Religion and Politics

Why Religion Is the Best Hope Against Trump

Evangelicals may support an amoral president. But faith can still offer hope for liberation and progress.

By Jon Meacham

Mr. Meacham is the author of “The Hope of Glory: Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.”

Credit…Maggie Chiang

The Christian season of Lent, a time of repentance and reflection, is upon us. The weeks that begin with Ash Wednesday culminate in Holy Week, a commemoration of the Passover feast in roughly the year A.D. 33, during which Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, was condemned and crucified by the Roman authorities, and — in the Christian understanding of the world — rose from the dead.

In the words of an Anglican prayer for the 40 days of Lent, believers implore the Lord to “come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.”

Given the state of the nation two millenniums on, it is difficult to conceive of something more counterintuitive than the Christian ideal. For many Americans, especially non-Christians, the thought that Christian morality is a useful guide to much of anything these days is risible, particularly since so many evangelicals have thrown in their lot with a relentlessly solipsistic American president who bullies, boasts and sneers. The political hero of the Christian right of 2020 has used the National Prayer Breakfast to mock the New Testament injunction to love one’s enemies, and it’s clear that leading conservative Christian voices are putting the Supreme Court ahead of the Sermon on the Mount.

And yet history suggests that religiously inspired activism may hold the best hope for those in resistance to the prevailing Trumpian order.

I’ve come to this view in publishing a small book of reflections on the last sayings of Jesus from the cross — a devotional exercise, to be sure, but one that’s brought to mind the motive force of a Christian message based not on Fox News but on what those first-century words meant then and can mean now. “Father, forgive them”; “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”; “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” — these remarks from the Gospel accounts of the Passion form a kind of final sermon from Jesus, one about forbearance, duty, love and mercy.

I am a Christian (a very poor one, but there we are), but I am also a historian, and contemplating the beginnings of the story of my ancestral faith has led me to think about the uses of Jesus down the eons. Yes, Christianity has been an instrument of repression, but in the living memory of Americans it has also been deployed as a means of liberation and progress — which feeds the hope that it can become a force for good once more.

The secular wish to banish religion from the public square is perennial but doomed; one might as well try to eliminate economic, geographic or partisan concerns. “All men,” Homer wrote, “have need of the gods,” and the more productive task is to manage and marshal the effects of religious feeling on the broader republic. “In ages of faith the final aim of life is placed beyond life,” Alexis de Tocqueville said in “Democracy in America,” written in the Age of Jackson. “The men of these ages,” he added, “learn by insensible degrees to repress a multitude of petty, passing desires.”

Don’t take my word for it. Take, instead, that of John Lewis and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., men whose Christian belief brought America to account on the question of domestic apartheid just over a half century ago. Their words and actions can be traced directly from the words and actions of Jesus. King’s vision was grounded in both the Bible and in Gandhi. “It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action,” King recalled of the Montgomery bus boycott. “It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.”

King had been deeply influenced by the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch and his 1907 book “Christianity and the Social Crisis,” which argued that Jesus called the world not simply to contemplate but to act. “The Gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being,” King wrote in a Rauschenbusch-inspired passage. “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, was perhaps King’s most devoted disciple. Growing up in Pike County, Ala., he overcame a childhood stutter by preaching to the chickens on his parents’ tenant farm. Hearing King on the radio, Mr. Lewis was moved to action, and came to share the older minister’s philosophy of Christian nonviolence. Their inspiration came from the New Testament: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”; “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As Mr. Lewis recalled, the struggle within time and space was about “Heaven and earth. This was the Social Gospel in action. This was love in action, what we came to call in our workshops soul force.” The goal? “The Beloved Community,” which was, he said, “nothing less than the Christian concept of the kingdom of God on earth.”

This was the vision that brought America to account in the mid-1960s — which was, historically speaking, the day before yesterday. It was a religious vision. One need not profess faith in traditional terms to share it, of course; no sect, no nation, has a monopoly on virtue. And as the fourth-century Roman writer Symmachus noted in arguing against Christians who wanted to remove an altar to the pagan deity Victory, “We cannot attain to so great a mystery by one way.”

