VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 4/1/22)—“Care of the Earth: Our Responsibility and Response for the Well-being of the Environment” was the topic of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) first Justice Dialogues of the year, which was held online Wednesday.
Discussion was led by the Rev. Karyn Bigelow, co-executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, Washington, D.C.; the Rev. Rebecca Driscoll, Creation Care Minister, The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts; and Scott Sabin, author of “Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People (Judson Press, 2010) and CEO of Plant with Purpose, a nonprofit Christian organization that works in developing countries to improve the lives of people in poverty.
Sabin began the conversation by saying he’s often thought of himself as a “reluctant environmentalist.” He started volunteering with Plant with Purpose because of poverty, for example. “I didn’t really get the environmental stuff,” he said.
In her opening comments, Driscoll quoted the 24th Psalm (“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”) She noted that gardens are mentioned throughout the Bible. Among her examples were the place where humankind’s relationship with God began and the place where Mary Magdalene was standing when she learned that the Lord was resurrected.
Bigelow, in her opening remarks, stressed the importance of equity over equality. The reason that Black indigenous people of color experience climate shocks include, she said, the racial wealth divide; structural racism; racial housing segregation; and racialized, concentrated poverty.
While working in Oaxaca, Mexico, Sabin recognized it as a popular point of immigration due to climate change and land degradation. “It can be a death sentence if your next meal is depending on rain falling on time,” he said.
Bigelow pointed out that climate change has been happening for longer than most people have known the term and that it is not seen as a legitimate reason for migrating. “Climate refugees are not recognized,” she said. “People don’t have the same access and protections as if they were in a war-torn country.”
While the United States has the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, other countries do not enjoy the same safety net. As a result, Bigelow said, people in developing countries are forced to sell their animals or tools to try to earn a living.
“People think people are coming to the U.S. just for opportunity,” Bigelow noted. “It’s not so much that they’re being pulled as they’re being pushed.”
When attendee the Rev. Dr. Doris Garcia Rivera, interim executive director of Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, asked what could be done in addition to educating churches, Driscoll suggested connecting with other churches that have creation justice ministries and doing something as simple as eating foods that are in season.
Suggesting that churches become mobilized, Bigelow offered the help of Creation Justice Ministries. “We are happy to train people to speak truth to power,” she said.
Sabin pointed out that talking about climate change is one of the most important things that can be done. “It’s easy to get discouraged,” he said, “because what any one of us can do is so small compared to the scope of this problem.”
Driscoll suggested doing simple things at church, such as incorporating Earth care-related hymns, books or films into worship; planting a garden; collecting rain in rain barrels; and employing multiple-use ceramic mugs—instead of plastic ones.
Attendee Charles Nilon of Bethel Baptist Church, Columbia, Mo., asked, “How do the day-to-day things that can happen in churches reinforce messages about climate change and affect action?”
Bigelow said it’s difficult to change something which you know nothing about; therefore, planting a garden is a good idea, as it connects one to God and creation. “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon around creation care,” she said. “If we hear something about caring for God’s creation, it’s then hard to vote for people who don’t acknowledge that we’re in a crisis.”
Sabin added that one way to get started is to simply hang a bird feeder.
“The gift to me is having my eyes open—‘Wow, God, I forgot what you created and how magnificent and complex it is,’” Sabin said. “Think of it as if you study the Bible, it’s like knowing somebody in one context and then you go to their home and realize there’s this whole other side of this person that I never knew. I thought I knew God from reading the Bible, but now it’s like, ‘Wow, you create.’”
The next edition of The Justice Dialogues will be held on April 27.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.