God, Earth, and Strategy: Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet

Credit: Creative Commons/ Frabizio Angius

We invite you to join in a campaign to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet. (Providentially, the initials of this campaign title spell “MOM/POP.” We didn’t plan it that way.) Our campaign is a spiritually rooted, strategically focused plan of action on the climate crisis.

We begin convinced of these truths:

  • That human action, driven by global corporations that we are calling Big Carbon or Carbon Pharaohs, are bringing a climate crisis on all life forms on Planet Earth—a crisis of a breadth and depth unprecedented in the history of the human species.
  • That in the religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions of practically all cultures on the planet are teachings, stories, practices, and symbols that could and should be brought to bear to heal our wounded Earth and move toward a planetary Beloved Community.
  • That such teachings, stories, practices, and symbols are present in the traditions rooted in the Bible, beginning with the very first insight into human history—the story of the Garden of Eden—and appearing again and again in ways that invite their urgent use to face “the fierce urgency of Now.”

I. Imagining

There are two ways in which spiritually rooted communities can act:

  • By drawing on the religious traditions of public witness, pray-ins, nonviolent activism, and sacred civil disobedience to work for a strong national enforceable process for major reductions in carbon dioxide and methane production;
  • By profoundly shifting the cultural assumptions and citizenly behavior away from the consumerism and materialism that constantly presses for increased burning of fossil fuels; by making active loving concern for the Earth a moral obligation and disregard of the Earth’s needs a moral abomination.

To make this happen despite the present concentrated wealth and power of major corporations in and beyond Big Carbon—for example, Big Banking and Big Media—will take a major involvement of the U.S. public in numbers and intensity at least equal to that of the Civil Rights movement, especially from 1960 through 1968.

Those numbers and intensity brought about both a cultural shift that defined racism as an abomination, and caused a political shift that outlawed segregation and greatly increased the political power of the Black community.

The religious communities were then a major component of the movement to challenge racism, and now need to be a major component of the climate-healing movement—including both cultural and spiritual redefinitions that in our generation need to make contempt toward and exploitation of the Earth felt as a moral abomination, and the use of active sit-downs, pray-ins, mass mobilizations, lobbying, and electoral action to achieve legal and political change.

Awakening and involving religious communities requires both drawing on their—our—existing teachings, symbols, and practices that evoke concern for the Earth, and weaving new Earth-centered threads into the fabric of religious life.

The seeds—but only the seeds—have been sown of this new direction for churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, in such forms as:

  • The Shalom Center’s and IMAC’s creation of pre-Passover/ Holy Week religious services focused on the climate crisis, combined with vigils, rallies, and civil disobedience;
  • Beginning in the Jewish-renewal community, imagining an “eco-kosher” life practice applied not only to food but to all consumables;
  • Interfaith Power and Light’s encouragement of annual sermons on climate questions, centered on Valentine’s Day.

Such moments and practices need to be enriched and multiplied. In particular, the highest religious intensities and the largest numbers of people religiously involved tend to cluster in the major seasons of fast and festival: Lent, Ramadan and Eid el-Fitr, the High Holy Days, Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid al-Idha, Holy Week, Passover; and in the strongest moments of sacred intergenerational connection—confirmations, bar/bat mitzvah, etc.

Refocusing some of these festivals, life-cycle events, and daily/weekly rhythms of prayer and celebration may help change the cultural assumptions that support grabbiness, greed, and destructive domination of the Earth.

For example: At the Interfaith Summit on the Climate Crisis called by the Church of Sweden in 2008 and held at the Cathedral of Uppsala, a large green-moss Globe became the central transreligious sacred symbol of the gathering. In several national pray-ins held by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate during the past year and in some regional prayer services for the Earth, a Globe has been shared from hand to hand, while the gathering sang “We Have the Whole World in Our Hands.”

II. Planning

In regard to public activist advocacy, the Passover/Holy Week season may be most appropriate for public action to focus attention on the powerful institutions committed to fossil fuels, vs. the possibility of a healing and healed community.

For that season lifts up the memory of Pharaoh, Plagues, Exodus, Wilderness, Sinai, and Promised Land; and the memory of Caesar and Pontius Pilate, Palm Sunday as nonviolent challenge to the Roman Empire, the Last Supper (a Passover Seder), Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost.

In these traditions, Sinai, the Promised Land, the Resurrection, and Pentecost—the healing alternatives—carry as much energy as the disastrous status quo. So must it be for us.

To make climate healing the focus of such high-intensity moments requires us to weave it into the fabric of religious life, rather than to focus on a blip here, a blip there—isolated moments alone.

How can we weave into the daily lives of our religious cultures the metaphor of modern Pharaohs and their modern plagues, modern Caesars and their modern oppressions—versus modern healings of the Earth?

One crucial thread in the daily fabric is Money. What do we do with it? The Divestment work of 350.org has shown that challenging the use of money to prop up our Climate Pharaohs can energize people—especially college students.

We believe that religious leaders, congregations, and denominations are called to address the money that they themselves can choose to invest.

Should we invest in the modern Corporate Pharaohs or in the smaller, more nimble, more responsive and responsible companies based on renewable and sustainable sources of energy? We believe we should invest in projects that empower the poor who are already suffering most sharply, and will suffer even more, from the Climate Plagues.

That’s why we have settled on “Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet” MOM/POP campaigns.

A Move Our Money campaign is not an end in itself. It is not likely to cause enough disruption to Big Oil, Big Coal, etc., to force them to change their business plans, or even to diminish the millions they spend on buying elections and lobbying.

