I’d like to share with you a quote from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, who lived in the 1700’s:
“I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.”
I would love to believe what Wesley says. I would love for the millions of Christians the world
over to have compassion not only for other people but also for the natural world which supports the life of our species. But sadly, Wesley’s hopes have not been realized.
It seems we are still stuck on the first part of Wesley’s statement – that faith in Jesus Christ
would lead us to have concern for each other and for our species.
While there seems to be concern for a person who has fallen on hard times, there seems to be less concern for humanity as a whole and for the economic systems and social arrangements and biased thinking that cause much of the suffering experienced by individual people in our world today. As Dom Helder Camara, a bishop in Brazil, put it, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
Christianity seems to have fostered concern for individual people on a case by case basis but not so much for humanity as a species.
The climate crisis is a case in point. Humanity as a species needs nature to support our lives; to make it possible for us to flourish and thrive, to breathe, and to eat. Harming the ecosystem of the planet means harming our species. Hurting Earth hurts people. So, if we had true concern for humanity as a whole, we would have more concern for the planet. We don’t even seem to have that “exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings” that Wesley mentions.
So, Wesley’s aspirations don’t seem to be coming true. Faith in Jesus Christ does not seem to be leading us from concern for humanity to concern for nature.
St. Francis of Assisi had a different approach than Wesley. He lived well before Wesley from
1181-1226. He said, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
That seems to be closer to our actual experience. Little concern for the environment
accompanied by little concern for humanity.
I saw this post on NextDoor recently: “This past March we had zero school shootings. The first time since 2002, I hear. Stay safe everyone.” No school shootings. Well, the schools were closed. How sad is that? We have to close the schools to stop the shootings? Clearly, there is not enough regard for the value of life, human or otherwise, in our culture, despite all the churches.
So here is my hope for this Earth Day Week. It’s a twist on Wesley with an eye to St. Francis. My hope is that our growing reverence for the natural world will help us increase our sense of reverence for human life. That our love for the Earth and for nature will increase our love for our very own species. That’s my aspiration this 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Amen.