doing so.
Sarah and I were devastated by the President’s action. But I have to say the next day on social media I saw a conversation among some clergy who said, “I never heard of this Paris Accord. What is it?” Following the conversation (without entering in), it was clear that they had heard nothing of it at the time, nothing of it during the election, and nothing of it in any of their reading or conversations. I wept…
When Sarah and I wrote A Hopeful Earth, we wanted to focus on Jesus’ teachings rather than the Hebrew Scriptures alone (although they are filled with examples of when people are faithful, there is fruitfulness in the land, but when they are not faithful, there is desertification and barrenness of all kinds). Frankly, our copy editor upon receiving the assignment to edit the book said, “I don’t think Jesus said anything about the environment.” We hope she felt differently after she dug into the book.
Jesus lived in an agrarian worldview, just as the scriptures come from an agrarian worldview. When we read, “have dominion over the earth,” we read it from an industrial worldview (and even a post-industrial worldview). Jesus’ teachings and central theological themes call us to care for God’s earth in many ways that are relevant to our lives today.
As I was working on the book, I came to a new understanding that will forever change my worldview about my neighbor. My neighbor lives next door and we greet each other when we grill on our balconies. I also have neighbors who live on the other side of the world; neighbors I will never meet but I know that through my actions and my faith, I have an impact on them. (My mother taught me that!) Neighbors are near and far.
But what I came to appreciate was that neighbors are also now and in the future. To love my neighbor means that I need to demonstrate love—faith in action—to those who will come after me as well as those who live around me—near and far—today. How will my neighbors in the future find the planet in which they inhabit?
We as United Methodist Christians need to teach and preach on the discipleship of creation care; how to walk gently on God’s earth. Sarah and I commend this book to you as a study and a guide to get people thinking, feeling, and acting on the scientific, biblical and theological undergirding of our faith and our planet.
The earth has put its hope in us.
Sally Dyck is bishop of the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church. She received theological training from Boston University School of Theology (M. Div., 1978), University of Geneva/World Council of Churches (graduate certificate, 1978), and United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio (D. Min., Black Church Studies, 1989). Her upbringing in a Mennonite home instilled in her the understanding that personal piety is inextricably woven to peace and justice advocacy. She has been married to the Rev. Kenneth Ehrman, a United Methodist elder, since 1976. The two have traveled the globe together by plane, bicycle, and on foot.