Monday, April 25, 2016


From Kabarak to Pisac, FWCC Calls us to Preserve Creation

At the World Gathering of Friends in Kenya in 2012, Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) delegates came to unity on the Kabarak Call to Peace and Ecojustice, a prophetic document calling our generation to the kind of awakened response that early Friends called and held each other to during the English Civil War of the seventeenth century. In Pisac, Peru this February, delegates came to unity on another minute, this one calling each yearly meeting to discern specific actions to slow down the pace of global warming, habitat loss, and other egregious ecological problems. Kabarak asked us to search our souls and act. Pisac, observing the lack of action, urged meetings to come up with two actions within a year to address the greatest challenge we have ever faced.

The essential text from the Pisac minute follows: “The Light of Christ...calls us to preserve this Earth for our children, our grandchildren and all future generations to come, working as though life were to continue for 10,000 years to come...Our faith as Quakers is inseparable from our care for the health of our planet Earth. We see that our misuse of the Earth’s resources creates inequality, destroys community, affects health and well-being, leads to war and erodes our integrity. We are all responsible for stewardship of our natural world. We love this world as God’s gift to us all. Our hearts are crying for our beloved mother Earth, who is sick and in need of our care.”

“When we've been there 10,000 years” says the great hymn, Amazing Grace. This unit is what the Greeks called the “great year,” and it is the length of time of settled agriculture, basically the span of the Holocene Epoch, the sweet spot in which our species grew, thrived, and came to overweening dominance. There is a quaintness to the language, no doubt coming from the evangelicals on the committee in Pisac. Of course life on Earth will continue for 10,000 years, and at least another billion, after which the sun will enter its final stages and earth's life-forms will be toasted. But, in a document which is everywhere saturated with the essential command to stewardship found in Genesis, what is being said implicitly is to work as though human life [would continue] for 10,000 years to come. Amendments to this kind of language, such as my friend Mary's “manage landscapes for the benefit of the whole biosphere” - were not accepted. But the important point, which was even more true in Kenya with regard to the landmark Kabarak Call, is that those whose primary focus is saving souls have joined with liberal Quaker tree-huggers to insist upon stewardship of Creation. If the language continually refers back to Genesis, then it brings recognition that the Earth is the Lord's – not ours. Pantheists can make their own substitutions.

So we have another fine minute from the Quakers. The problem here is that the Kabarak Call from 2012 should have been enough. Its eloquence was profound, its moral authority unshakable. We studied that document in our little Appalachian meeting, and some preached about it. As a concrete step, we adopted a small pastoralist Samburu community in Kenya, committing to women's education. Four years later, our mission is winding down, and we are getting tired. Those specifically working on earthcare have increased by one active member. I have been the Celo Meeting member who has seized climate change as my fundamental moral issue, and once spoke quite frequently about it in meeting, brought several initiatives to meeting for business, and asked for support for my earthcare ministry outside of Meeting. But after being thrice eldered for inappropriate messages (too detailed, too dark), I have virtually stopped speaking on what is foremost on my heart, opting for the same kind of personal, quietistic messages that our beloved little meeting appreciates.

I recently came upon a document aimed at a broad coalition of mainline Christian denominations, dated 2002, Greening Congregations Handbook, edited by Tanya Barnett. It is a comprehensive, imaginative, focused document, its moral imperative clearly set forth. Two things struck me about this discovery. One was that I had intended, back in 2004-5 when I first encountered it, to share it with faith leaders in my local community. But after having the minister of the largest local Baptist church lose, unread, my copy of Matt Sleeth's fine call to action aimed at evangelicals, Serve God Save the Planet, and looking sceptically at the remaining landscape of steeples, I let it moulder.

Secondly, a few weeks ago I encountered the woman who had loaned me the handbook, and tried to return it to her. She looked at it in surprise, saying I was free to give it to anybody to whom it would be of use. We had met as fellow members of an ecumenical green group in Yancey County, whose main work was to interview pastors (gingerly) about earthcare, but now she had moved on to other concerns. Towards the end of the committee's life, I attempted to announce the upcoming workshop I was leading at Celo Friends Meeting on ecological footprints. The leader of the committee stopped me, saying we did not have consensus that global warming existed.

Yes, we have a Paris Accord, with nations lining up to sign it. Yes, faith groups have risen to the forefront in exhorting us to take up the mantle of stewardship. Yes, the US has lowered its emissions (unless the outlying figures on methane emissions from fracking are accepted), by changing energy sources and through continuing increases in efficiency. Many of us have made grudging progress in lowering emissions by altering our consumption habits. But the basic capitalist model remains in place, which does not price pollution of the commons, and that model rests upon our consumption habits and lifestyle, to which we remain addicted. Even well-meaning folk, including those who consider themselves “progressive,” live vastly beyond our means, beyond what Michael Dowd calls “grace limits.” St Paul nailed it: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Romans 7:19

In the United States, we desperately need a carbon tax to get us to do the right thing. Countries like China can enforce their climate pledges driven by an enlightened despot. Liberal European countries can follow the electorate into the same territory, though subject to the checks and backsliding of the democratic process. The bottom line is that governments of all forms must provide protection from human nature, which so easily falls into practicing the evil we do not want. A global price on carbon would provide a correction to a capitalist model that still treats the earth as inexhaustible. Through an electoral miracle, aided by evangelical greens and the Citizens Climate Lobby, the next Congress must enact such a tax, showing the rest of the world we are serious about joining them in this historic battle.

Geeta and I go to Chicago next weekend to the Quaker Earthcare Witness steering committee meeting to present a panel on the union of liberal and evangelical Friends at Pisac, urging Friends everywhere to live their lives as if they cared about our Mother. I will report after we return. It is time for a new Lamb's War, this time to preserve God's earthly Nature, the blessed and only occasion we know for the spirit to incarnate and manifest – for at least another 10,000 years.

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