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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

I Do Not Believe
distributed 1/25/13 - ©2013

I see great wisdom in an affirmation of faith from Indonesia. This short statement is a meaningful creed for use in churches, where its surprising language will make members of the congregation think hard. It also -- in style as much as content -- conveys a truth that is urgently needed in public policy and our witness for eco-justice values.

I am nurtured by this affirmation as I decide how to speak and act faithfully about the crisis of climate change, and the specific issue of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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"An Affirmation of Peace and Justice" starts conventionally enough with five declarations, each beginning with "I believe ..." (The slightly modified version linked above uses collective language: "We believe ...")

"I believe in God, who is love and who has given the earth to all people" is the opening line. (Place the emphasis on "all people", and there's less sense of human control over creation!) The fifth affirmation says, "I believe in God's promise to finally destroy the power of sin in us all, and to establish the kingdom of justice and peace for all humankind."

That's good. The shock comes right after that. "I do not believe in the right of the strongest, nor the force of arms, nor the power of oppression." That negative is followed with a positive, "I believe in human rights, in the solidarity of all people, in the power of non-violence."

The rest of the affirmation follows that pattern, alternating statements of "I do not believe ..." and contrasting words of "I do believe ..." (Go read the whole thing now. It isn't long.)

How rarely we say those shocking words in church: "I do not believe." How rarely we have the courage to say that our faith calls us to stand against something.

Usually, it is not hard to say words of affirmation, to celebrate what we see as good. Nobody is going to cringe when we say, "I believe in love, and justice and peace." How nice. Who could object?

It calls for more of a commitment to say "No", to reject that which we see as destructive, as evil, as an expression of sin. It becomes controversial when we turn away from that which is clearly wrong. "I do not believe in racism. I do not believe that war and hunger are inevitable."

When we only say "Yes" to the good stuff, it is easy to be wishy-washy. Saying "No" forces us to take a stand, and makes us acknowledge that living according to our faith and ethics demands that we make hard choices.

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Let's move the importance of saying both yes and no, the matter of making hard choices, into current politics.

On Monday, President Obama's inaugural address included words that we longed to hear during the long months of campaigning. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Amen! Finally!

He spoke with commitment about moving toward renewable energy. "The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it." True, and it is good that he said it.

But the President did not say "No" to what is clearly wrong, destructive and dangerous. He said yes to wind turbines and solar panels, but he did not say no to coal and tar sands.

Saying yes without saying no is better than saying nothing, but it can be wishy-washy. We do need to do lots of work on developing sustainable energy sources, but if we do not cut back on unsustainable and highly polluting energy, then the crisis will not be addressed. If horrors like the tar sands are not rejected, then -- in the words of climate scientist James Hansen -- it is "game over" for the global climate. It will be impossible to limit global warming to anything resembling a stable condition.

I am glad that Mr. Obama said yes. I am still waiting for him to say no. Both yes and no are required if we are going to slow down the devastation of Earth.

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On Sunday, February 17, tens of thousands of Americans will gather in Washington, D.C. for what is planned as the largest climate rally in history. Jointly organized by 350.org, The Sierra Club and the Hip-Hop Caucus, the rally will demand that Mr. Obama reject the permit allowing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to cross the Canadian-US border. (See the 8/5/11 Eco-Justice Notes, The Crisis of Canadian Gunk, if you need background on the tar sands issue.)

The event coming up in February continues in the line of other big protests in Washington against the Keystone pipeline. Once again, crowds of people are converging on the nation's capitol to say "No" to the devastating climate bomb of tar sands.

If you live in the eastern US and can reasonably get to Washington, DC, I strongly urge you to take part in the rally. Add your voice to those saying "No" to the Keystone pipeline. Your presence will amplify the witness of "we do not believe" in warping Earth's climate.

Here in Colorado, a pair of events are being planned in Denver on February 17 to coincide with the rally in Washington. The Denver marches will say both yes and no, and they highlight for me the very real difference between the two messages.

The "Green Legacy March" will express support for renewable energy -- wear yellow or blue to support solar and wind! The "Dirty Legacy March" will denounce dirty fossil fuels -- wear all black and help stage a "human oil spill." The two marches will converge in Civic Center Park, with a combined message of rejecting Keystone and affirming clean energy. For local marchers, it is easier to affirm the non-controversial "yes"; there is a harder edge to the dramatic expression of "no". Both are needed.

If we are honest, every time we affirm "I believe ..." there is a corresponding statement of "I do not believe ..." In our own lives of faith, and in urgent matters of public policy, may we be bold with both our affirmation and our rejection, because "yes" by itself is inadequate.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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