Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change
by Jim Antal
A Review by Dwight A Moody
Getting people’s attention is the hard part.
We are inundated with issues, causes, and problems: abortion, sexuality, immigration, incarceration, addiction, guns, to name a few; and most people struggle to balance any of these with that triple play in the personal arena: relationships, finances, and health. On top of all this, it is hard to ignore the political circus with its never-ending parade of animals, clowns, and freaks.
How to get the attention of people of faith and focus it on what may be the most important crisis facing the entire human race—that is the problem.
Some have tried: Rachel Carson in her ground-breaking book, Silent Spring; Al Gore, with his movie “An Inconvenient Truth”; and Bill McKibben, who wrote the forward to this new book by pastor, administrator, and climate change activist Jim Antal.
Climate Church, Climate World is written to the church, for the church, and by the church—and by “church”, I mean both the larger, ecumenical community of religious people, and also the local congregation led by a pastor who must balance her convictions about this looming global crisis with the routine ministerial tasks of planning worship, paying bills, preaching Jesus, leading rituals, and caring for souls.
It is difficult to get even the preacher in the pulpit to focus on climate change, let alone the people in the pews.
But this book may help. It is a wonderful encyclopedia of ideas, events, initiatives, and individuals to help the preacher transfer his convictions into the imaginations and schedules of his people. It made me want to get up and do something! And it made me regret my four decades of ministry during which I did, well, nothing. I don’t recall preaching a single sermon on climate issues, hardly any even on creation and the divine commission for us to care for creation.
Preaching is something Antal thinks is important. He has an entire chapter on “Prophetic Preaching” in which he testifies to the influence on him by the preacher William Sloan Coffin. It made me wonder if anybody, anytime would give a word of witness about my influence as a preacher!
For me, the single most powerful idea in this manuscript is his expansion of the word “neighbor”. “Who then is my neighbor?” we ask with the man who questioned Jesus; and the Lord answers, “All those alive today and those yet to be born. Treat them all as your neighbors.” I had to stop reading for a while and just think about that.
Antal writes that preachers need to mention climate change at least every fourth sermon. With this appeal, he practices what I have come to see as the most important rule for reading the Bible: it is not what you affirm about the Bible that is of most importance—it is what you emphasize in the Bible.
This matter of emphasis is the wellspring of all denominations, even religions. It is the source of convictions, and controversies, and crusades, and crises. It is what makes one minister, one congregation focus on personal evangelism, another on service to community, and a third on interfaith collaboration; it is what separates the those who march against abortion, from those who recycle trash, from those who register people to vote, from those that maintain labyrinths.
Antal makes a compelling case that nothing else matters if we don’t address the challenge of climate change. It is difficult to know if this desperation is just the most effective way to divert people’s attention to the matter or is a realistic assessment of the way things are.
As I am, I think, a fairly typical reader of the book—committed to Christ, active in the church, concerned about both public witness and private holiness, and eager to hear the voice of God calling me in a fresh direction—I gauge my own response to this 208-page sermon: arrested, impressed, even alarmed, and eager to take at least a couple of tentative steps in the direction Antal wants me to walk.
But here is another issue: I sense no awareness or interest in my own congregation or in my own community or in my own ministerial culture in this issue. Addressing climate change in a prolonged effort to save the human race is, to say the least, a very big undertaking, one that dwarfs my lone energies, my solo enterprise, my shallow resources.
And here is Wolf Blitzer in “The Situation Room” with more breaking news! Quickly I am shocked at the unbelievable antics of the day. I shake my head (and sometimes my fist) at this sideshow and miss entirely the drama unfolding under the big tent.
See what I mean? Getting people’s attention—getting my attention!—is the hard part.
copyright2019 Dwight A. Moody