With the passing of Earth Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice and creation care. As Christians, what is our part in taking care of the earth and in ensuring social justice for those who cannot fight for themselves?
The issue is more complicated that it appears, unless you look at it from a biblical standpoint. There are many verses that talk about taking care of those less fortunate — the poor, the widow, the orphan — and in Genesis we find a mandate to “have dominion over the earth.” This means to rule over the earth and to take care of the earth as God would, according to some commentators.
When looking at scriptural references to creation care, which really includes social justice if you think about it, the desire of God seems straightforward. According to Jesus, we are to treat others as we want to be treated. We could use that same thought process when trying to decide how to treat our only home, the earth.
The matter gets complicated, however, when real life enters the picture. Nothing, except the love of God, is black and white in this world. Ethical issues complicate matters. We just need to follow God’s word and prayerfully try to do what is best.
Recently, a well-known radio and television talk show host, Glenn Beck, made matters worse by placing the desire to win social justice on the same level as communism and naziism. He said, “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. … Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” According to several news sources, later on in the show, Beck held up a picture of a swastika and one of a hammer and sickle, declaring again that “social justice” has the same philosophy as the Nazis and communists and that the phrase is a code word for both.
If Beck is drawing his conclusions from the Jesuit practice of ‘liberation theology,’ which incorporates a strong social justice component, he may have a point, but he also misses a very significant point. The Jesuits became politically active in support of the poor and oppressed of Latin America, especially Central America. In so doing, they tended to lean toward revolutionary movements with Marxist ideologies. The point that Beck misses - or chooses to deliberately ignore - is that the oppressive regimes of the nations in question were so far to the right they were arguably fascist. But most importantly, those fascist governments were backed by the United States — something that Beck fails to mention. In their exercise of liberation theology, seeking relief and justice for the poor and the oppressed, the Jesuits chose the lesser of evils.
Average Christians in America simply want to help the suffering. If that means changing laws, so be it, but we will follow the process of democracy, Mr. Beck. We have no inclinations toward death camps and genocide, thank you very much, and to insinuate that any mainstream Christian church would support such things is an unconscionable pandering to those who see conspiracies under every rock. But then, that is how Mr. Beck makes his living.
In Genesis 18, we find Abraham pleading with the Lord about Sodom and Gomorrah. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” Abraham asked the Lord, taking the number down to 10. The Jewish Study Bible commentary says that Abraham was practicing social justice and we must do the same. It’s not communism, Nazism or socialism, it’s biblical. Creation care and social justice means simply to care for others — treating them as we would ourselves.
As I sit on my couch writing this commentary, I am enjoying a beautiful spring evening. The doors are open, letting the fresh air in, and I can hear birds chirping. I can also hear my son and his friend, who are outside playing catch. They are yelling and having a good ol’ time. In the kitchen, my other two sons are making dinner and joking around. It’s all very pleasant indeed.
These evenings won’t last long. They’ll be gone in a flash. Next year my eldest son will be a senior and that year will go quickly. It seems like yesterday I was starring at his wriggling form just after he was born wondering what to do.
The apostle Paul said that “we have this treasure in jars of clay …” The term “jars of clay” describes human beings perfectly. We are here today and gone tomorrow. One day we are a child, the next we day we are graduating from high school. Two days later, we’re retiring and our bodies just are not what they used to be. Well, I’m not anywhere close to retiring and my body is not what it used to be!
A church in our town is conducting a class called “A Bucket List for Dying.” The Rev. Terilynn Russ derived the name from the movie “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In this movie, the two men, who are dying, make a list of everything they want to do before they die. Their adventures get a little crazy, but it’s a great idea. While Russ’ class is not so much about doing everything you want before “kicking the bucket,” so to speak, it is about making preparations before death, such as what kind of care is desired and living wills.
As someone who became a widow before the age of 40, I cannot stress the importance of thinking about death before it is necessary, before emotions are raw, or before an accident happens. I will never forget what it was like to sign a “do not resuscitate” order right in front of my husband minutes after the hospice worker told us that he only had a few days to live. I will also never forget that one of our last conversations, just a couple of days before cancer stole his voice, was how he wanted his funeral to be conducted. No one thinks that they will go through this kind of thing before they are old, but remember “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” Jars of clay are easily broken. We have to be prepared as much as is humanly possible.
God has given us good things in life. As Christians, we can also look forward to eternity with him, but taking care of those we leave behind is essential. It is the best kind of care and will relieve some of the burden for ourselves and our families.
