At the recent joint annual meetings in November of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Diego, the topics of climate change, global warming, and environmental and economic injustice were primary topics explored in sessions of both groups. Discussions included numerous lectures and panels from biblical, ethical, scientific and sociological perspectives. Some well-known speakers included Thomas Ackerman, Department of
Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington; Bill McKibben; and former president, Jimmy Carter.
One of the most memorable addresses was presented by the bio-ethicist and Jewish activist, Laurie Zoloth, president of the AAR and professor at Northwestern University. In a presentation noted for its poetic passion, intensity, scientific accuracy and prophetic urgency, attendees were urged to take two radical steps to address the pollution and injustice that endanger life on earth. First, she suggested to the nearly 10,000 gathered professors and preachers that they follow the biblical model of the seventh year Sabbath rest for the land (Leviticus 25:1- 7) by canceling their meetings once every seven years. Think how much could be accomplished for eco-justice if nearly 10,000 members of the two societies all vowed to work and pray for 12 months in their local cities and universities, in nearby corporations, churches, synagogues, and temples to reduce global warming! Secondly, she suggested that everyone attending the meetings also take a pledge to honor the biblical concept of tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Malachi 3:10-12) and give 10 percent of their time and financial resources to environmental justice, not just once every seven years, but every year, and from now on.
For us as church leaders the implications are clear. If we really think that environmental justice is a critical goal for Christians to pursue, consider what we could do to redeem our groaning world (Romans 8:22) if members and elders of our congregations all took a vow to pledge a minimum of four hours a week (based on a 40-hour workweek) to saving our planet. I preach in a small church near Albany, New York, that only has 15 people attending worship on a good Sunday. But if we all took a radical eco-justice pledge, our small handful of workers could invest 2,800 hours a year to reduce global warming and stop pollution of our soil, water and air!
The situation, as Zoloth puts it, is critical and we must begin acting decisively to save the only world we have to live in, not just for ourselves, but for our grandchildren and for the stranger knocking at the door.
When the Girl Scouts of America were looking for adult volunteers a few years ago, they ended a television spot with the compelling challenge, “There is always time to do the most important thing.” How much are we willing to invest to prevent the coming storm?
Laurie Zoloth’s address will be available later in 2015 at aarweb.org.
EARL S. JOHNSON JR. is a retired PC(USA) teaching elder and an adjunct professor of religious studies at Siena College.