Written by Brooks Berndt
Remember the bumper sticker, “Who would Jesus bomb?” It came to my mind recently as I read a commentary by Bill McKibben entitled “Why We Need to Keep 80 Percent of Fossil Fuels in the Ground.” McKibben argues against the detonating of “carbon bombs”—the vast remaining underground pools of oil, gas, and coal. McKibben’s argument about such carbon bombs is simple: “If they go off—if they’re dug up and burnt—they’ll wreck the planet.” That amount of carbon in the atmosphere would send us well past the red alert danger zone as the world overheats.
As my brain tried to wrap itself around moral dimensions of such devastation, I tried out the question, “Who would Jesus carbon bomb?” I quickly realized that the question didn’t fit the situation. We are not talking about whether to bomb another country. We are talking about whether to bomb all countries, including our own. Carbon bombing is the ultimate extreme of carpet bombing. The more accurate question is: Would Jesus carbon bomb all of creation? Probably not a catchy bumper sticker. For a deeper reason, however, this question also falls short. It would seem that the real question to be asking is not a moral one but an existential one: Would Jesus give up on us? Would Jesus look at the rapacious lust for fossil fuel profits that threatens to explode those carbon bombs and give up on planet earth? Would he look at the climate denialism of certain elected officials and write us off as a hopeless case? Would he look at our mania for gas guzzling cars and simply shrug off the impending doom of humanity?
Maybe some otherworldly types would say that Jesus simply wants to save our souls for the coming rapture and could care less about whether creation gets destroyed in the process. After all, there might be a lot of converts if the world literally becomes a burning hell. Nevertheless, I suspect that many Christians do not believe in a Jesus who would turn his back on catastrophic global suffering so long as he meets his quota of saved souls. Instead, I suspect their allegiance is to a Jesus who rooted his life and ministry in a love of others. This Jesus wouldn’t give up on us. This Jesus would be propelled by love to make sure those carbon bombs never explode. It is this Jesus who also instructed us to love others just as he had loved us. It is this Jesus who further declared that such love would serve as the marker by which the world would recognize his followers.
Thus, one would naturally expect the front lines in the coming fight against carbon bombs to be swelled with Christians. One would naturally expect this struggle to be the defining cause of the present generation. At rallies and protests, people will point at us saying, “Ah, there is a group of Christians! There’s a church! You can see it in how much they love others and love all of creation.” Would Jesus give up on us? Not a chance. Let’s not give up on ourselves either.
Keep it in the Ground
This month we observe Earth Day and on Sunday, April 24th, preachers around the country will proclaim from their pulpits a simple message: Keep It in the Ground. Arguably, the most important act of caring for God’s creation that our society can undertake today is to keep most of the world's fossil fuel reserves in the ground. If humanity fails at this mandate prescribed by the laws of physics, then our planet will enter into the red-alert danger zone as it overheats due to the damage done to our climate.