In a recent online poll, our newspaper asked readers if the Catholic sex abuse scandal affected their opinion of the church. Out of 82 total respondents, 12 percent said “Yes, I’m Catholic and I stopped going to church when the problems surfaced before.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that they were Catholic, but they didn’t believe that all priests were bad and that the scandal has had limited impact on them. Forty-three percent answered, “I’m not Catholic, but clearly church officials shouldn’t have covered up the abuses.”
My answer to the question would be the last two choices. I’m not Catholic, but I believe that there are good priests as well as bad. As a Protestant who’s been around for a while, I can say the same thing about our leadership too. There are good leaders and bad. As much as laymen like to deny it, pastors are human beings too. They may have a so-called “special” call from God, but they are also susceptible to temptation.
Hurting people hurt people, a pastor said on Sunday, and it is true. Many pastors and priests go into the ministry with skeletons in their closets. Or, if the skeletons have come out of the closet, so to speak, they are shared in dramatic testimonies while parishioners stand in awe. Those skeletons can either be redeemed through prayer, professional counseling, if necessary, and a lot of love from the body of Christ. If the skeletons have remained hidden, they will haunt that leader and eventually a congregation in terrible ways.
“I’m not Catholic, but clearly church officials shouldn’t have covered up the abuses,” is easy to say from a Protestant standpoint, but none of us can point fingers. Remember Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker? These men fell, but they are the ones who are out in the open. What happens to the ones who are not? Most of the time, they move from church to church imposing their brokenness on everyone they meet.
Shifting a priest from parish to parish, just like allowing a Protestant minister to go from church to church, just reinforces the behavior. The intricate web of deceit and sexual abuse keeps reoccurring, thus increasing the number of victims and the amount and intensity of the hurt. It also continues to hurt the abuser. They are incapable of helping themselves. The source of temptation must be removed. They must have counseling and spiritual renewal. Certainly, sweeping these kind of situations under the rug never helps, it only makes things worse.
Pope Benedict is in a good position right now to stop the pain. Despite his past mistakes of sweeping incidents under the rug, the pope can decide to take a very tough stand on this issue so that dysfunctional priests are removed from their positions and placed into counseling. Priests, like pastors, are in a position of trust. I believe when this trust is broken by something as heinous as sexual abuse, it both saddens and angers the heart of Jesus. Why would we hurt Christ and insult him by allowing these sins to continue?
The reason this happens is because we view the church as an organization that must be preserved. We may say that this preservation is in the name of Christ, but is it? Would Jesus allow sin to continue?
These are hard questions, but they require answers. The world is watching.
A few years ago, Christian singer Wayne Watson came out with a song called “That’s Not Jesus.” In the song he describes how Jesus is embarrassed publicly whenever Christians behave badly and how the body of Christ is to demonstrate what he is really like by their obedience to his new commandment.
Well, once again “Christians” have espoused unlawful violence in Jesus’ name and engaged in other spiritually embarrassing behaviors.
In light of the celebration of Maundy Thursday, I just wanted to expound a little on the so-called “Christian” militia group that was recently arrested for plotting to kill a police officer and others who attended his funeral.
This group claims to be preparing for the last days when they will have to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ while they are at war with the Antichrist, once a one-world government is created.
Now, without getting deeply into the complicated genre of Biblical prophecy, we can say that they are partially right; however, I have read the Bible several times and I have never found a passage that says, either literally or metaphorically, that Christians are supposed to kill anyone in order to defend the gospel. Period. Self-defense is a separate issue that we won’t touch at the moment.
As we celebrate Maundy Thursday, we are reminded that Christ gave his people a new commandment: “... just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” John 13:34, NRSV. Jesus gave his disciples this command after he completed the degrading task of washing their feet before eating the Passover together — a task that was usually reserved for the lowliest servant in the house! Within 24 hours, Jesus had sacrificed his life on a cross after suffering a horrendous scourging — more degrading experiences that he did not deserve.
The truth is that Jesus loved people unconditionally. He also commanded his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus did not overthrow any governments, nor did he take out his aggressions on innocent people (the defilers of the temple were hardly ‘innocent’). This militia group does not represent the Jesus I know and love. I really wish the media would call them what they are: an “extremist group” rather than a “Christian” group.
Are Christians supposed to stand up for what is right? Yes, but when we do conflict should not be our goal. Unfortunately, conflict is often an inevitable result when we stand up for what is right because there are many who will not agree with us. However, I do not believe that we are supposed initiate a conflict, nor are we supposed to aggravate one maliciously. We are not supposed to be at war with people within our spirits, nor are we supposed to be “puffed up” with pride because we believe that we are right.
In fact, our life should flavor the situation in which we find ourselves. Remember the salt concept of which Jesus spoke? “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other,” Mark 9:50, NIV.
This is not an easy way to live when we depend on ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit to help us, and this is what Maundy Thursday is about.