By Rev. Michelle Carroll, Associate Pastor of Missions, First Baptist Church on St. Clair, Frankfort, KY
Over the next few weeks, officials from 197 nations around the world are gathering in Egypt for COP27. This is the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), founded in 1992. These yearly meetings led to the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The first meeting had nations agreeing to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system.”
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the conference with the catastrophic reality of our situation. “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish.” He said, “Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
That surely sounds like something the Church should speak about. Yet many continue to deny that climate change is happening at all, much less provide moral leadership. But the land is sacred to God, it plays such a vital role throughout the story of Israel and God’s covenant with them.
When we turn to the Torah, and especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we see many rules and commands from God. Yes, Jesus has come to redeem the law, but this history is rich and full of examples of what it means to be Christlike, of ways we should exist in our world. Yes, there’s some that don’t apply or don’t seem Christlike anymore, but when we find the spirit of the community responsibility for one another, these laws provide wonderful insight into how we should provide moral leadership in 2022.
Leviticus 25 lays out the Year of Jubilee. Today that gets summed up as “release for the captives.” But when we dig into each verse, we see so much about the land and our relationship to it, to God and to each other. Jubilee is a celebration not just for humanity, but a celebration observed by the land and God as well.
Throughout this chapter and elsewhere, we see laws that help protect the fertility of the soil and that return it to people who sold it. We all have a responsibility to create life out of the land God has given us. It’s a promise to those alive today and those yet to come that we will take care of this communal resource that does not belong to us individually, but to everyone and ultimately to God.
In her book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, Ellen F. Davis says of Leviticus 18,
“The land is a semi-autonomous moral agent. Though it can be victimized by its inhabitants, it remains accountable to God even for the defilement it suffers at human hands. Ultimately for the land, divine presence trumps human presence. The land, which retains its healthful instinct for God, must finally expel the unhealthful presence and make up the Sabbath years that Israel failed to observe.”
We have defiled and victimized the earth with our unlimited consumption and pollution. Now, we are seeing its consequences unfold. Like a child who ate too much candy, a workaholic skipping sleep, a pitching arm that’s thrown too many or a lineman with a lifetime of concussions, there will be consequences. We might have ignored them so far, but it will always become debilitating in the end.
This global problem doesn’t just affect those who victimized the earth. It affects those who have done the least. In 1991, the low-lying island nation Vanuatu asked, “who will pay for this catastrophe? Who will take responsibility when our earth disappears under the waters?” They rightly suggested those who have done the polluting, industrialized nations with historic high emissions, including the U.S. Thirty years later, they’re still waiting on developed nations to accept any moral responsibility, much less pay the $100 billion a year fund first agreed to 10-years ago.
I’m left with an image reminiscent of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as told in Luke 19. As the Redeemer enters Jerusalem, the religious leaders say, “Tell your followers to stop assembling, to stop raising their voices for this cause.” The Redeemer says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the rocks would cry out.” Our planet is crying out!
Then the Redeemer weeps over the city, lamenting and prophesying that if we would only recognize this day and make peace with it. If we could only recognize that human-caused climate change is going to drastically alter our weather and has already claimed millions of lives, and make peace with it. Not the peace of inevitability, but the peace of shalom that draws us to make amends and redeem ourselves. Days will come when our planet’s ability to sustain life is our enemy. Earthquakes will crush, floods will sweep away, the ground will dry up and refuse to produce its fruits because we did not recognize the goodness and fragility of God’s creation.
Just like Vanuatu asking, “Who will make restitution and sacrifice for our communal temple, our clean water, clean air, our flooded cities?” I cannot help but follow Jesus to cleanse the temple, to drive out the den of thieves polluting our Earth.