Matt Frei, chief Washington, D.C., correspondent for the London-based British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), was on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University Friday, April 13, 2007, to film President Loren Swartzendruber deliver a sermon on creation care from an Anabaptist perspective and recent scientific data regarding evident climate change. The sermon and subsequent interview with Dr. Swartzendruber were used in a BBC production about Christian response to global warming; the program aired internationally throughout April 2007. Read more about the visit from BBC…
Creation Care from an Anabaptist Perspective
April 13, 2007
Loren Swartzendruber, EMU President
Hear these words from the 24th Psalm:
The earth is the Lords, and everything in it, the world, and who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
And this familiar text from the New Testament book of Colossians,
For by him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Earlier this week I received an email from an EMU faculty member, to let me know she would be praying for me as I prepared for this morning. She added, “And, I’m sure you’ll find a way to add a little humor to the subject.” Unfortunately, there is not a lot of humor to be found in the subject of global warming!
But, then I did see a few things in the papers just this week that made me smile. An editorial referred to several baseball games being postponed last weekend due to snow. Several cities in the U.S. set near records for low temperatures, crops were likely damaged due to the cold weather. And then the closing line,Yes, global warming seems to be on a roll.Now, that's amusing – but sad. Sad for two reasons.
It surely does not characterize critical thinking, a proficiency that we at EMU believe is imperative to model as faculty and to cultivate in our students. No critical thinker would suggest that taking a snapshot of several days within the context of thousands of years is a good measure of weather patterns and temperatures. It neither proves nor disproves global warming.
We would do well to follow the example of George Bernard Shaw:
Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
The second reason for sadness is perhaps more subtle. The problem is called “global warming,” but we in North America tend to look at just one small part of Gods earth, to gather data for our preconceived notions. Our tendencies toward provincialism are all too prevalent. As an institution that seeks to prepare students to live in a global context, such a narrow point of view is inadequate.
Just five days ago, last Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. It is a festival unlike any other in the church calendar. Jesus came into this messy, conflicted world, daring to take on our humanity, boldly entering into a world that God declared to be “good,” offering hope for the worlds redemption.
Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 18:18-23
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
As one of our Bible faculty members has put it,
We are beginning to articulate that the current ecological crisis is indicative not just of a Christian betrayal of creation, but of creations God. It is not just a Christian abandonment of the environment but Christian abandonment of the scriptures. The old dualisms that enabled environmental neglect – soul/body, spirit/matter, rational/natural, redemption/creation – are breaking down. As they break down, some old theological truths are re-emerging.The redemption Christ brings is not redemption from creation, but redemption of and for creation.
Here we are in the early years of the 21st century. April 13, 2007.A few minutes within one short day on a very tiny spot within all of Gods creation. A mere blip on the screen of Gods incredible movie, a movie without beginning or end, a movie of good/evil, pathos/joy, sin/redemption, Garden of Eden/destruction/new Jerusalem. This movie does have a plot and it is going somewhere. This is a movie for which there is no Oscar.
We may be a small part of this grand cosmic story, but we cannot forsake hope and personal responsibility. Our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will rightly expect an accounting of our actions or, God forbid, our apathy. Our faith and theology do not allow us to absent ourselves from responsibility. Nor can we yield to the tempting comfort of fatalism. We are created in Gods image; therefore we have enormous responsibilities and opportunities.
So, what about global warming? What are the facts and are they indisputable? Is it for real, and if so, what will be the consequences? And if it is real, and there are consequences, is there anything we can do? Is it too late? The topic is clearly too large to address in just a few minutes, but let me offer some thoughts for our continuing dialog.
There is a massive and mounting body of scientific evidence that global warming is a reality. Scientists from all around the world have gathered data and there is strong consensus among the worlds leading experts that global warming is well documented. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, with at least 90 percent certainty, global warming is man-made and will “continue for centuries”- unless we take actions to slow or reverse the trend.
Not everyone is convinced. The opinions against the reality of global warming generally fall into one of several categories, 1) it is a hoax being perpetrated on the American people, 2) it is primarily articulated by the liberal media, and/or, 3) what we are experiencing now is simply a repetition of numerous cycles throughout past millennia.
I have real problems with some of these arguments.Scientists, as professionals, are inclined to go where the data lead them. Of course, every individual researcher has to make choices about what to study and the methodologies to be employed, but the peer review standards are far more objective and rigorous than the general public fully understands.
When Senator Inhoff of Oklahoma says the “American people” are being duped, hes not only ignoring all the other nations of the world, hes suggesting that we are a very gullible people.