I agree. But the American past unmistakably tells us that one way to a more perfect union, one way to a nation where equality before the law and before God is more universal, is the way of King and of Lewis. Which is also the way of Jesus.

People of faith are called — again and again and again — to return to the foot of the cross. It’s a terrifying place to stand. But that is where the story Christians profess begins. It is a story about love, not loathing; generosity, not greed. In our time, the will to power has all too often overwhelmed the words of Jesus — and that is why we must hear and heed those words anew.

Jon Meacham is the author of “The Hope of Glory: Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.”

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Follow The New York Times Opinion section on FacebookTwitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 26, 2020, Section A, Page 27 of the New York edition with the headline: Jesus May Be the Best Hope Against an Amoral President. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Camp White Pines Needs Our Help

From: Camp White Pine <campwhitepinepa@gmail.com>
Date: July 3, 2017 at 9:12:35 PM EDTCamp White Pine
To: Camp White Pine <campwhitepinepa@gmail.com>
Subject: Camp White Pine Requesting Support!

Hello Friends and Allies,
Since Camp White Pine was formed in early February, our goal has been clear: to use this strategic location to put our bodies in the path of the Mariner East 2, an Energy Transfer Partner’s pipeline, to prevent its completion. Since then, we have maintained a continuous treesit on the pipeline easement to defend against the natural gas liquids pipeline they want to pump through these wetlands. We have publicized our efforts and hopefully inspired many along the pipeline route that resistance is possible.
Our civil disobedience has not been taken kindly by ETP or the Huntingdon County Judge, George Zanic. In April, Judge Zanic granted ETP a writ of possession – an unprecedented step in eminent domain cases – giving them the rights of a property owner over the easement on the Gerhart’s land. Six days ago, they took it a step further and got Judge Zanic to grant an injuction demanding a halt to our treesit and authorizing the police to arrest all who stand in the way of ETP’s construction efforts.
But we will not be deterred by the unjust actions of ETP and the local judicial system. Instead, we will stand in the long tradition of those who have disobeyed unjust laws to uphold a much higher authority.

AND WE ARE ASKING YOU TO HELP US.

We need support and we need bodies willing to stand in the path of corporate destruction and face potential arrest. Our tree climbers are going to be in the trees risking their lives to stop ETP’s pipeline construction. We need folks on the ground willing to risk arrest to protect our tree climbers and stand against ETP’s destruction.
ETP and their private security, TigerSwan, are attempting to smear us as violent extremists for simply living in trees to defend them from being cut down and killed. In reality, we are here to stand nonviolently in defense of our earth and our future generations. The more people who come to support us in nonviolent civil disobedience, the more effective we can be at combating their narrative and showing that there are many people willing to risk arrest to stand in the way of their destruction.
There is a song we sing at camp brought to us from allies from the Dakota Access Pipeline fight:

People gonna rise like the water, we’re gonna shut this pipeline down.
Hear the voices of my great granddaughter, saying “keep it in the ground”

It reminds us of the urgency of our choices and the effects they will have on future generations. The time is now, all we have is each other and the power of love. The oceans are rising, so must we.

”If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forest, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains, and the rivers protect them.” – Arundhati Roy

Solidarity Forever!
Camp White Pine

P.S. Please share with trusted contacts and peace/faith/justice groups that might be interested in supporting!!

 

 

 

 

 

EcoJustice Working Group

The Environmental Justice Committee

Broadening our Commitment to recognize our mission as one of Eco Justice.

The Environmental Justice Committee, an activity of the Thomas Merton Center,  is  enhancing our vision. Our work over the last few years has been a conscious and intentional journey into our work and mission as originally perceived.

