Christmas and Copenhagen

Future Hope column, December 21, 2009

By Ted Glick

The huge—and hugely disappointing, as far as the official results—Copenhagen world climate conference has just concluded. Since the worldwide celebrations of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are coming up later this week, I thought I would study the words of Jesus in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to see if any of what he said there was of relevance to what just happened in Copenhagen.

It is.

In Matthew Chapter 7, verse 20, as part of a parable about how to know who was good and who was not, he stated, “you will know them by their fruits.” Earlier in that parable he taught, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life…” (verses 13-14)

It’s like cap and trade systems full of huge numbers of offsets, loopholes and free permits for polluters, with woefully weak emissions reductions targets. That is the “wide and easy gate” for polluters, or for leaders of industrialized countries who know how bad things are but are afraid to give the leadership necessary if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change.

As Jesus said in Mark 7, verses 6-8: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”

The leaders of countries like the United States, Canada and Australia should read what Jesus said in Matthew 6, 24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” You can’t serve the people and the environment while you are enabling Big Oil and Dirty Coal to keep polluting the earth for corporate profits.

They have forgotten, if they ever knew it, the most important lesson taught by the Hebrew prophets and by Jesus in Matthew 22, verses 37-39: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

They point fingers at others, calling upon them to reduce their emissions, but, as Jesus said, “why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7, verses 3 and 5)

What would Jesus say to those who refuse to give the kind of leadership clearly and urgently needed, instead settling for vague, indefinite, non-binding promises? What would he say to those who patronized and disrespected the countries of Africa, the small island states, Bangladesh and all of the others countries and parts of the world already experiencing destructive and destabilizing climate change impacts? He would probably not be kind.

Jesus might use these words for them: “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25, 41-46)

But Jesus has other things to say for those delegates and activists in Copenhagen who stood up for the survival of these seriously threatened countries and peoples, those who chanted, “Survival is Not Negotiable.”

He might say that “my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8, verse 21)

If he were present, he might preach to those standing up for justice, as one of their representatives, that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4, verses 18-19)

Finally, after all was over and the representatives of hope and justice had returned home, he would remind them: “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9, verse 23)

And if we had trouble believing that it is in our power to make the changes necessary in this world, he might tell us the same story he told his apostles as reported in Luke 17, verses 5-10: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, Be rooted up, and planted in the sea, and it would obey you. Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, Come at once and sit down at table? Will he not rather say to him, Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

We must continue to do what duty calls upon us to do, what the Spirit of Justice calls upon us to do, what suffering humanity around the world needs us to do. Let’s use this holiday season to renew our commitment to the building of an even stronger and broader climate justice movement worldwide in 2010.

Ted Glick has been active in the climate movement since 2003 and the progressive social change movement since 1968. His recently-completed book, Love Refuses to Quit: Climate Change and Social Change in the 21st Century, as well as other writings and information, can be found at