The argument that this is a “liberal” agenda is rapidly cracking. I seriously doubt that all of the scientists involved are either liberal or conservative politically. Just three days ago the political world was shocked to witness a dialog between Newt Gingrich and John Kerry in which Kerry was rendered almost speechless by Gingrichs assertion that global warming is a reality. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was recently called Swartzendruber on a local radio station!) is hardly an icon of liberalism, but he has become energized about what he believes is a serious challenge to the future of the planet.
What I find most distressing about this debate, as is the case for so many debates in our society, is how quickly it becomes politicized. In my opinion, this is a scientific and a theological/moral issue, not one to be politicized. To ignore a potentially devastating world problem because a particular politician has become a major spokesperson for it, is frankly disturbing.
We know there have been cycles in the past. Ice ages have come and gone; we know that from geological research. There’s just one small (or large!) problem with the idea that this is just another “routine” cycle – we are now on this side of the industrial revolution and there are just a few more people on planet earth than at any other time in history. Assuming a normal life span, I will have lived during a time when the worlds population will have grown from two billion to nine billion.
And lets be honest – there are all too many people, including those in the Christian church, who behave as though some lives are more dispensable than others. The expectation of Jesus,To love our neighbors as ourselves,is an inconvenient truth!Sometimes it is assumed that “neighbors” are only those who reside within the borders of our own nation. And then only if they’ve been here for at least a few years!
If global warming is a reality, and there are those who genuinely believe it is not so, the projected impact will be devastating unless we can mobilize our best minds and behaviors to reverse the trends. There are plenty of places where any of us can research what experts are saying about the potential impact of unmitigated global warming. The IPCC report notes,Existing divisions between rich and poor countries will be sharply exacerbated by the pattern of climate-change impacts in the coming years. Increased drought, crop failure, disease, extreme weather events and sea level rise are all likely to fall much more heavily on the struggling populations in Africa, Asia and South America than on the rich industrial societies of Europe, North America and Australia. But we are the ones who are producing the most greenhouse gas emissions and can best afford counter-measures to limit its consequences. This is a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Just this week the U.S. military was ordered to begin preparing contingency plans because it is recognized that this is a threat to global security.
What if the scientists are wrong? What if global warming proves to be the biggest hoax in recorded human history? Does that let us off the hook for making changes? I think not. For myself, Id rather be guilty of being duped while having made an effort to support “care for the creation” initiatives, even if my grandchildren and great grandchildren call me ignorant, than to disregard current realities, hope the problem goes away.I don’t want my descendants to question my commitment to be a good steward of what God entrusted to our generation.
As a Christian church we are called to love the world that God created. Where to from here? We don't have all the answers for how changes can be made and their potential impact. We know some things, but there is much more to be done in the next decade to ascertain the impact of specific changes. Yesterdays Richmond Times Dispatch carried a syndicated column which suggested that since some proposed changes would appear to have negligible impact, we should question the reality itself.Again, in my mind, an example of fuzzy thinking.
Of course, we are learning as we go. Of course, we will make mistakes. What else is new? We do have the human capacity, I believe, by the gift of God, to address the realities, test ideas for change, project possible outcomes. Just because some proposed solutions are extreme or over the top, does not mean that we should ignore reasonable considerations.
We should celebrate those achievements already realized. I am proud that EMU has long led the way among higher education institutions to gain efficiencies in energy usage. Because of research done by science faculty and careful work by leaders of our Physical Plant staff, we have been saving large amounts of energy for several decades. In a study of energy usage by 90 universities across the entire U.S., EMU ranks third from the best in the least energy used per gross square foot of building space. That is a remarkable achievement. EMUs usage cost is $.90 per Gross Square Foot.The comparable numbers at three other Virginia institutions are $1.53, 1.78, and 1.98.
As we go forward with building and renovation plans, we will utilize proven green technologies.I invite donors to join us in making EMU a model institution in which our use of resources is consistent with our theology and faith.
As a university we can make decisions that are environmentally friendly; I invite us as individuals and families to examine our practices to better reflect our Biblical understandings. To the students at EMU and all across the world I extend this challenge:hone your God given talents, grow your entrepreneurial skills, and stretch your scientific minds to co-create, with God, a better world. As disciples of Jesus, we can do no less.
I close with the prayerful words of Patricia Winters, sent to me yesterday by Ellen Miller, our director of residence life:
Giver of life and all good gifts:
Grant us also wisdom to use only what we need;
Courage to trust your bounty;
Imagination to preserve our resources;
Determination to deny frivolous excess;
And inspiration to sustain through temptation.
President Swartzendruber is available for further interviews on this topic. Contact EMU marketing and communications:
Andrea Wenger, director
Jim Bishop, public information officer