Caring for creation, and all people

Jun 6, 2017 by

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blog-logo-webAfter President Trump announced he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, I looked to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for guidance.

“As stewards of God’s earth,” the Confession states in Article 21, “we are called to care for the earth and to bring rest and renewal to the land and everything that lives on it.” Our vocation is to care for the Earth, to renew the soil, to allow for rhythms of restfulness for flora and fauna. We look after the well-being of God’s creation, the work of God’s hands. From the perspective of the rest of the earth, the plants and animals, we are to be a blessing — human beings as a blessing for creation.

To serve the livelihood of Earth is part of our commitment to peace. As the Confession puts it in Article 6: “Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation.” To care for creation is bound up in our identity as a peace church. We dedicate our lives to nurturing Christ’s peace among us, and our relationship to the Earth is related to our peace work. The way we treat the environment affects our relationships as human beings, determining our ability to live at peace with our neighbors near and far.

At his press conference to announce the Paris climate accord decision, the president repeated the following phrase as his rationale: “America first.” This slogan proclaims an ideology anathema to our Mennonite convictions about what it means to be human as articulated in this Confession, which serves Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Our nature, as human beings, is directed toward God’s peace for all creation — not only ourselves, not only our communities, not only this country. We cannot be for ourselves without also being for others. And to care for creation is to care for all the people with whom we share this planet.

A sectarian nationalism permeates the president’s “America First” ideology — an ecological provincialism that is the legacy of the globalized racism of wealthy nation-states. In his book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (Nation Books, 2011), Christian Parenti identifies the “exclusionary tribalism” of “the Global North’s use and abuse of the Global South.”

Resource extraction from Africa and South America mimics the economic flow of the transatlantic slave trade. After centuries of ravaging the Southern Hemisphere, after decades of overwhelming the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the United States has turned its back on the humanitarian crisis it has helped produce through environmental degradation on a global scale.

Instead of making commitments to care for creation and to live at peace with our global neighbors, the president has withdrawn from environmental commitments and has closed the door to refugees. Parenti identifies this “America first” ideology as “climate fascism”— a “politics of the armed lifeboat,” where a country responds “to climate change by arming, excluding, forgetting, repressing, policing and killing.”

A decade ago the International Migration Organization reported on the unequal distribution of the devastating effects of climate change: “[T]he burden of providing for climate migrants will be borne by the poorest countries —those least responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Those of us here in the United States, far north of the equator, do not face the same immediate threat as equatorial countries. The people inhabiting land between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer are already suffering from rising oceans and desertification of land, from climate wars due to water shortages and decimated agriculture. They bear the burden of our global environmental crisis.

As climate refugees flee the devastation caused by the polluting countries in the Global North, the U.S. president has responded with another slogan: “Build the wall,” which correlates with the ideology of “America first,” because both rely on a global politics of segregation. “In the face of rising migration,” Parenti writes, “the borders between wealthy core economies and the developing world harden and militarize.”

Our world is suffering from an environmental catastrophe rooted in the legacy of a racialized global economy, with European descendents taking possession of land and peoples, of mineral resources and energy sources, and dumping waste into the atmosphere.

As systemic racism partitions our planet so as to protect U.S. citizens from the effects of our ecological degradation, we have to turn our vision south of our borders, to our neighbors whose lives are bound up in our own, and call for an end to policies that segregate us from them —whether in terms of lack of environmental regulations to care for the Earth or in terms of immigration polices that preclude hospitality to climate refugees.

When it comes to the environment and immigrants, President Trump preaches his sectarian message: “America first.” As Mennonites, we proclaim a different gospel: “justice, peace and compassion for all people.”

Isaac S. Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship.

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  • William Savageau

    I see they do not allow comments toward this article. So much for peace and inclusiveness to our neughbor. These guys are no different than other liberals including liberal democrats. Maybe the Mennonites should give all their church buildings, money and all their family homes and money for the global warming cause then I would say they at least would have credibility. Until then they are just so called liberals (wolves) in sheep clothing.

    • Harvey Yoder

      Mr. Savageau, I assume you simply experienced a bit of delay while the comment receives routine approval.

  • Lynn Miller

    Yes, we know you can not bear President Trump. Are you a globalist? I assume you know what’s coming in terms of a one world government.

  • Gene Mast

    Has the irony of Mr. Villegas’ appeal to the Confession of Faith occurred to anyone? Maybe article 19 should have been considered guidance as well.

    • Brian Arbuckle

      Gene, I noticed it immediately. Yes, ironic for sure but I must add that it is quite hypocritical as well. The COF has value for Mr. Villegas where it supports his ideology or politics. Only at those points will he receive “guidance” from it.

      • David Lapp Jost

        Were you two aware that neither Lancaster Conference nor Evana are in compliance, either? Lancaster has no problem whatsoever with divorce outside of cases of adultery, which directly contradicts the confession. Evana has made it clear that churches don’t have to follow the confession so that MBs can join (they don’t follow the confession on matters of non-violence).

        Obviously, just like Evana and Lancaster, Isaac thinks the confession is great generally, but needs some changes. You can debate whether he’s right on allowing for gay marriage, of course, but it should not be controversial that one can refer to a document for support without adopting all of it. At the very least, it’s not at all unusual.

        David Lapp Jost