United Church of Christ

Woe to the Unambitious: Greta as Prophet

Prophets provoke a reckoning, a moment of truth that cannot be denied. The illusion of righteousness is dispelled. The mask of insincerity is ripped away. The rhetoric of duplicity is forced to light. The time has come when the mirror is held aloft, and we must look to see our true reflection without lie or deception. The old magic of obfuscation and distraction holds sway no more. The complacency of careful calculations remains tenable no longer.

While I am reluctant to bestow the title of prophet on anyone, there can be no doubt that Greta Thunberg and many other lesser known youth are a force of reckoning today. Woe to you politicians and wielders of power! Your failure to act on climate with sufficient speed and ambition simply cannot persist.

As Greta declared at the UN Climate Action Summit, “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

Greta tells us that we are failing. She tells us that if world leaders truly understand the situation but still fail to act, then they are, well, evil. And, she is right. There is no sugarcoating it. There is no spit and polish to make it look any different.

All this from a teenager who skewers those who pretend to be informed grown-up adults, but whose actions reveal a stark regression in outlook and behavior. When it comes to the “uncomfortable” numbers of climate science, these grown-ups are “still not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

Greta’s language evokes the unsettling words of Jesus who declared “woe to you scribes and Pharisees.” Like children playing with Monopoly money, the scribes and Pharisees tithed in the currency of “mint, dill, and cumin,” while neglecting “weightier matters” like justice.

Greta is right in declaring that the youth of today have drawn a line. We can no longer run, hide, or play dumb. We can no longer wait for others to act. We can no longer excuse our inaction. Greta won’t abide claims of hopelessness. There are no cushy chairs for the spiritually fatigued to cast up their feet and rest in navel-gazing despair. Hope comes to those who act, so get out there. Join your kids and grandkids in the street.

The true test of character now is ambition. This is the measuring stick before which we must all stand day after day. If we fail to measure up, Greta assures us that there will be no forgiveness from the generations to come.

The line has been drawn. The question for all of us adults is this: on what side shall we stand? The prophet has spoken. Harsh truths have been laid bare. The moment of reckoning is upon us.    


The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is Minister of Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He recently released a church-based discussion guide for Greta Thunberg's book "No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference."

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