Climate Change: We must go about our mission of changing hearts

Recently Betsy and I went with friends to a restaurant in Great Barrington. When the waiter handed us our menus, we all noticed a statement on the cover of the menu: “Drinks will be served without straws. If you want a plastic straw, we will supply one upon request.”

That led us to a discussion of “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” floating right now in the Pacific Ocean. It is described by National Geographic as “a soupy collection of marine debris – mostly plastics.” You can read more about it here.

One might dismiss this plastic straw story as just another example of “crunchy granola” Great Barrington in the Southern Berkshires. Or one can see it as an invitation to the larger picture of how we treat God’s creation. This is where a newly published book by my friend, The Rev. Jim Antal comes in.

Jim’s most recent book is Climate Church, Climate Change: How People of Faith Must Work for Change. The book is the product of a deeply prayerful life that has led Jim to engage the crucial issue of climate change with rigorous scientific study and a passion to care for God’s creation. (He credits our own Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care, for her input into the writing.)

Here is a description and scope of the book in Jim’s own words:

“This book invites people of faith- together with their faith communities- to accept that God has called us to bear witness in a time such as this- a time when the continuity of God’s creation is in jeopardy. I suggest that the enormity of this moral crisis constitutes a theological emergency (italics mine). To resolve this emergency, God is calling the church to initiate a moral intervention.”

Jim goes further to express this mandate:

“Do you believe in God? Then you have a moral duty to fight climate change.”

The “theological emergency” is expressed in some of the title chapters which certainly got my attention:

  • “The Earth is the Lord’s, Not Ours to Wreck.”
  • “A Loving God for a Broken World.”
  • “The Church’s Vocation Today.”
  • “The Marks of the Church in a Climate Crisis World.”
  • “The Church Was Born for This.”
  • “Self-Giving Love in Place of Self-Centered Fear.”

After delving deeply into theology, science, and politics, Jim offers numerous examples of what a moral intervention based on our theology and spirituality looks like. This is good and holy work but it will be challenging. A recent review of the book in The Chicago Tribune highlighted the magnitude of what is necessary: “The chapter entitled ‘Discipleship: Reorienting What We Prize” outlines the basic challenges in social and economic priorities Antal thinks are necessary to realize this goal. Americans, he believes, must reject and rethink ‘our insatiable desire for material growth, our uncompromising insistence on convenience, and our relentless addiction to mobility’.”

US Congressman Bob Inglis (R) SC

That will require a change of heart, but isn’t that what the Church is called to do? Recently former Congressman Bob Inglis (Republican) from South Carolina, said “science can convince our minds that climate change is real and we must act now to preserve the planet. But it is religion’s job to change our hearts.”

Jim Antal’s book tells us why and how we must go about our mission of changing hearts. It might begin with giving up plastic straws but it can’t end there.