Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Go and sin no more - Christian responses to Climate Change

Good morning God,
I realise this might seem strange, but do you mind if we talk about sin - because I'm beginning to get really confused as to what it is, and what it isn't. I thought I had it sussed - My Wesleyan heritage teaches me that sin is anything that I knowingly do which causes a breakdown in our relationship. I'm Wesleyan through and through and know that having accepted your gracious gift of salvation, I cannot sin in ignorance (to even suggest that I can makes a monster and a liar out of you. )

So I'm struggling with all this corporate Christian politically correct Copenhagen climate change confession nonsense which has preachers and pastors praying for forgiveness for what our ancestors, not so long ago, gave you their heartfelt thanks for. I cannot believe that you deem human progress and evolution to be a sin. So I don't need to ask forgiveness for the ingenuity, drive and creativity behind the industrial revolution or the technological/digital revolution which has followed it.

Am I appalled at pollution YES, am I disgusted at wanton exploitation - YES, am I ashamed by the greed which consumes the planet YES, YES, YES - and these are things that I can and do repent of.. especially my part in them..

But I cannot bring myself to even loosen the sandals of the mea-culpa Corporate Christian let alone publicly repent of my personal carbon footprint at the moment because I am so appalled at the deliberate manipulation of the gospel by those who think we know no better.

What on earth is going on? Does anyone really believe that if Christians can be persuaded that the things that cause climate change are their fault and are wicked sins that they will stop doing them? How effective has that policy been at stopping adultery!

Don't misunderstand me God, I KNOW that we need to address our greed, indifference and consumerism. I'm not objecting to wanting to get Christians engaged with the need to change hearts and minds so that we can see the consequences to our neighbour of our reckless use of the world's scarce resources and truly repent of our failure to keep your commandments.
What I object to is the idea that the only way we seem to have of doing this, is through guilt and blame and the imposition of a sack of sin.

Can those who speak for the faith find nothing in the gospel of joy, hope, incarnation and resurrection to bring to bear on these issues - must they repeatedly reduce Christianity to the doctrine of sin instead of your gift of salvation?

There was, for example, very little hope in the report 'Hope in God's future' - just loads of guilt and sin offered in the assumption that:

' It may be that desire for this newness of life, for lives washed clean of the stain of our sin (Ps. 51), is the strongest motivation for the change of life to which God calls us.'

How could a Methodist or Wesleyan buy into such a negative presentation of the gospel and such a sad denial of your GRACE?
2000 years after Christ and we are still in the business of trying to make people feel guilty in order to shame or frighten them into heaven: Didn't we learn anything from the old hell-fire and damnation days?

Love, not guilt or shame or fear, love is the fulfilling of the law.
It will be when I have truly learned to love my neighbour, not when I am scared of and confess some priestly imposed sin, that the world will be changed for the better.

So about this sin business God, do you mind if I don't - I've been trying to give it up.


  1. "Love, not guilt or shame or fear, love is the fulfilling of the law.
    It will be when I have truly learned to love my neighbour, not when I am scared of and confess some priestly imposed sin, that the world will be changed for the better."

    AMEN- Thank you Angela, I agree we have such a wonderful message to procalim, a message of fullness of life, where although repentance plays its part the call is to more abundant life not a miserable existence!

  2. I see myself as part of a community, a heritage and various "Systems". I can never exist independently apart from other people.

    My heritage - Christian and secular - has taught me to be profligate in many areas. And it tells me that it's perfectly OK to be profligate going into the future because not only is Everyone Doing It, but my ancestors did and and what was good enough for them is good enough for me.

    It seems obvious to me that, in order for there to be a real Turning Around (aka Repentance), that the entire "System" has to change. The way we do things and the way we have done them forever and ever amen and alleluia has to change.

    So it seems perfectly natural to me to repent for my ancestors. Because if I don't think they did anything wrong, I don't think I did anything wrong.

    Wesleyanism has its limits. Not the least for having been in the forefront of Englightenment individualism. In stressing our personal commitment to Christ, perhaps we negelt our corporate commitment to Christ.

    That's how I see it, anyway.

