We sat around the table one night, the appointed leaders of the congregation that I served at the time, considering our future. Attendance had dropped from its high point in the 1950’s and while the rate of decline had flattened, we were faced with a church that was rapidly ceasing to be relevant to the changing community around us. We were trying to discern what direction we should take and where God might be leading us when a member of the committee spoke up. He was a prominent member of the church, a vibrant retiree who was active in the life of the church.
“I tell you the truth,” he said. “When it really comes down to it I don’t really care if the church survives as long as it’s here until I die.”
Several of us looked at one another, asking each other with our eyes if we had really heard what had been said. We went on with the meeting as if nothing had happened, but several of us around the table knew that attitude was prevalent throughout the church and could see the writing on the wall – death may not be imminent, but the future was pretty bleak.
I was reminded this evening of that meeting when I read the story in the Washington Post about the latest governmental study which reported that the “…effects of climate change, including deadly wildfires, increasingly debilitating hurricanes and heat waves are already battering the United States, and the danger of more such catastrophes is worsening.”
The study involves various federal agencies, with officials putting their careers on the line by making this warning in the face of a president who seems to do all he can to avoid any suggestion that climate change is real. While it would be easy to pick on the president given his recent suggestions that that California wildfires were due to our failure to “rake the forests” rather than connected to climatic change, the fact is that he is far from the only official in government or business who wants to ignore the science that suggests we are doing what may become irreparable damage to the world that God has given us. Various officials are working to roll back environmental regulations designed to help offset human impacts on our plant, and corporations have funded various junk scientific studies designed to create just enough uncertainty to lead people to question the overwhelming evidence that says that climate change is real.
Just think about this year. We experienced two major hurricanes in the season with enough power to create havoc throughout major portions of the south – events on the par with Hurricane Katrina – but which have largely disappeared from our thoughts with the rise of western wildfires in which the death toll continues to rise and rise. The report notes that “…western mountain ranges are retaining much less snow throughout the year, threatening water supplies below them…” and that “…coral reefs in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Florida, and the United States Pacific territories are experiencing severe bleaching events.” The list of climatic related changes goes on and on.
And yet, my fear is that we find ourselves with leaders (as well as many of us), not unlike that one in my committee meeting long ago: “We don’t really care about the future of our planet and those who come after us as long as it’s here until we die.”
Look, I am no tree hugging environmentalist. I try to recycle, but I’m sure that I make far too many single passenger trips in the car and run my thermostat too high on occasions. As a techno-nerd I’m overly dependent on the electric grid for daily living, and am not someone who really relishes running around in the woods. I like civilization as much as anyone else. So, in many ways I could be called a hypocrite in writing this post.
And yet, I love my kids, and hope for a future for their kids. What happens in the world in the future is important to me. I have a chance to build for their legacy, knowing that I may not ever see the fruits of that labor, but knowing that generations will have a hope of a world that continues to support and provide for them.
Or we can put our heads in the sand. We can ignore the signs around us, pretend that the world isn’t changing, and hang on for dear life in the hopes that it will last long enough until we die – at which point we won’t have to worry about it any more.
Matthew’s description of the great judgment, when the sheep and the goats are separated, suggests the biggest difference between those who were deemed worthy and those who were not was that the sheep saw the problems of the world and did something to make them better. The goats, on the other hand, ignored those problems and did nothing. I’m sure the goats were just hanging on until they died, thinking that it wasn’t their problem after all.
But the fate of the world is always our problem. The dominion that God has given us in this world is not about dominance, but rather about stewardship.
And without stewardship, the future is bleak – be it in a local congregation, or the mighty creation that God has given us.
The fate of the world is indeed in our hands. But what will we do with it?