But a Move Our Money campaign can mobilize large numbers of people in many ways that will help delegitimate Big Carbon; could actually help increase investments in smaller wind/solar-energy companies and in projects for empowering the vulnerable poor to act on climate issues; and could provide the cohesion and networks to make the political muscle to change U.S. government policy.

We aim to persuade religious groups to move our money away from the Climate Pharaohs that are bringing Plagues upon our planet—and to move our money instead to invest both in wind and solar energy, and in low-carbon businesses that serve those who are most vulnerable to the ravages of modern Climate Plagues.

Why do we use the wording “Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP)” instead of the “Divest from Fossil Fuels” wording that was urged by 350.org?

For one thing, we are aware that “divest” is difficult language to use in the American Jewish community, for reasons further discussed below.

But for us there are two much more important reasons:

  • Many households and congregations, and even some denominations, do not have “investments” in the sense of stocks and bonds. Almost all have bank accounts, and “Move Our Money” includes such smaller financial holdings as well as big ones. It makes possible a much broader and more inclusive campaign.
  • “Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP)” emphasizes the possibility of alternatives, of “Yes!” as well as “No!” It thus accords with a profound religious impulse toward hope and blessing, not as mere emotion but through action.


III. Organizing

We propose that in 2014 (when Palm Sunday falls on April 13 and Passover begins with the First Seder on the evening of Monday, April 14), public vigils, interfaith religious services, etc., be held during the week before Passover/ Holy Week as a focus (not a completion) for the Move Our Money campaign, with an expectation that MOM/POP will continue into the following year(s).

We especially invite seminary students and retired clergy to connect across the generations to call for Moving Our Money from Earth-destructive to Earth-healing enterprises.

Though we direct this call to the “Clergy and Laity Concerned for the Earth” of all religious communities, The Shalom Center feels a special responsibility to address the Jewish community.

We take note that the American Jewish community, often in the forefront of progressive social change, has hung back behind the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, and Unitarian Universalist Association, as examples of what is often called “divestment/reinvestment” among Christian activists.

Why the Jewish reluctance? Some has been caused by anger in many Jewish venues toward efforts by some churches to divest from Israeli enterprises, even though as a tactic usable in different contexts, “divestment” was thirty years ago popular among Jews when it was aimed at South Africa.

But there are deeper reasons. One progressive Jewish current from the past and one retrogressive Jewish blockage in the present have combined to direct energy away for Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP):

  • Jewish progressivism has for more than a century focused on social justice, and addressing “environmental” dangers has to some progressives seemed a cop-out from that commitment.
  • In the last generation, the American Jewish community has become much more affluent, and some families have become billionaires—among them, some who control Big Carbon companies. Some of these super-rich have great influence in major Jewish organizations. The result has been an unwillingness to take on the tough issues of Tar Sands, fracking, mountain destruction, etc.
  • In addition, some Jewish organizations have defined the issue not as planetary ruin but as U.S. energy independence—and concluded that means using all forms of energy that do not come from the Middle East oil fields (so all North American oil, coal, and natural gas are good, and even solar and wind energy seem less urgent or important).
  • In the atmosphere of this new affluence, Jewish social-justice efforts in most “mainstream” organizations are being directed toward ameliorating the lot of the poor and perhaps preventing their being further disempowered (e.g., restoring part of the Voting Rights Act recently disemboweled by the Supreme Court), but not toward confronting top-down corporate power and not focused on the “environment.”

On the other hand, there is emerging a new generation of Jews for whom healing Planet Earth is a very high priority. If there is no Jewish context for that urgency, this younger generation moves outside the Jewish community altogether or is attracted to alternative Jewish institutions like Jewish organic farms, etc., that do address climate questions but as personal/communal hands-on work, not as confronting corporate power or changing public policy.

The Shalom Center, then, has both an obligation and an opportunity: To draw deeply on Jewish wisdom from ancient Torah to Heschel and Fromm, Lerner and Gendler, to shape a campaign to confront Big Carbon as modern pharaohs bringing plagues on the Earth and human society, and to attract (mostly) younger Jews to carry out a campaign against those pharaohs.

One crucial step toward breaking the power of these pharaohs is to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP). Households, congregations, and whole denominations should take this crucial step by:

  • Moving Our Money (household and congregational) away from savings and checking accounts in banks that are investing our money in Big Carbon, such as fracking companies, companies that are smashing mountains in order to mine coal, or companies that are lobbying to permit the Tar Gas Pipeline. Instead, we should move our money to community banks and credit unions;
  • Moving Our Money (household, congregational, and denominational) away from actual investments in the stocks and bonds of death-dealing Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Unnatural Gas, and moving it instead to investments in stable, profitable solar and wind-energy companies; to businesses that help those who suffer from asthma and other diseases caused by Big Carbon; to businesses that are producing solar-sourced or wind-sourced power for homes, autos, and workplaces; to businesses that make their own buildings energy efficient; to community banks and credit unions; to neighborhood stores that sell locally grown foods.
  • Organizing our congregants to insist that local and state governments similarly Move Our Money from investments in death to investments in life.
  • Insisting that Congress Move Our Money—money we pay in taxes—away from subsidies to Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Unnatural Gas, and instead to supporting research, development, and production of life-giving renewable energy.

If you would like to take an active part in such an effort to raise these questions in your own congregation or denomination, please write MOM-POP@theshalomcenter.org

With blessings of inspiration from the Spirit, and with commitment to the Rainbow Covenant among the Holy One, the children of Noah, “and every breathing life-form … all life upon the Earth” (Gen 9: 8-10).

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of the Shalom Center (theshalomcenter.org); author of The Limits of Defense, From Race Riot to Sit-in, and Godwrestling—Round 2; and co-author of Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia (Jewish Lights, 2011).
 
tags: Eco-Spirituality, Politics & Society   
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