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Friday, April 27, 2007

Do Christians Care about the Earth?

Welcome to my blog!

I’m calling it "WDYT: What Do You Think?" because I want to provide a place for on-going dialogue about what’s important in the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The beauty of blogging as I understand it is that we’ll “talk” to each other.

A piece that had kept me from blogging fell into place recently when the creator of Wikia (no, that’s not a wicca group but a cyber-encyclopedia) recommended a code of conduct or rules of civility for blog conversations. See "Rules of Engagement" on this blog's home page. These will be the standard for this blog. (They’re definitely in cyber-language and not church language, but they seem like holy conferencing to me!)

So this is our trial run. I hope you’ll get registered and join in the conversation.

Climate Change

Let’s begin by talking about what Minnesotans love to talk about: the weather. Only I’m thinking of weather in the global sense: global climate change. (Click here to see what National Geographic has to say about it.) I’ve been convicted recently through a number of conversations that we as United Methodists can really make a difference in the world for ourselves and others if we would make the care of our physical home, the planet, a priority in our daily living.

I’m going to avoid preaching but I’d love to hear your best biblical and theological as well as scientific thoughts and convictions on the matter.

What about global change? Is it just junk science? Is it something that we as Christians have an obligation to address in our daily, religious, political and spiritual lives?



David said...

Oour congregation here in Duluth held a series on global warming this winter (o.k. there is some irony - global warming in Duluth during the winter). Most of those who attended believe that global warming is a real issue and that we, as Christians have an obligation to respond. There was one very vocal critic of the entire series, and my dialogue with him led me to sharpen my own thinking about this issue. One of the best scientific sources I have read on this issue can be found at In the January/February issue of The Boston Review, Kerry Emmanuel, professor of meterology at MIT reviews the scientific case for global warming. He is critical of persons on both sides of the issue, but concludes that global warming is a reality and that human activity contributes to it. If I begin with that premise, my faith asks questions of me. Do we, as Christians, have any obligation to try and mitigate the human contribution to global warming? Why? I think we do. I think we do because God's care extends beyond humankind to the whole of creation. Jesus mentions birds and flowers as objects of God's care. The Psalms proclaim that all the earth is God's. Paul mentions that all creation is groaning and in travail, awaiting God's redemption. If we are to love as God loves, certainly our love should extend to the whole of creation. I think there are a number of other theological-ethical reasons to care about global warming, but enough for now. David Bard, First UMC, Duluth

Philip said...

My personal feeling is that global warming is a natural progression of climate changes on earth. There is no doubt in my mind that global warming is real. I think we try to take to much credit for being able to control or change God's creation. I think man's impact on global warming is very small, although the small part we can contol should be discussed and addressed. I don't think there is anything we can do to substantially change a natural event. Without natural global warming we would still be covered by glaciers. I have no scientific background for my opinion, but I believe in my heart that what is happening is part of God's creation.
I am a member of the Morgan United Methodist Church and my name is Philip Bickhardt

Michelle said...

Welcome to the world of blogging, Bishop. I have found it to be a dynamic method of communication.

My congregation (Hope UMC) has also been talking about global warming. We discussed it during our Lenten evening series, and the leadership have added "Caring for our environment" as one of our congregational goals. We've had an energy audit done and are thinking about what we might do next.

Minnesotans love weather, and folks in Duluth are intimately connected with the beauty of creation. As a Christian and United Methodist I think caring for creation is important in that it involves both stewardship of God's creation and also justice issues (climate change is going to affect the poor and marginalized first.)

Gary Zimmerli said...

I agree very much with Philip. We tend to puff ourselves up too much by thinking what we do will have such an effect.

But even more, as Christians, I think we need to look more closely at what the Bible says. God is in charge. People will not die out before Christ comes again. We will not be destroying this earth - God will. But then, it all comes down to our view of Scripture.

I am a member of Belgrade Ave. UMC, North Mankato, MN

Ron Cottone said...

