The pursuit of climate justice

This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Climate Justice: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.

 

Luke Gascho served as executive director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College for 22 years before retiring in 2019. He and his wife, Becky, live in Goshen, Indiana and are members of Waterford Mennonite Church. He led the founding of the Mennonite Creation Care Network and has served on the boards of several faith-based environmental organizations.

 

The temperature was -10°F as my brother and I trekked about a mile out on the ice of the lake near our northern Minnesota home in 1969. The wind-blown snow stung our faces as we chopped a hole three feet deep through the ice. We were on a mission to collect ice and water temperatures for our high school physics teacher. The amateur data collected that day represents an early quest in my life to understand how Earth systems function from a scientific viewpoint.

From early childhood, I experienced significant amounts of time outdoors in the four seasons of northern Minnesota. Observing patterns of seasons in the woods, lakes, pastures and farm fields formed a strong bond with Creation – Earth’s beauty and complexity. This framework was enhanced by the gentle care that I participated in with my father on the farm and my mother in the garden. The biblical integration they shared with me through word and daily practice molded my approach to understanding the world.

The synergy I found in the practical, biblical and scientific learnings have been the springboard for much of my life’s work.

My formative years included wrestling with very complex problems – the threats of the nuclear crisis; the pollution of soil, air and water; and the Vietnam war. These overwhelming issues formed a cloud of hopelessness within me. It was providential to have my biology advisor ask if I wanted to join the Earth Keepers Club during my first year of college in 1970. Choosing to act on the environmental challenges opened windows to hopefulness. I have followed this pattern of finding actions – small and large – that lean into addressing the issues at hand.

Fast forward with me to the second half of my career that began 22 years ago. A wonderful door of opportunity opened for me to become the executive director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College. In this role, I found personal synergy resulting from the integration of ecology, faith and leadership. The beauty of the Merry Lea landscape inspired my colleagues and me to pursue actions through environmental education programming for people of all ages. Wrestling with the regional, continental and global challenges of environmental issues and climate change has been part of the daily work. The mission of Merry Lea gives space to explore actions that are rooted in biblical faith. One of the opportunities that emerged was founding Mennonite Creation Care Network in 2005 to serve Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

I believe people of faith are well-positioned to respond to climate change injustices. We can carry the candle of hope in a world longing for light.

The challenges of climate change are so large that we can be stymied and paralyzed in finding just solutions. Our faith in the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer stimulates our imagination. Regenerative ideas for action begin to emerge from the core of who we are as people of faith.

I am inspired by significant statements from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) that synthesize the biblical narrative of caring for Creation – and hence being actively involved in responding to climate change injustices.

  1. Give centrality to the one who is Prince of Peace of all things –– “The peace God intends for humanity and creation was revealed most fully in Jesus Christ.”[1]
  2. Acknowledge rightful ownership and responsibility –– “We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls us as the church to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.”[2]
  3. Pursue regenerative actions –– “As stewards of God’s earth, we are called to care for the earth and to bring rest and renewal to the land and everything that lives on it.”[3]
  4. Participate in peacemaking actions –– “As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice.”[4]
  5. Seek holistic practices that change the systems of the world ––“The church is to be a spiritual, social, and economic reality, demonstrating now the justice, righteousness, love, and peace of the age to come.”[5]

I have found that starting from a solid foundation is critical in tackling the multiple injustices we face in our world. Our faith tradition provides a foundation.

The work becomes very hard when we ignore this foundation and allow fear and political division to govern our action. I’ve experienced this far too often. It has been frustrating to see the church hindered time after time by various disputes that keep us from the pursuit of being a light in the midst of the climate change injustices. It is essential for me – and the church – to lament over what has been and what is.

But I continue with hope! The God of love fills and surrounds me. This is the One who loves all of Creation – and leads me to love what God loves. I see the love of God in people of all ages who carry the light against the wind. They are the ones – young and old – who believe in the possibilities Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. And they pursue regenerative actions by finding ways to engage in the local watershed – knowing that this provides synergy for addressing complex global issues.

The work is not hopeless even though I have been acting on environmental and climate justice issues since 1970. I continue now in my early retirement to stay engaged locally and nationally in restorative work. I am an ongoing learner who pursues action that fits with my gifts. I believe that it’s always a good time to plant a tree – or an orchard – and thereby participate in the health of future generations!

 

[1] Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995), Article 22. Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance
[2] Article 21. Christian Stewardship
[3] Article 21. Christian Stewardship
[4] Article 22. Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance
[5] Article 24. The Reign of God


This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Climate Justice: Learn, Pray, Join initiative

We invite you to:

Pray for those who are most vulnerable among us and who are most impacted by climate change, including those who have already been displaced.

Pray for the waters, the plants, all living creatures and the earth with gratitude, that we may recognize their sacredness and participate in their restoration.

Pray that we will find the motivation to respond to climate change in our own lives, congregations and communities.

Pray for local, community and business leaders to help make communities healthier and greener while centering those who are vulnerable. Pray that our political leaders and world leaders would become more active in reducing carbon emissions worldwide.

Pray for the youth and future generations, who will live with the growing consequences of climate change.

Find worship resources, a webinar, and ways to get involved in advocating for climate justice at mennoniteusa.org/climatejustice.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.