Turning the World Right Side Up

Earth and North America from Space(Creative Commons Image by Royce Bair on Flickr)

The book of Acts narrates how, in the years following the church’s birth, a small band of disciples turned the Roman world upside down (Acts 17:6) or, more precisely, right side up. Even threats and setbacks melted into opportunities as the disciples demonstrated, long before Margaret Mead’s famous saying, that a small group of thoughtful, committed people could indeed change the world.

Luke offered the story’s beginning, but he never lived to see the centuries that followed. And although Christendom has taken many ill turns since Constantine’s days, and continues to live ambivalently in history, the disciples’ first impulses of equal sharing, zeal to include, and healing have continued to inspire disciples ever since.

In light of this story, religious leaders will find fascinating insight in this recent survey by George Mason University, Climate Change in the American Christian Mind. Find the full report here, along with other reports from preceding research. Here are just a few thought-provoking tidbits:

  • A majority of American Christians of all denominations, including Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals, now believe climate change is happening.
  • Even larger majorities of American Christians of all stripes support policies to reduce global warming, including tax rebates, renewable energy research, requiring more renewable energy from utilities, and strict carbon dioxide limits on coal-fired power plants in line with the EPA’s plan.
  • A vast majority said it is personally important to them to care for future generations, the world’s poor, and the natural environment.
  • Yet when it comes to faith, some disturbing ironies surface, suggesting Christians are not connecting the theological dots:
    • Pessimism about human nature reigns: When asked whether we can and will act to reduce global warming, by far the largest group (46%) responded that while we can, it’s unclear whether we will. The next largest group (24%) flatly said we won’t, because humans are unwilling to change behaviors. Only 6% expect humans to succeed.
    • Despite the above, and despite religion’s emphasis on repentance and behavioral change, extremely few (6%) see global warming as a religious issue or even (21%) a moral one. Most see it instead as an environmental (68%) or scientific (60%) issue — implying relegation of action to the “experts.”
  • Nevertheless, many (4%, translating to tens of millions) said they would be very likely to participate in a September 2015 “Moral March” in Washington D.C. during Pope Francis’s visit to speak to the U.N., Congress, and President Obama about climate change, if they were asked by someone they respected.

Now is the moment for saving words. The disciples connected the dots between faith and recent events for their hearers. The prophet Ezekiel’s call transformed despairing dry bones into a powerful army. In this kairos moment we too can make the critical connection between faith and action. If tens of millions of our own stand poised to mobilize, let’s take at least one Sunday this month, just before Pope Francis’s encyclical this summer on climate change (see both Fox News and Huff Post), to welcome their doing so. Let’s speak the change Christians long to become.

This May, Acts, Ezekiel, and Isaiah inspire us to employ bold speech to change the world:

  • Acts 8:26-40 (May 3) describes Philip’s encounter with a receptive Ethiopian he meets in the desert.
  • Acts 10:44-48 (May 10) relates the first Gentiles’ eager conversion before Peter even finished speaking.
  • Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 (May 17) recounts the disciples’ process to grow their leadership even before the Holy Spirit came.
  • Acts 2:1-21 (May 24) narrates Pentecost’s remarkable power to make the disciples’ message compelling to diverse crowds.
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14 (May 24 alt.) describes an army of human bones, people who had lost hope and given up, standing up ready for action when the prophet spoke.
  • Isaiah 6:1-8 (May 31) describes Isaiah’s eagerness to witness to an earth that was filled with God’s glory, and a people of “unclean lips,” blind to this very glory.

The Psalms, as always, evoke a world brimful of the Creator’s grace and creation’s wonder:

  • Psalm 22:25-31 (May 3) claims that dominion belongs to God, including future generations, the poor, and the entire natural world.
  • Psalm 98 (May 10) calls all the earth to break into a new song, joyful praise for God’s victorious deeds: the sea and its inhabitants will roar, the earth and its creatures too; floods and hills rejoice.
  • Psalm 1 (May 17) describes those following God’s ways as well-watered, fruitful trees, overseen by God and prospering in all actions.
  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b (May 24) claims, “how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures,” and describes every creature’s dependence for food, life, and being itself. The psalmist too proclaims, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.”
  • Psalm 29 (May 31) describes God’s voice over the waters: powerful, majestic, wilderness-shaking, changing even creation’s most powerful forces, and blessing God’s people with strength.

The epistles, one and all, encourage boldness:

  • 1 John 4:7-21 (May 3) claims, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
  • 1 John 5:1-6 (May 10) asserts, “Whatever is born of God conquers the world.”
  • 1 John 5:9-13 (May 17) proclaims the most fundamental Christian truth: life itself.
  • Romans 8:22-27 (May 24) reminds us of several important ecological truths: all creation is groaning in labor pains; hope consists in things not yet seen; and the Spirit intercedes, helping us when we know not how to pray.
  • Romans 8:12-17 (May 31) encourages living not slavery and fear, but boldly by God’s Spirit.

John offers encouragement to change agents:

  • In John 15:1-8 (May 3), Jesus compares disciples to branches of the vine. Abiding in Christ, we bear fruit, and ask for whatever we need.
  • In John 15:9-17 (May 10), Jesus once again commends abiding in him, even to the point of laying down our lives, and claims that he chose us to bear good fruit.
  • In John 17:6-19 (May 17), Jesus prays for protection for those who, while still living in this world, will no longer follow the culture’s given ways but will instead follow God.
  • In John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (May 24), Jesus promises the Advocate’s guidance in truth-speaking.
  • In John 3:1-17 (May 31), Jesus describes to the transformation to occur in those born of God’s Spirit, since God intends the earth not to perish but be saved.