No More Crusades

Excerpts from speech I gave to Progressive Christians Uniting

It's good to see 500 progressive Christians becoming organized in response to the highjacking of the faith by right-wing Christian networks. The fact that voters turned away the agenda of social and religious conservatives in the Nov 2006 election is a sign of the times. Those in high places who have been attacking progressive Christians like the All-Saints Church hopefully have heard the voice of the people. If not, we must turn up the volume on the voter mandate. That the voters in November heralded the coming of a progressive agenda on Iraq, on fair trade, on energy independence as well as religious tolerance should make you all exceeding glad that this organization exists in this time and place, and I hope that you will tithe yourselves to make your voices heard more clearly.

I have been instructed by your preachers to make only brief remarks, as their example teaches. So let me make these points in addition to thanking you.

First, I hope that my book the Lost Gospel of the Earth will be helpful as you rise to the challenge of environmental justice with your Eighth Day Project.

When I chaired the Natural Resources Committee in the California senate, I noticed that the clergy never testified against the destruction of species, forests, clean air and water, the wellsprings of life itself. Even today, the California Fish and Game Code refers to fish and wildlife as "the property of the people" and says they provide a contribution to the state economy. The forest practices law mandates "maximum sustained production of high quality timber products" while limiting any other values to only being "considered".

The environment thus is valued as a utilitarian resource, a giant storehouse of raw materials for the use of humankind. Right-wing Christians like Reagan's former interior secretary James Watt have argued against preservation of the environment in light of the Second Coming. Liberals have argued for environmental stewardship, often citing the "dominion" reference in Genesis as justification.

Well certainly stewardship is to be preferred to pillage. But I want to challenge the stewardship notion that we were placed here, at some distant time in the past, to suddenly become stewards of nature, as if nature was doing badly on its own. The stewardship concept extracts us from, and places us above, the realm of nature. The scriptures place us in this role to underscore our special, sacred status above the lesser world of living things and ecosystems. As stewards, we become the plant managers for the absentee owner. If this preposterous idea was true, we would have been overthrown or fired from our administrative roles for malfeasance and neglect long ago.

The Rev. Martin Luther King wrote in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail, in a rebuke to segregation, that all God's children are sacred. I wait the day when an environmental Martin Luther King writes of dying and disregarded species that all God's creation is sacred.

We will never win the argument against pollution and the decline of species by driving our Priuses. This will take a leap of faith, not just technical fixes.

That day is coming but it will take great soul-searching, in theology and practice, for Christianity - and other faith traditions as well - to make the adjustment. I agree with Al Gore who wrote that "when we rise, we will experience an epiphany as we discover that this crisis is not really about politics at all, it is a moral and spiritual challenge."

I am not sure that the theological and institutional adjustment can be made. We are living on borrowed time. But I believe we can rediscover a Lost Gospel of the Earth, an indigenous and mystical sense of the cosmos buried within all our religious traditions as evidence of past religious wars.

It is there in the rainbow covenant between God and earth itself. It is there when Isiah speaks of the holy mountain and the earth being full of the knowledge of the Lord. It is there in the voice of the Whirlwind lecturing Job. It is there in the Tree of Life in Eden. It comes again in Francis of Assisi praising brother sun, sister moon, and mother earth. It is there in Hildegard of Bingen quoting the Holy Spirit as the breeze that nurtures all things green and makes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.

But our dominant story is upside down, and the challenge is to make it right. Eve is not Adam's rib, but the early goddess made dependent on man; the snake is not the Devil, but the symbol of nature brought low. To truly experience the Lost Gospel, we have to acknowledge those old wars against nature worship and goddess cults, and make a just peace at last with those enemies. We must acknowledge and no longer be threatened by the pagan and goddess spirits within the mystic traditions of Christianity, among those who experienced the Christ as Cosmic, a divine presence in all creation.

Let me say it again. We must ensure that the religious wars of the Old Testament truly are over, and that means recognizing, respecting and reconciling with the visions of former enemies, not perpetuating a triumphalism. Making a just peace with the past may be the only path to a just peace in the future.

All those epic culture wars took place in the deserts and oases between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the place of today's Iraq, the center of the world's mad scramble for oil, and the scene of the greatest environmental injustice, pollution and destruction on earth today. The Christian crusaders in the Pentagon, those like Gen. Jerry Boykin, the under-secretary in charge of intelligence, who boasts of Christianity's superiority over Islam and claims - insanely- to have aerial photographs of Satan himself in the dark clouds above Mogadishu, these are the modern claimants of rada, the Hebrew for "dominion over", ancient Eden, its present Muslim inhabitants and their tempting reservoirs of oil.

An environmentalism that does not speak of Iraq, one that speaks of global warming but not of global suffering, is an environmentalism that seeks only to replace Caesar's chariots with more fuel-efficient models. But if we would follow the path of Jesus today, we must denounce as sinful the Empire being installed in Eden today, a sin that brings us ever closer to the crucifixion not only of Iraq but nature itself.

And so I ask you tonight, in the best spirit of your tradition, to rise up and stop this latest and most lethal chapter of the Crusades.