Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Monday, February 18, 2013

Washington Climate Rally: Reflections of a Lonely Evangelical

My brother Christopher Elwood, my niece Isabelle and I spent a lovely Sunday in Washington yesterday. We visited the Washington Monument and the White House. And I still haven’t gotten my voice back.

Of course, this wasn’t really just sightseeing. Together with some 50,000 others, we spent the day on the Capitol Mall and the streets surrounding the White House giving voice to the growing awareness that our country and world are on a suicidal course: That this beloved planet cannot continue to support us and its other creatures as we recklessly foul it with fossil fuels and thoughtless exploitation of its remaining resources.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus was among many who were thinking back fifty years earlier to Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington, with another huge crowd on these same grounds.

Courtesy of Christine Irvine
“Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King marched on Washington so that we could be here today,” Rev. Yearwood told the crowd. “Now, we will march on Washington again for the sake of people fifty years in our future.”

Some will note that our crowd was dwarfed by Rev. King’s gathering of a quarter-million souls, and they would be right. But when I first joined a small band in front of the White House in the summer of 2010, there were only 226 of us. When I came back a few months later, our ranks had swollen to 3,000. Yesterday, we were 50,000 strong. Stay tuned….

Yesterday, after Sunday worship at a nearby Baptist church, Chris, Isabelle and I met up with a group of faith-based participants before joining the main body of the rally. There were Jews and Unitarians, Catholics and Orthodox, mainline Protestants and interfaith groups. And – by my count – one or two self-identified evangelicals under the banner of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

Courtesy of Shadia Fayne Wood
One or two? Where were all the evangelicals? Out of a crowd of 50,000, surely there were many like me: participating as an individual out of love for my Father’s creation and for my neighbor. But where were the churches? Where were the mission agencies? The mega-church pastors?  The evangelistic associations?

Of course, there are evangelicals who labor tirelessly to protect the poor from the ravages of pollution and climate chaos – and who have done so for decades. And many of these are keenly aware of the political realities of the American establishment: that protests are often viewed as the exclusive domain of liberals and atheists. To preserve our voice with American evangelicals, perhaps we need to keep a low profile in mass protests which are supported by people of others faiths and diverse political affiliations. Might this be the thought process?

If so, it brings me back to Rev. King, whose classic “Letter from A Birmingham Jail” spoke to a generation of Christians who saw danger in direct action confronting injustice.

Isabelle and Chris Elwood
“Injustice anywhere,” wrote Rev. King, “is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Don't settle for this sampling: read the whole thing!)

Fifty years have come and gone. The facts have changed. Despite common threads, the fight for climate justice is anything but a rerun of the Civil Rights Movement. But there are parallels. I pray that Christians today will keep working behind the scenes, teaching children, planting community gardens, writing to politicians, learning to shrink their carbon footprints. But one day soon, I also hope to see them in great numbers: churches, Christian colleges and other ministries, adding their voices to the thousands who today are demanding action to protect the beloved planet.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

More Climate Rally pictures

Rally organizer Bill McKibben, center. Photo by C. Irvine
Kids braved the cold
Protect our future. Courtesy Bora Chung
Kentuckian Isabelle Elwood


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