Earth justice and the resurrection realm

By the Rev. Betsy Sowers

Climate change is a domain of death, making it a theological matter for a resurrection people. Environmental disaster inflicts death first and worst on those least responsible for it and with the least power to counter it, making it a matter of justice for people of faith. For these reasons, Old Cambridge Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass., has made Earth Justice Ministry a central part of our witness.
Many churches frame the environmental crisis theologically as a matter of personal stewardship: care for creation by consuming less, recycling more, driving a hybrid. These are commendable habits, especially for people of privilege, but inadequate to transform a culture captive to the denial of death. Without spiritual resources to face the real possibility of civilization-ending climate change, it is no surprise that many become willing converts of the paid peddlers of climate denial. Sedated by the merchants of endless consumption, seduced into fear-driven conflicts with imagined enemies, people are distracted from that which is too painful to acknowledge. 
Indeed, civilization as we know it must die for earth to live. The inconvenient fact is that our current way of life depends on two fictions: that economies can grow and pollute infinitely in a finite world and that the poor will be lifted on a rising tide of wealth. The wealth gap is growing exponentially, and the only rising tide is the one threatening to drown earth’s coastal populations within the next few generations. 
Civilization as we know it vs. life. That seems a terrifying choice, but isn’t that Jesus’ message? He proclaimed God’s resurrection realm, based not on rapacious exploitation of the earth and its people, but on divine love and justice. Civilization as we know it could not survive in the face of Jesus’ challenge, so the empire crucified him, as empires, political and economic, continue to crucify those who challenge them. 
As resurrection people, we know that is not the end of the story. Still, opening our hearts to the scale of the unfolding climate catastrophe requires experiencing profound grief, accepting not only our own deaths but also the truth that Earth, itself, is not immortal. It requires deepening the roots of our faith, allowing divine love to cast out our fear. Only then can we overcome the domain of death that is climate change, and become agents of the realm of resurrection, inviting others into God’s vision for a just and sustainable future.
At Old Cambridge Baptist Church, engaging in Earth Justice Ministry grows out of our understanding of following Jesus. We still work on reducing the carbon footprints of our members and of our building, but our vision has expanded. Worship, Bible study and book groups opened our hearts to the depth of the challenge. Praying together has helped us grieve the calamities already unfolding. 
As members have been called to act, earth justice has intertwined in life-giving ways with our other justice ministries. The devastating effects of climate change on people at the margins and on the web of life itself revealed patterns of unholy exploitation that underlie every injustice. Environmental racism in Flint, Mich.; Standing Rock; and in Massachusetts, focused our racial justice ministry. Advocating for clean energy, we realized how hard it is for poor communities to access renewables and energy-efficient housing. That realization made us better allies for economic justice.

Learning how climate change drives conflict and migration informed our compassion for refugees and our participation in the Sanctuary Movement. Working for fossil-fuel divestment and against local pipeline projects moved some of us to engage in prayerful civil disobedience with other people of faith, deepening both interfaith and community connections. People who had never lobbied are now on a first-name basis with their state legislators and use those relationships to advance a broad range of justice issues. 
Our Earth Justice Ministry is deepening the faith we need to release our fear of the “Domain of Death” and to embody, and invite others into, the “Resurrection Realm” of divine love and justice. We welcome connections with others on the journey.

The Rev. Betsy Sowers is minister of Earth Justice at Old Cambridge Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.