With all the news about global warming lately, I have been wondering who will be hit hardest when the inevitable changes to societal behavior must come? For example, to reduce pollution, will we need to make adjustments to the way we use motor vehicles? If so, what impact will that have on people with mobility impairments who use Metro Mobility? Will the large, heavy vehicles used by Metro Mobility to transport a person in a wheel chair be able to meet more stringent pollution standards? Metro Mobility is the only way one United Methodist member of my board can attend board meetings. Our theologies of inclusion will be put to the test as we face very real challenges posed by global warming. Whatever societal changes we will be required to make, we must include solution input from those who may be most negatively affected by change, which, in some cases, will be people with disabilties.
Ron Cottone
DAMI - Disability Awareness Ministries, Inc.

Jeff Ozanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger Parks said...

Wow--real time conversation about real time issues. If we accept the idea that Genesis gives us that God called all that God created as good, then the original blessing that we have been given is a responsibility of ours to maintain. God has blessed us with the wonders of all creation, and our opportunity is to receive this blessing, unpack its meaning and fullness for all of creation.
I look forward to a time when we can live with this original blessing being the focus of our living, not the fear of destruction. While it may be debated about all of the implications of Global Warming--it seems undebateable whether God has given us rich abundance to live with. Let us find ways to experiennce the abundance of this blessing and then share it with generations to come.


Jeff Ozanne said...

I believe the short answer to the Bishop's question is yes. If we accept the premise that our lifestyles are having an impact on global climate change, then I believe we as Christians have no choice but to seriously look at how we need to change the ways that we live our lives. I believe that God made us faithful stewards of creation. As stewards it is our job to help preserve that which God created and called good. To me the ethical response of Christians is to seek further information on global warming/climate change, but also to begin to look at how we need to work to change our lifestyles, as well as those around us. Where the ethical conversation becomes the more subtle and difficult in my mind is when we begin to look at the effect these changes will have. How do I weigh my obligation to help the environment against my obligation to provide pastoral support to my congregation. Do I give a lower standard of pastoral support so that I can drive less, or do I cause greater harm to the environment but make the trips required to reach out to those under my care? I believe it is time for the conversation to be less about the possibility of global climate change, and more about how we can be working to lessen the damages that such changes might create in all of creation.

Jeff Ozanne
Light of the Lakes UMC, Baxter and
Park UMC Brainerd

Gary Zimmerli said...

I believe it is time for the conversation to be less about the possibility of global climate change, and more about how we can be working to lessen the damages that such changes might create in all of creation.

This scares me.

It's time to stop debating whether global warming is real? It's time to stop debating whether or not we are causing it or can even affect it?

In other words, the liberals have said it long enough that it must now be accepted as fact.

Sorry, I'm not buying it.

obirev said...

Greetings Bishop, et al.,
Global warming, as it has come to be called, has become accepted as fact. Much in the same way, that a coming ice age was accepted as fact in the 70's. I find that fascinating to say the least.

However, I don't see global warming as the issue. I see "dominion" (KJV) or "rule" (NIV) as the issue. God established dominion or rule with Adam and his kin. Clearly, there are overtones of stewardship involved here. And how do we act as caretakers? I think that is the real question.

Clearly, we can be better caretakers than we are. There is no question about that. Can we conserve more energy? Of course. Can we recycle more? Definitely. If the Lord were to show up today and question us regarding our stewardship, would he say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful stewards?" I'm not so sure.

This is neither a Democratic or Republican issue. Nor is it about Liberal or Conservative. It is simply about right and wrong. Shall we continue to knowingly abuse something with which we've been entrusted? I hope not. But at the same time, we have to do so responsibly...with regard to stewardship of finances at the same time. Stewardship of the environment...of God's creation...should not be our priority if it means that it must come at any cost. There is a line there, somewhere, where the cost outweighs the benefits of environmentalism.

Whatever our behavior which affects the environment, I would call us to the question of how we would respond to God standing face-to-face.

I most certainly stand convicted. However, I am a heir of grace.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,

Shane Burton
Former and possibly once again, United Methodist pastor.

Walter Lockhart said...

