Tara Isabella Burton wrote an article about what happened at Union Seminary the other day. “Today in chapel,” the seminary’s official Twitter account revealed, “we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”
In a follow-up tweet, Union added: “Theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth have played a deplorable role in degrading God’s creation. We must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy.”
Such a gathering might seem, well, unorthodox. But it’s indicative of the ways in which the Christian left in America has sought with varying degrees of success to reestablish itself as a dominant cultural force capable of going toe-to-toe with Trumpian evangelicalism.
Indeed, Union’s environmental reform liturgy is part of a wider trend: the marriage of the concerns of contemporary social justice activism with an attempt to revive a robust progressive Christianity.”
Tara’s reporting is pretty straightforward and there doesn’t seem to be even a hint of giggling or even a bit of a smirk. This is pretty straightforward and educational but it can be confusing. I have been trying to express why churches are embattled and declining in terms of a political, theological, and social paradigm and it is difficult because we have been locked in the box that politics and relgion should be separate. Separation of church and state and all that. While that was shoved into our faces and we remained quiet, it became evident that what was meant was conservative religious views should be separate and remain private while leftist were allowed to do whatever they wanted. One of our church presidents said that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was accused of “quietism” and never commenting on political issues while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America never shut up. When the Bishop of that church body declared that drinving an SUV was sin, we started talking.
Ms. Burton continues with this analysis – “Since its heyday in mid-20th-century America, progressive Christianity’s force has gradually been eroded as mainline Protestant churches have gone into decline. A third of all Democrats call themselves religiously unaffiliated — compared with just 13% of Republicans. Meanwhile, alternative, more explicitly progressive spiritual practices, such as contemporary witchcraft, are attracting those disillusioned with what they see as the sexism or entrenched racism of Christianity.” I don’t know if it was her intent, but she blatantly stated what I have been trying to get to gradually in these blogs – witchcraft is an explicitly progressive spiritual practice.
The idea of “birthing a new liturgy” is a case in point. A liturgy is God’s gift to us. We don’t birth anything. Liturgy is God’s word to us and we receive gifts and speak back to him what he has spoken to us. The be so presumptuous as to attempt to “birth a new liturgy” is ultimately a denial of God as Creator.
That is nothing new. Sin is not allowing God to be God. To point to the environment and say that God did not create it, he does not preserve it either, is of course a denial of God as God. When you have abandoned the God who reveals himself because you don’t like the fact that he “identifies” as male, or that he has some unreasonable rules and makes some categorical claims, you can abandon other concepts like the stewardship of creation and either worship plants, or apologize to them. Somewhere in the esoteric hodge podge of emotions and rebellion, the plants might just start to talk to you.