Minister's Column

MINISTER'S COLUMN

We invite minister commentary on climate change, especially the ethical and moral aspects, encouraging people to participate in ameliorating global warming.

Rev. William G. Sinkford, outgoing President of the UUA and member of the UU-UNO Council of Advisors pictured at right, has written the first Minister's Column, posted below.

Fr John Brinkman, M.M. (Commission on Ecology and Religion, Maryknoll) has written the article "CANCUN CROSSROADS", posted HERE.

 

Rev. Sinkford's Climate Column 

There is broad and growing agreement within the religious community that global warming is real and a danger we must demand that our political leaders address. That broad consensus is heartening and that call for political action is necessary. But as religious people, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike do not speak from a place of moral purity. We have some confession to do.

We need to admit that some of our foundational religious language has at best sanctioned and at worst encouraged the habits that have landed us in this crisis. From Genesis Chapter 1 (the first chapter in the Bible), verses 27 and 28:

 “ So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

  God blessed them, and god said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added)

 The developed world has followed those instructions, in practice, using our natural resources as if we were free to use them up, regardless of the impact on the environment. Having only our model to follow, the developing world is pursuing largely the same course.

 Those religious instructions are far from the only cause of our behavior, or course. The Protestant ethic, simple human greed, a short-sightedness shaped by the human life span and a willingness to not see our impact have all been in the mix. Nor is the language quoted above the only language about the natural world and our relationship to it in the Bible. The reality is that there are proof texts in the Bible to support just about any position. Whether you want to justify war or call for peace, defend nature from our transgressions or authorize them you can find support in scripture.

 All of us, including the religious community have needed a change of heart for many years. And it is emerging. “Stewardship” of the earth and its resources is now common religious language. That still places humankind somehow above and in control of nature, but it at least recognizes our special responsibility and begins to get us into the right conversation.

 There is no longer significant scientific controversy about global warming. It is real and its impact could be disastrous, especially for the global poor and the marginalized, those least able to exercise control over their lives and buffer its consequences. A moral response to the crisis must pay special attention to their needs.

 Enlightened self-interest is a powerful motivator, encouraging actions and policies that can mitigate the impact of this potential global catastrophe. But I don’t believe enlightened self-interest takes us far enough.

 The 2006 UUA General Assembly Statement of Conscience points to a spiritual platform on which we can stand, grounded by our seventh principle:

 “As Unitarian Universalists, we are called … to affirm and promote ‘respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.’ We envision a world in which all people are assured a secure and meaningful life that is ecologically responsible and sustainable, in which every form of life has intrinsic value… As people of faith, we commit to renewed reverence for life.”

 Humankind is not above and apart from, but a part of, the natural world. Our motivation is not self-interest alone, nor our responsibility as stewards, as important as those may be. Instead our religious response to this crisis begins with reverence and that is a far healthier and religious place to start.

 Rev. William Sinkford

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