For many years my family has been divided on the human impact of global warming. Several of us were uncertain about the human impact versus the cycles of nature. I was one of the last to hold onto the idea that humans were not responsible for the changes. I can no longer believe that.

Walker Community Church has discussed the need to conserve electricity, use public transportation or walk, conserve fuel for heating, and a variety of ways we can lessen or carbon footprint.

I am unconvinced that technology will solve this problem. I believe humanity will need to find new ways to live in creation. I reject solutions that marginalize the vulnerable and weak. Our world will need faith and hope to face the challenges of the 21st and 22nd century. The United Methodist church is called to live in faith and hope as we deal with the new realities of our world and build communities of justice.

Richard Harper said...

I first learned the word "ecology" and became interested in relating it to theology after hearing a series of lectures by Dr. Joseph Sitler at the St. Olaf Summer Theological Conference back in the sixties.
I immediately began making connections to all that I have learned and believed about Christian stewardship of my own body and spirit, my family, home, church, neighborhood, city, state, nation, and the world. These wonderful gifts of God are to be cared for in loving and responsible ways, not misused or abused. While God has given humans "dominion" or power to use these gifts, Christians recognize that "the earth is the Lord's," not ours, and that we are stewards, servants of God and one another, and are not to lord it over one another or the creation itself.
I welcome this discussion and trust that we will profit individually and as the people of God as we ponder Biblical, theological, and scientific insights pertaining to the welfare of God's wonderful creation.

Richard Collman said...

Thanks, Sally, for initiating this conversation. Esther de Waal, lecturing on Celtic Spirituality in St. Paul recently, reminded us that the matter with things in this earth is literally our lack of concern about matter - God's earth that we live in. If we had more concern about this matter, maybe so much would not be the matter with our environment and global warming. I don't know, but I do know that two of the most important yet seemingly mundane things I did upon moving to Northfield last June was get myc ompost pile going again and installing two rainbarrels. These are smell things in the balance, but what if everyone did them? Incarnational Christianity to be sure...Lake Superior is down 18 inches; it's dry down here too...small trends in the larger order of geological time, but we need to keep our stewardship sense about mother earth who nurtures us all. Richard Collman, Northfield

Amy Jo said...

Last night I went to a small potluck of students from a local college (and a few faculty) discussing theology. I took food, "real" plates, and cloth napkins for the group. The plates and napkins got more thank yous than the food and sparked a discussion about interrelatedness within creation, environmental stewardship, and the new student proposal to dining services to get rid of disposable "to go" containers and purchase reusable containers for students instead. The students expressed a strong sense of environmental stewardship (personally and in public policy) as an integral part of their Christian faith and a generally shared value within their generation. Their young voice is a gift to our church-- I hope that we listen.

David began our responses with a list of Biblical references that beautifully describe the interrelatedness of creation. I wonder what causes me (and perhaps others) to sometimes forget that humans are part of creation, not separate from it? I imagine that the sin of pride is a significant part of the answer. Taking our interrelatedness seriously demands a strong sense of environmental stewardship, including personal and communal behavior that responds to the rapid warming of the earth's climate. Ivone Gebara discusses the human tendency toward human-centeredness in her book "Longing for Running Water." (Gebara, Ivone "Longing for Running Water." Augsburg Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1999, 115.) "In our anthropocentricity, we human beings have always thought we were the center upon which all converges . . . Today, there is a growing awareness that we can no longer be the center by means of which all is dominated. Rather, we have to be the center through which all enters into fraternal communion. We are trying to decentralize our power to possess and dominate in order to build new meanings based on relatedness, independence, and unversal brotherhood/sisterhood." Gebara's theology challenges us to transform Christian community into a loving relationship with all of creation.

The National Geographic link provides us with an excellent summary of much of the scientific research that has been done in the field of global warming. There seems to be wide consensus in the scientific community about the concerns of global climate change, with only a few dissenting voices. "Is this junk science?" No. It bears none of the marks of selective use of data or murky math. Beginning with John Wesley, there is a strong history of integrating the wisdom of science into our United Methodist theological discussion. Bishop Sally's invitation to discussion builds on these roots.

