Pope Francis’ ‘dynamic’ encyclical

Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change is a dynamic appeal to people of all nations and faiths to join in respecting and protecting “our common home.” It puts squarely on human shoulders the responsibility for the natural environment and its future.

Thomas Kemper

Kemper

“Laudato Si’” (“Praise Be to You”) is a most-welcomed contribution to the existing interfaith conversation on the vast range of environmental, economic, industrial, and lifestyle it addresses.

The document begins with this quote from a canticle by St. Francis of Assisi: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us. …” It goes on to express concern for humanity’s harm to “our common home” and lays blame for destructive climate change and other forms of environment degradation on people.

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

People causing environmental ruin

“Laudato Si’” puts the Roman Catholic Church on the side of scientists who have warned for years that people are causing environmental ruin. It attributes dramatic climate changes in part to concentrations of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere, which are attributed in large measure to the burning of fossil fuels.

The United Methodist Church has been on record for many years in urging greater care for the created order.

The United Methodist Church has been on record for many years in urging greater care for the created order, based in scripture, including the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, where humanity’s first vocation was to “take care of” the earth (Genesis 2:15), and on New Testament understanding of creation. The Epistle to the Colossians in the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the redeemer of all creation, not just humanity (Colossians 1:15ff).

United Methodist bishops in 2009 reasserted the church’s ecological concerns in a pastoral letter that stresses many of the themes explored by the pope. That letter, “God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope & Action,” identifies three interrelated barriers to a world of peace, justice, and abundance for all. These are: pandemic poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence.

The letter states:

Aware of God’s vision for creation, we no longer see a list of isolated problems affecting disconnected people, plants, and animals. Rather, we see one interconnected system that is ‘groaning in travail’ (Romans 8:22). The threats to peace, people, and planet earth are related to one another, and God’s vision encompasses complete well-being. We, your bishops, join with many global religious leaders to call for a comprehensive response to these interrelated issues.

Care for God’s Creation

The General Board of Global Ministries has launched a Care for God’s Creation program that relates to a grassroots network, Caretakers of God’s Creation, and works with regional and local units of the denomination to provide education and promote action on environmental issues and challenges. The program is concerned with the three interrelated issues identified by the bishops and offers opportunities, education, and action related to them.

The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production

Pope Francis stresses the Christian vocation as caretakers of God’s creation, and reminds us of the urgency for the governments of the world to act quickly and decisively with regard to climate change on behalf of all people and all creation. He attributes serious health problems, particularly for the poor, to environmental pollutants and appeals for a broad realization that “climate is a common good.”

The pope states, “The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.”

Ecology and economics

Climate change is caused in large part by the wealthy societies and nations. Pope Francis makes a sensitive and sensible connection between ecology and economics. When aimed solely at maximizing profits, a market economy, he says, “cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” Rather, it leads to “a sort of ‘super-development’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”,[90] while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.”

Actually, those most responsible for the problems are the ones who are best able to adapt. Those least responsible for the problems, the world’s poor, are the ones who are most adversely affected. This is an injustice that can no longer be tolerated.

Pope Francis emphasizes themes common to all Christian environmental concern: love for the planet, love or the poor, and love of peace. Caring for any of these means care for the other.

The General Board of Global Ministries stands in solidarity with our own bishops and Pope Francis as we as Christians seek to incorporate our biblical vocation of caring for the earth into the mission of The United Methodist Church.

I urge all United Methodists as well as all people of faith to read and study the papal encyclical, to comprehend our collective role as caretakers of God’s creation, and to pray and act to change lifestyles and systems of injustice and oppression that perpetuate environmental challenges.

Editor's note: Thomas Kemper is the top executive of the General Board of Global Ministries, the global mission agency of The United Methodist Church, its annual conferences, missionary conferences, and local congregations.

Letter to the Editor