  3. Interesting Pam, That's an approach I would never have thought of...

    I take your point about individualism, but wouldn't agree that it is a Wesleyan thing else how did we end up with social holiness and connexionalism? (Although - I do agree that Wesleyanism has its limits)

    What I don't understand why you feel that just because you know someone else did something wrong that you should repent of their sin.

    Do you think that God holds you accountable for the sins of your forebears (even if they didn't know/believe that what they were doing was a sin)? If so, what's the difference between that and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saint's insistence that ancestors need to be rebaptised by proxy because they weren't really baptised.. ?


  4. Really interesting post Angela - thanks for this. I've been concerned for a long time about the spirituality of environmentalism - or, if you like, the need to tie together our thinking about sin & grace & love with our thinking about "care of creation". Myself, I don't see the big problem as being "repent for what your ancestors did" but "buy yourself out of guilt by changing your lightbulbs"... and how neatly this dovetails with the political agenda that wants "religion" to be about "telling people what to do"!

  5. I can't seem to copy and past, so two responses to two different points.

    1) Re individualism and connexionalism. First of all, I'm not sure human history and society are rigidly cut-and dried. But both individualism and connexionalism seem to me to fit the events of late 18th and early 19th century. Connexionalism and the move toward democratic systems of government started happening at the same time in history. The idea developed that "the group exists because individuals consent" rather than "I exist as a member of a group and have little identity apart from that group." Historically, it seems to me to fit.

    2) No, I don't think I'm personally responsible for my ancestors' personal sins. But insofar as I get caught up with them, I'm responsible for them. I can't personally do anything about the current economic crisis, for example, but I'm still caught up in a system which posits the growth of profist as the central value of human life. I'm a victim of that system but I'm also a part of the system that victimizes.

    Where I do agree with you is that going around feeling weighed down with guilt is unhelpful. I distinctly remember Alison Tomlin saying once that guilt has only one purpose and that's to get us to change what we are doing. I think that there is lots that we can do as a society in order to be good stewards of the earth. There are ways of generating energy that don't pollute; the problem is that they are more expensive than the way we generate energy now. We need to change the way that we generate energy for long term goals that seem somewhat intangible. And that goes against the grain of doing what is necessary to achieve the next four quarters' growth in profits.

  6. One other comment and I hope not too tangential. I have heard that people feel differently on the matter of apologizing for one's ancestors, but if - for example - a 30-year-old Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor came up to me and said "I'm sorry the Missouri Synod taught you in 1963 that you were not really a child of God in your own right. That's wrong and I believe God loves you as his female child"[1] I would appreciate that apology. It wouldn't change my life, but I'd appreciate it.

    [1] Background: I was taught that men where created in the image of God and that women were created in the image of man and that we women are therefore children of God only by virtue of being created through man. I think they still believe this, though, so I doubt anyone would apologize!

  7. Thanks Pam and Rachel,
    The real issue for me is the sin and guilt manipulation over an issue that really is too important to be dealt with so 'superficially' and predictably by the Church.The ( to me) odd idea that what others once genuinely thanked God for - such as the break-through in petro-chemicals, the discovery of plastic, the invention of the light bulb and later still of the computer etc - others are now trying to persuade us we must atone for.. ie the vaguries of how and why we define something as sin is tangential but interesting and has provided much food for thought.. I dont share your take on it Pam, and would find such an apology as you suggest odd in the extreme, but thanks for the idea and for the train of thought which followed it - I nned to think further on 'community' theology.

  8. Angie:

    Insofar as I think I understand what you are saying, I share your view on "sin and guilt manipulation".

    I do wonder if this is one of those instances that I put down to personality-type differences and differences in perceiving the world. The fact that you don't seem to "grok" my concrete and personal example suggests to me that this might be so. But I'd posit that perhaps those who are making these statements might be coming from a similar place as me - at least that's how I perceive them myself.

    I don't want to manipulate anyone into feeling guilty and I want to stay as far as possible from suggesting that wallowing in guilt has any virtue at all. If some people believe that to be "our" intention, then perhaps it gives me insight into some of the anger that I've heard expressed (not by you) on this issue.