Amy Jo said...

Signature omitted from previous post:
Amy Jo Bur
St. James UMC

dal21957 said...

My "faith formation" around this issue goes back to seminary in the 1980s -- we celebrated Earth Day. The issue was related, then, most prominantly to threat of "nuclear destruction." It continues through out door ministry curriculum during the rest of the decade which focused on a wider range of related issues from "consumerism," to "First World" global domination of "wealth", through the "rural crisis", and the "think globally, act locally" movement. Some of the more profound words I have read on this, and I take these to be of the best biblical and theological, as well as scientific thoughts, come from Will D. Campbell in his introduction to a memoir of his "time on the farm" titled, Forty Acres and a Goat. However, my line of best thought traces to a book read pophetically in seminary called Ecology As Politics, through another called God's Economy. [I'd reference these, but have packed them for a move.] I have found, through this study, it is hard to separate the question of the issues of "global warming" from the most basic of theological discourses: creation, fall, redemption, and eschatology. Indeed, doesn't truth-telling on this matter involve what in systematic terms would be a discussion of "the economic Trinity"? Anyway, from the perspective of my spiritual formation in relation to this area, Al Gore's prominance in regard to this "hot topic" is no big surprise. Duane Lookingbill

Donna said...

Hi all, we in White Bear Lake had a sermon series on "tough topics" this winter, including "climate change." As a non-scientist I thought the EPAs web-site ( provided some good basic info., along with some practical to-dos. As a Christian, well..."The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof"...may we honor God’s home by lessoning the mark we place upon it. Peace.

Bob said...

I've have always been taught that we can make a difference and we should try to make that difference a good thing. I've been in LA when the air was brown due to smog, most of it caused by things people were doing. In the 1930's a study was done of the Mississippi river from the Twin Cities to Red Wing, they found the river so polluted by raw sewage and industrial discharge from the Twin Cities that only three fish we located in the river. A sewage treatment plant was built for the twin cities and the amount of discharge into the river reduced. There are now many fish in the river. We do make an impact of Gods world with every breath we take. I'm a member of Discovery United Methodist Church in Chanhassen we try to make a positive impact on our members and friends, our local community, our state, county, and world. Is global warming real? I know God is real and all that the world God created is real. We are Stewarts of that world.

jeff reed said...

There is no doubt in my mind that we, as Christians, have an obligation to care about and respond to anthropogenic changes in God's world. As a scientist, trained as an aquatic ecologist, I have been associated with research examining the possible effects of climate change (it is truly climate change; rather than global warming) on Minnesota's natural resources. There is no doubt that the world we live in is warming. That isn't really up for debate. Furthermore, the evidence is also far too great not to implicate industrialization and other human activities as the leading cause for this warming. It is far beyond a random correlation. We face many difficult choices on how much change we are willing to accept. Do we want moose to be a continued presence in Northeast Minnesota? Are Cisco (tulibees) to remain important links in our aquatic food chains? These are two questions that if we don't decide quickly, the choice could soon be made for us.
Jeff Reed, Alexandria UMC

Don F Eyres said...

Our stewardship is of the earth, but also of those who inhabit the earth. We’ve heard demands for action that would devastate the wellbeing of those inhabitants- demands that can be justified only if there are clear and specific answers to five different questions.

1. Is global warming taking place?
Yes, the evidence is clear that global warming is taking place. Temperatures today average about 1’ F higher than they did a century ago.

2. Is global warming a bad thing?
That is not at all clear. While some lands would become too hot and dry to support crops, other now-marginal lands would be improved. In Northern Europe in about AD 1000-1400, when the climate was warmer than it is now: visitors commented on the size and health of the local population. Vikings discovered Greenland- now a mass of ice- and named “Vineland” (the North American continent) after the grapevines they found in modern-day Canada.
Could water levels rise? Yes, moderately. Fears of huge inundations are a Hollywood fantasy. The Dutch have centuries of experience in building dykes to keep out lower water levels. Perhaps they would share some ideas with the rest of us.

