Love In A Time Of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice

 

Love In A Time Of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice
Sharon Delgado Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017 (226 pp, ISBN 978-1-5064-1885-8, $29.00)
 
Sharon Delgado has written yet another timely, significant, and intersectional book for our troubled times, one with constructive practical theological uses. With a love for earth’s beauty and concern for future generations, Delgado perceptively and skillfully weaves Christian theological tradition through the tangle of issues and possibilities of faithful action in response to climate change. In doing so, her passionate commitment to the ethical role of the larger church and her insightful global perspective on the facts of climate change impact shine throughout the text. While centered on the Wesleyan theological tradition and method, Delgado’s concern for accessibility in her writing makes her work useful for a wide range of ecumenical and interfaith purposes.
 
The practical dimensions of Delgado’s book are realized quickly by her of organization of the three major section of her book, as well as her chapters, along the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, the theological method of the 18th century founder of Methodism John Wesley. This method embraces scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as shared and valid sources of theological authority. Thus climate science poses no threat to Delgado’s liberal progressive Christian faith – and as a self-proclaimed “Jesus follower,” Delgado is fierce in her prophetic warning to the larger church of the dangers in being among climate deniers or in simply being avoidant. “Why are our churches not sounding the alarm about the harm being done to God’s creation?” (p. 4), she writes, “…the church as a whole has not yet fashioned a coordinated response that is proportional to the magnitude of the threats that a warming world poses to God’s creation, vulnerable members of human family, and future generations” (p. 5). At her grimmest readiness to speak the truth, Delgado writes, “According to a 2013 Stanford University report, signed by 520 scientists, today’s children will likely live in a world ‘irretrievably damaged’ by climate disruption, extinctions, wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems, pollution, overpopulation, and overconsumption” (p. 29).
 
Yet, this is not a text of gloom and doom. Delgado’s book is a testament of love and hope grounded in a Wesleyan theology of grace, justice, and social holiness – all again with practical recommendations in a call for the church to wake up and to engage faithfully and in solidarity with those on the “front lines” of climate change impact, often the most vulnerable left in “sacrificial zones.” From Delgado’s own work on those front lines, she is able to lift up many examples of acts of loving nonviolent resistance and the social movements undergirding them, including her own placement of her body on the line at Standing Rock and subsequent arrest. Aside from these inspiring specific examples of justice making, and Delgado’s overall constructive practical theological approach[1], I most appreciated Delgado’s detailed attention to integrating Wesley’s theology from a liberative perspective and also her clear analysis of the sociopolitical and cultural legacies of colonialism and capitalism in climate change impact and in the struggles of the larger institutional church to respond adequately.
 
Though I attended a Methodist seminary at Boston University, this is the first book in which I have been able to appreciate John Wesley’s theology in a way that feels compatible with my own progressive liberal religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism, and its centering on love and justice. I delighted in more richly learning several of Wesley’s beliefs and practices as illustrated by sermon selections throughout Delgado’s text, particularly his felt connection to all of God’s creatures and nature and his evolving sense of “a cosmic view of creation” (p. 63). While I previously had appreciated the way in which Wesley and his brother developed hymns to assist laity in knowing theology, Delgado writes of Wesley’s stress on spiritual experience and knowing of God through the “spiritual senses” (p. 94) and integrates this with current neuroaffective studies of the emotional and rational brain. She recognizes that both must be engaged for sustained motivation in addressing climate change impact. Wesley theological anthropology in this sense resonates with findings of science today that should be well considered in motivating human beings to cope with climate change impact.
 
Finally, Delgado writes of Wesley’s concept of “social holiness” (p. 110) and integrates this with an analysis of the devastation wrought on the planet by a domination theology of Empire when Christianity became wedded to imperialism, and eventually white supremacy, rather than remaining true to its origins in resistance and in following Jesus. She points out that Wesley also condemned colonialism and slavery and that he witnessed many of the social ills of his time as rooted in socioeconomic and political circumstances. I appreciated learning of this and began to see many resonances in Wesley’s commitments, actions, and struggles with a 19th century Unitarian minister by the name of Joseph Tuckerman – who also was ahead of his times in condemning what he very directly labeled as the “caste” system of poverty created in the United States and who also was a minister who worked among the oppressed. It does seem that those who work most closely with those who are oppressed, and who maintain a “heart of love” and “social holiness” (p. 37) grounded in liberation, develop the keenest analysis of the systemic nature of oppression.
 
Sharon Delgado’s book is one that should be read broadly by all progressive religious leaders and activists who have a deep concern for the impact of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable and oppressed, and who strive to work in partnership and solidarity with those impacted. As in all works of constructive theology as well as “fusion moral politics,”[2] Delgado’s method can be replicated ecumenically, as well as across religious traditions, in drawing from religious scriptures, religious traditions, reason, and experience to engage and motivate respective religious peoples on climate change. The facts that she pulls together and the concrete and practical recommendations that she makes at the end of each chapter are helpful for all to consider and make it ideal for book group study use as well as a resource guide to beginning or expanding activism in this area. I certainly recommend this book to my own religious tradition as well as across religious traditions.
 
Near the end, Delgado returns to a key question from her beginning: “What will lift us out of denial, self-centeredness, despair, and paralysis, and motivate us to respond to the suffering of others by joining in the work for climate justice? The answer is love… Some people may fear being swallowed up by pain, guilt, and the inability to cope if they open their hearts to the magnitude of suffering caused by climate change. Denial and suppression of such feelings may seem to be the only way to carry on with current responsibilities as a functional human being. But as we grow spiritually and mature in faith, our capacity for both joy and sorrow expand. As we become more fully alive and connected with others, we come to recognize the presence of love in the full range of human emotions. We move out of denial through faith and are carried by love… As Joan Baez says, ‘Action is the antidote to despair’” (p. 161). So may it be, with gratitude to Rev. Sharon Delgado for this passionate work that combines the best of the prophetic and the pastoral in writing. Blessed be.

 

Rev. Michelle Walsh, PhD, LICSW
Boston University
Author of Violent Trauma, Culture, and Power: An Interdisciplinary Exploration in Lived Religion

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[1] “Constructive practical theology” as a term is an innovation by practical and pastoral theologian James Newton Poling in his book Rethinking Faith: A Constructive Practical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011). Delgado does not use this terminology for her work, yet I witness this type of method in how she is engaging her topic. This method grounds and challenges our respective religious constructive theologies and traditions with the experiences and facts of people facing contemporary problems and situations.

[2] Delgado’s intersectional approach to systemic oppression and modeling of how to draw upon one’s religious tradition to motivate change reminds me also of the moral fusion politics approach of the current Moral Revival movement being led by Rev. Dr. William Barber, III and Repairers of the Breach, including the New Poor Peoples’ Campaign (see https://www.breachrepairers.org/#home-section and https://poorpeoplescampaign.org for more information).

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