Reclaiming Our Progressive Christian Tradition

Column by Rev. Brandan Robertson on 27 July 2023 0 Comments

A majority of those who are now identifying as “Progressive Christians” are converts, so to speak, those fleeing other Christian traditions that had no real knowledge of Progressive Christianity.

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What is the role of religion in the climate crisis?What is the role of religion in the climate crisis?


Dear Reader,

Any and all religions, including Christianity, have a foundational role to play in both averting and responding to the crises of their time.  I actually highlighted this point in my 2022 Progressing Spirit essay and video, “My G 🌎D: What Have We Done?” and I am grateful to go a step further here.

Although I never met the man, Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith has almost single-handedly shaped my thinking on this topic. He was the founder and editor of The Ecologist magazine for nearly 40 years, and nobody has done more to further our understanding of the leading role that religion (or "lifeways" in Indigenous cultures) plays in shaping and maintaining sustainable cultures. His inventory of anthropological research securely establishes this as fact. Here is how I summarize his conclusions, replacing his use of “the biosphere” with “G 🌎D”:

Virtually every sustainable culture that we know of held three things in common: (1) they related to the local, living presence of G 🌎D (what we dismissively call “the environment”) in a humble, reverential, I-Thou way; (2) this incarnational presence of the divine was honored as the source of all benefits and all real wealth for the community; and (3) preservation of the health and wellbeing of the body of life (i.e., fidelity to G 🌎D) was the culture's sacred responsibility.

Human well-being is thus a consequence of right relationship to reality — not the focal point for decision-making. Sustainable societies, therefore, have values deeper and broader than those that attend merely to the human.

Similarly, there is a more foundational cause of the "climate crisis" than the abrupt rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide attributable to our industrial and globalized civilization. Climate destabilization is a symptom of a much deeper ecological infraction this civilization (and all previous anthropocentric civilizations) has perpetrated. That root cause goes by the name "ecological overshoot". Our species has overshot the carrying capacity of Earth in far more ways than our destabilization of planetary climate.

The damage has been done. There are anthropological scholars who conclude that it could not have been otherwise. Regardless, once civilizational collapse is underway — and doubtless ours is — it cannot be slowed, stopped, or reversed. As repulsive as this is to accept, it is nevertheless true. Still, there is a substantial role that religion can play. It cannot turn an unsustainable culture and ethos into a sustainable one, especially as living conditions deteriorate not only for the human but for other living beings. Rather, it is time for religion to step into creating meaning in a time of upset, encouraging community solidarity, and overall reducing suffering for all our fellow G 🌎Dlings, human included.

Here, Christianity can step forward and excel. Progressive Christians could participate in being the calm in the storm, in being redemptive love-in-action in a world deteriorating from bad to worse. Standing in an ecological understanding, grounded in awareness of the repetitive history of rise and fall, boom and bust, we can indeed follow "in the footsteps of Jesus."

Anything and everything that we can do, individually and collectively, to promote ecological integrity (fidelity to G 🌎D), social coherence, and personal wholeness is holy work. And that certainly includes doing everything we can to ensure as little suffering as possible  — human and nonhuman — in the context of the global hospice time increasingly making itself known.

~ Michael Dowd




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