Climate Connections: From Scripture to the Pressing Issue of Our Generation
Reflection on the October 15th Lectionary Reading—Exodus 32: 1-14
Those who know me know that I love to talk about root causes. If we don’t know the causes, we won’t know the cures, and we will be forever pasting teeny band-aids on huge, festering wounds. I am also a firm believer that when it comes to the damage done to our climate there are multiple causes that cannot be intellectually reduced to a single culprit. Systemic racism is one cause. If white communities suffered from as much pollution as communities of color, wouldn’t much more be done to regulate and reduce pollution? The corporations that comprise the fossil fuel industry are another cause. If these corporations were not so driven to maximize profits without concern for the resulting costs to public health and the environment, wouldn’t we now be making a rapid shift from dirty energy to clean energy? The corporate mainstream media is yet another cause. If news outlets adequately covered and conveyed the impacts of climate change, wouldn’t the citizenry of our nation demand that the government serve public interests over corporate interests?
I could continue to mention more root causes, but I want to dwell here on one more in particular, and that is idolatry. Perhaps, for many Christians, the most common Biblical image associated with idolatry is that of the golden calf. For modern sensibilities, such idolatry might seem absurdly foolish. “Who would do such a thing?!” I could say that today we have turned the black gold of oil into our modern golden calf, but I believe there is more to our present predicament than that statement suggests.
Corporations worship profits, while the media exalts celebrities for the rest of us to adore. Meanwhile, the church on one side of the street bows to a God bent on wiping out gays and Muslims, while the church on the other side nuzzles into the arms of a God content to sooth and comfort the privileged. The end result of such idolatries and countless others is that our entire collective way of life—with all of its endemic oppression, injustice, and violence—has led us to a place so diametrically opposed to the will of God that we might as well be worshipping gold-plated hamburgers.
One scholar has noted that a reoccurring phrase in the story of the golden calf is “who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Somehow we have to get back to the liberating God who places us on the path to the Promised Land. That will mean continually recognizing root causes and continually discerning God’s will. Otherwise, later generations will remember us as the ones who were absurdly foolish.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as The_Green_Rev.