I’m about to head out to the Day of Covenant gathering in the western part of the Conference. I only have a half an hour. But the state of the earth compels me to reach out with this brief message.
40 years ago, the first Earth Day was prompted by the gigantic oil spill off the beautiful coastline of Santa Barbara. As awareness and momentum grew and gas prices rose, our country began to take seriously the related issues of environment and energy. Funding for basic research in renewable energy skyrocketed. President Carter installed solar panels on the White House. We led the world in environmental development.
Today – this morning – there is an extraordinary concentration of good news: millions of us can now safely drink water from the tap; the terrorist who tried to set off a bomb in NYC has been arrested; and our three professional sports teams all won.
But the other headline is unimaginably horrific. A river of oil pouring from one of the 90 drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico continues to flow. Those who believe technology can fix all environmental and energy problems are silent as they watch crews use many of the same inadequate clean-up responses used when a finite amount of oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. The 2010 environmental catastrophe has no end in sight. Neither BP, nor the entire oil industry, has enough money to set it right. And as every Gulf fisherman now knows, it was 20 years before Exxon paid any reparations to Alaskan fishermen.
We don’t work for BP. We don’t fish for a living. Only a few of us regard the shoreline of the Gulf as our favorite place on earth.
But our behavior is part of the reason – each day – the U.S. takes the risk to pump 1,700,000 barrels of oil out of the Gulf of Mexico (not to mention elsewhere).
What will each of us preach about on Sunday?
With our leadership, people of faith can recognize that just as the Civil Rights movement adopted new behaviors as a Holy expression of covenant with the future, so can we. We can reduce our personal carbon footprint by engaging in new behaviors of shopping, eating, driving, sharing, spending, flying, using energy, recycling, and more – and we can recognize that in today’s world, these new behaviors are spiritual practices every bit as much as prayer. We can green our churches – and many of you already are.
In addition, we can follow the church-led Civil Rights movement in another way. We can work to change the laws.
And one more thing. As religious leaders, we can lead this generation to value:
- resilience in place of growth;
- integrity in place of consumption;
- wisdom in place of progress;
- vision in place of convenience;
- accountability in place of disregard;
- balance in place of addiction.
Without a vision, the people perish. Leadership – faithful and faith-filled leadership – is needed. God is calling us to be the change we long to see.
Minister and President
Jim Antal is a denominational leader, activist and public theologian. He led the 360 churches of the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ from 2006 to his retirement in 2018. An environmental activist from the first Earth Day in 1970, ...