We have held, participated, and encouraged actions in defense of life on Earth and paid close attention to the ecological and health effects of the industrial growth society (fossil fuels, nuclear power, weapons production, mining, food additives, factory farms etc.)

We have campaigned for laws to mitigate effects of pollution, poverty, loss of habitat, promoting wise social and environmental legislation that would recognize the global common good as our benchmark.

We have promoted education and incentives that inspire the use of renewable energy.

It is in our dedication to the analysis of the structural causes of  our severely damaged Creation that we we find the greatest misguided assumptions.

It is as we have explored and recognized that our perceptions of reality both cognitively and spiritually are central to our mission that we have enhanced, strengthened, our commitment that we have adopted a change of name and added an additional agreement.

EcoJustice

We believe EcoJustice more fully recognizes the unity and interdependence of all creation. We wish to be recognized as the EcoJustice Committee, an Activity of The Thomas Merton Center.

The TMC has a wonderful history of acknowledging the value of human life through its advocacy for people who are oppressed. The concept of Eco Justice expands this tradition to advocacy for the protection of all of creation.

All faith traditions speak to the intrinsic moral worth of all of creation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition this is generally based on the love of the Creator for all of creation. Other traditions express this differently but all carry the recognition of a right relationship with the land and with all creatures. This right relationship carries the expectation that humans live gently on the land –  living in ways which respect the earth and minimize disruption and abuse of the land.

Faith traditions also speak to the social injustices which result when the human community fails to live in a mutually respectful relationship with the land. We believe that global pollution, climate change, and global social injustice result from an historical human centered approach to the created world.  In such a human centered approach, significant destruction of the land is accepted for meeting human wants.

Our agreements:

While we respect the efforts of environmental groups whose goals are regulation of destructive processes, support from the eco-justice committee will be for those projects whose principles and goals reflect recognition of the intrinsic moral value of the earth.

We continue to recognize that the dominant economic model which has held sway upon the Earth for the past five hundred years is unsustainable. Our finite planet is not made of lifeless “resources,” nor is it capable of producing unlimited “energy” or absorbing an infinite amount of poison.

We continue to recognize that eco justice and climate justice are integral parts of social justice. It is the poor majority of humankind who most bears the brunt of environmental degradation in the form of hunger, illness, and displacement from their homes. The destruction of human cultures, biological communities, and entire species diminishes the world in untold ways and impacts all of us.

Earth has entered a period of grave crisis. Many scientists agree that we are living in the sixth great mass extinction. This requires of humankind a new way of living based on an understanding of the planet as a whole. As Thomas Berry said, we will go into the future as one community–all life included–or we will not go at all.

Position Papers

Dirty Gas Has No Place in a Clean Power Plan – Pennsylvanians Against Fracking Position Statement

Pennsylvanians Against Fracking supports the swift and just transition to 100% renewable energy. We oppose the continued reliance on any and all fossil fuels. Since shale gas development began in Pennsylvania, every administration has aggressively promoted, not just continued but expanded, reliance on natural gas. This has spurred shale gas development and its inevitable damage and is absolutely unacceptable. Gov. Wolf plans to rely on natural gas in his Clean Power Plan by building new gas power plants and using shale gas to meet energy needs, despite the damage this will cause. The Obama administration has also promoted an increased reliance on natural gas, touting it as a bridge fuel to get the nation through the transition to renewable energy because it is considered to be cleaner than coal and oil. When burned, it generates about half the CO2 than that of coal or oil. If that was the whole story of natural gas and climate change, there would still be plenty of reasons to oppose continued shale gas development — contaminated water, polluted air, illnesses, deaths, destruction of natural resources, and many others. However, natural gas’ role in climate change cannot be fully understood without looking beyond consumption to see its impacts during production.

