Environmental advocacy and activism have been part of my ministry for nearly 13 years. I’ve gotten used to push-back from conservative Christians and right-wing trolls alike. But since the inauguration of this country’s 45th president, I am noticing edges of what may be a disturbing new trend.
A few of the people who I thought had been friends and allies within the secular world have gone into attack mode. And I fear this is a symptom of a deeper problem.
Prior to the election, I had always been encouraged that Earth-care had been an eco-ethical bridge between my Lutheran denomination and others, between interfaith partners, and even between me and atheists and secular allies.
I have often made the case that people of faith can draw on the knowledge of science, and science can draw on the ethical values of faith to inform each other’s work as we are facing unprecedented global, regional and local environmental threats.
But in recent months, a shift seems to be occurring. A few non-religious friends and fellow eco-activists have insisted that religion itself is the main reason for the state we’re in.
One friend posted on Facebook: “Religions have steered our history to where we are now, none of them have earned a place in our future. The planet is running out of time, and I am running out of patience with lies!”
Another critiquing my work on an academic website said: “Religion is rooted in fear, and whether you’re a liberal, civil-rights-embracing preacher like Schade or a far-right proponent of religious bigotry like Jerry Falwell Jr., not only are your central beliefs rooted in the same basic terror and guilt, so too is your propensity to cherry-pick all your other beliefs to make sure they fit your God. Especially your ‘scientific’ beliefs.”
I was only trying to help, to build a bridge, to reaffirm my commitment to our mutual cause of healing our planet and communities — human and other-than-human alike. Instead, they basically said that I was part of the problem. That my religion, my faith, the very aspect of my life that had undergirded my environmental work was not only suspect, it was the reason we are in this crisis.
Certainly, they have a point already made famous by an ecotheologian named Lynn White 50 years ago, that the Judeo-Christian tradition bears a huge burden for the state we’re in. So Christians must share the responsibility for healing the world.
But these incidents of lateral violence are hurtful because they are friends who had previously encouraged me, worked alongside me, protested with me. What’s going on here?
Perhaps these attacks shouldn’t surprise me. We are in the midst of an unraveling of our democracy. We are witnessing the rapid feedback loop of climate change and the collapse of ecological systems that support life on this planet.
It’s no wonder that former friends are turning on each other. That heretofore silent enemies are coming out of the shadows. And no wonder visible enemies are even louder and more forceful, emboldened by their leaders to speak and act with impunity.
To use a movie metaphor, sometimes it feels like we’re in “The Hunger Games” where a sadistic and evil power has put us and our comrades into an arena to profit from our fighting each other to the death. So we need a Finnick O’Dair moment where he reminds Katniss: “Remember who the real enemy is.”
To my non-religious friends: While we’re fighting amongst ourselves, the powers continue to laugh and grow rich off the pillaging of the planet and its most vulnerable people. I and other Christians of good will are not your enemies. We are with you on the same side. We are fighting for the same thing.
We all know that the future of our planet is at stake, so we need to build on that literal common ground, common water and common air to forge new alliances for this great work of our time.
The Rev. Leah D. Schade teaches at Lexington Theological Seminary. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.