3. Do humans contribute significantly to it?
The evidence is not even remotely conclusive, and scientific debate about it has grown in the last few years. The earth’s temperature has varied by a few degrees over the past millennium, even while the human footprint was negligible. In this century there was a cooling trend until the 1970’s. TIME magazine had a 1974 cover worrying about the next ice age. Since then there has been a warming trend. Did human activity change that much in a decade?
Another point to ponder is that there is clear evidence of warming at the polar regions- of Mars. Did human activity contribute to Martian global warming?
There are other theories about the cause of warming. One of the more interesting is that temperature variations are tied to variations in solar radiation. But there is no overwhelming evidence to support any theory, including human activity.

4. Will human measures have any effect?
That’s related to the question above. If human activity is not an important contributor to climate change, then human countermeasures will do little other than make some people feel good. Even if there is an effect- how significant is it? The Kyoto Treaty, had it been signed worldwide and had those countries that signed it met their targets, is estimated to result in a temperature drop of 2/10 of a degree.

5. Are those measures cost-effective?
There was a recent call to spend 1 % of the global gross product to counter global warming. That’s well over a trillion dollars. The same amount of money would deliver clean drinking water to every person on earth.
Economists in 3rd world countries were put through an exercise in which they had to prioritize their resources. In every case, global warming appeared far down the list- behind AIDS treatment, water supplies, education, and other services.

To sum it up- good stewardship requires a rational calculation of the cost and effect of action taken. Spending large amounts of money to- hopefully- counter global warming is not supported by rational decision making.

Don Eyres
Aldersgate UMC

Jennifer Scholl said...

I really don't think the point is whether we, as human beings, are making a very large impact on climate change or not. I've always felt that we should try to make our footprint on the Earth as small as feasibly possible. It's the prudent thing to do.

Our family camps several times each summer. We use it as an opportunity to teach respect for God's creation (clean up after yourself, create as little garbage as possible, use water sparingly, observe Nature around you) and respect for others (don't walk through someone else's campsite, keep your voice at a reasonable level). While we expect these things from our children on a daily basis, one's impact on the environment is much more obvious while you're living in a tent!

I try to keep canvas bags in my car so that when I stop to get groceries, I don't have to use paper OR plastic. While my individual impact may be small (and perhaps it's so small that it only results in me feeling good -- as Don Eryes points out in the previous post), perhaps it will result in other people making the same effort.

The United Methodist website ( states in part the following:

"We believe that the entire created order has been designed for the well-being of all its creatures and as a place where all people can dwell in covenant with God.

But we do not live as God intends... We call this alienation from God, sin...

Sin is our alienation from God, our willful act of turning from God as the center of life and making our own selves and our own wills the center. From this fundamental sin our various sins spring. Sin is estrangement of at least four kinds:

Separation from God...

Separation from other people...

Separation from the created order
In our sin we separate ourselves from the natural environment. Greedily we turn upon it, consuming it, destroying it, befouling it. As natural resources dwindle, as possibilities increase for long-term damage to the atmosphere and seas, we pause to wonder. But our chief concern is for our own survival, not for the beauty and unity of all God's creation.

Separation from ourselves..."

Our call as Christians is to be a part of bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now -- a Kingdom of Justice and Peace. To begin that we must turn away from sin and reconcile with God, our neighbors, the creation and ourselves.

Jennifer Scholl
Centenary, Mankato

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

I wanted to add the words of a woman who must have gotten these blog writings from her pastor since she claims she doesn't have a computer. She sent me a long note and some material to read on global warming. (I fear she actually thinks I'm in question about it, but I'm not--for the record!)
She sayd, "Christians shoudl care about this issue...and any issues with regard to care of God's earth, if we are to claim being Christians...Regretfully I know some inactive "Christians" who care more and do more for this earth than some "church people." I find far more caring among my birding friends than among church attenders in many cases. My personal attempts to get some action here have not met with much success, so I no longer feel guilty about missing Sunday in favor of a bird trip (even though I'm a pastor's widow).

I couldn't resist...may we all as Christians care for the earth!

Wendy said...

Well said.