 

When unconventional drilling began in Pennsylvania, little peer-reviewed science had been done on the new technology. The Environmental Protection Agency incorrectly assumed that methane release rates at well pads were negligible. We now know that a 3% leakage rate at well pads alone cancels any climate benefit natural gas provides when burned; leakage rates of more than double that are typical. Even worse, leaks occur at every phase of production, processing, transmission, and distribution. In addition, every well drilled today will join a legacy of hundreds of thousands of old wells that leak methane unless they are maintained every 25 years. The state has not even located the vast majority of the old wells yet, much less maintained them or developed a system to maintain the new glut of legacy wells .

The only solution is to stop fracking and speed the transition to 100% renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. Methods for accomplishing that as soon as 2050 have been proposed. All of the methods rely on honest scientific and technical analysis to guide us forward and aggressive measures requiring political will, measures not found in the Clean Power Plan (CPP) put forward by the Obama administration. Some may view the CPP as a small step forward, but small steps are not helpful when you are at the edge of a cliff and it’s the leap that will save you. Make no mistake, we are collectively at the precipice.

Unfortunately, its lack of sufficiently aggressive measures is not the only problem with the Clean Power Plan. In fact, the Clean Power Plan may well do far more harm than good. It may ensure that we will be unable to avert warming the planet beyond the 2 degree C climate scientists have been telling us for several years is the point of no return. More recently, climate scientists have noted more extreme climate impacts at a 1 degree C change than they’d anticipated. At COP21 in Paris in December, 2015, representatives of island nations implored world leaders to agree to reduce the target to 1.5 degrees C. Their nations will be under water by the time the planet hits 2 degrees C.

Below are some of the ways in which the Clean Power Plan, as currently proposed, can actually help push us over the precipice.

The Clean Power Plan puts natural gas in the “clean” column

Methane is a short-lived but very powerful greenhouse gas. In the all-important 20 year time scale, it is 86 times more efficient at heating the atmosphere as is carbon dioxide. As mentioned above, the climate benefit natural gas provides during consumption is quickly canceled thanks to leaks that occur at an alarming rate at every step in the product life cycle of natural gas and continued leaking that occurs “beyond the grave” as old wells leak without proper maintenance. Natural gas has no place in a true Clean Power Plan, yet Obama’s plan allows for it to be among the energy sources states can choose to achieve their targets.

The Clean Power Plan guarantees increased reliance on natural gas

States like Pennsylvania that have gone all-in on shale gas development will elect to transition from coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired power plants rather than transition to clean, sustainable, renewable energy alternatives. When climate scientists are telling us to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground, trading one fossil fuel for another makes no sense economically or in terms of tackling climate change.  Coal, oil, natural gas, all fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, must be left in the ground.

The Clean Power Plan doesn’t limit how much a state can rely on gas to meet its target

States choosing to meet their targets by relying 100% on natural gas would not be out of compliance with the terms of the Clean Power Plan. Even if no state is brazen enough to propose something so extreme, they are certainly under no pressure to take the kind of aggressive steps needed.

The Clean Power Plan institutionalizes and enables pollution

The public is absorbing the costs of harmful health impacts, disease, drinking water contamination, and environmental degradation that accompanies natural gas development. Taxpayers are burdened with paying for government subsidies and the costs of regulatory loopholes that incentivize natural gas. There is no attempt to realize these hidden costs to provide parity with renewable energy sources, which will lead to perpetuating these unacceptable impacts.

The Clean Power Plan means we can kiss a fracking moratorium or ban goodbye

In his paper, A Bridge to Nowhere, Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas, Dr. Robert Howarth of Cornell University notes that converting from coal to natural gas will require “unprecedented investment in natural gas infrastructure and regulatory oversight,” the kind of investment you don’t make in a temporary bridge fuel. Although Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan is still being drafted, a proliferation of natural gas power plants, attempts to incentivize pipeline development, and the Wolf administration’s recent announcement of methane rules bear out Howarth’s warning. If the Clean Power Plan is not changed to remove natural gas as an alternative to coal, we will continue to see more power plants, more pipelines, more compressor stations, and more wells. The things we will never see are a moratorium or ban on fracking.