As a Christian and a preacher, it was not lost on me that President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord just in time for Pentecost Sunday.
Pentecost is celebrated as the “birthday of the church.” According to Acts 2:1-21, the risen Christ sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples in a rushing wind and tongues of fire on that holy day. As I re-read the story in light of the president’s disastrous decision, it’s as if the images of Pentecost have been twisted into some kind of dystopian nightmare.
Tongues of fire and the wind of the Holy Spirit — symbols of the divine — are now tainted by the images of the fossil fuel industry to which Trump is attempting to shackle us.
The flaring of toxic gases at shale gas drilling sites and oil refineries is an unholy fire. The burning of fossil fuels is contributing not only dangerous greenhouse gases into the already compromised atmosphere, but also releasing hundreds of toxins such as benzene, naphthalene, styrene, toluene and xylene, all of which cause serious health problems.
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And Trump’s snub of the rest of the countries that have committed to the Paris Climate Accord is in direct violation of the kind of international cooperation enacted on Pentecost Sunday. In Acts 2, 15 countries were listed as among those touched by the wind and fire of Pentecost – the entire known world at the time in the Mediterranean and surrounding continents. Pilgrims from those countries heard their own language spoken by the disciples who were suddenly gifted with the ability to communicate to those visitors in their native tongue.
The Paris Accord, which 195 countries signed, could be called a “Pentecost moment” because of such international cooperation. But Trump has violated that agreement and sold out not just future generations, but this generation that must act now to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
But all is not lost. In fact, the result of Trump’s announcement may have the opposite effect of what he intended. Because leaders around the world are doubling down on their commitment to transition to a clean-energy future. Businesses are already making their own commitments and enacting changes to mitigate carbon emissions.
Utilities are already working on transitioning to serving the needs of their customers in this clean-energy economy. And cities, states and countries are repudiating Trump’s decision while announcing their own renewed commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.
How about Lexington? Is our city ready to stand in the gap left by the White House’s leadership vacuum?
I called Mayor Jim Gray’s office to ask if he would make a public statement in response to the president’s decision. Susan Straub, the mayor’s director of communications, shared the following statement on behalf of Gray:
“Everyone I know wants a strong economy, as well as clean air and water, and we need to continue to do our part. As a city, we are investing millions to clean up our streams and improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and fleet vehicles. And we support cleaner forms of transportation to lower emissions. Lexington will continue on this path to protect our citizens, our environment and our future.”
So our city’s leadership appears to be moving in the right direction. How about houses of worship?
This is a moment when people of faith must not stand on the sidelines. The climate crisis is an issue that affects every person on this planet — especially “the least of these” who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Clergy and congregational leaders must preach, teach, and discuss why global warming is a faith issue, and how we may respond.
One example: Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light recently announced that the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington is the first house of worship in our city to go solar.
Through collaboration and community-building, we can create “Pentecost moments” to heal this planet and open new ways for justice and restoration.
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, an ordained Lutheran minister, is author of “Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit” and teaches at Lexington Theological Seminary.