The President’s commencement address to the graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy included a few words about climate change and the expected increase in “Climate Refugees” in the future. Climate Refugees are those who must move because of extreme weather conditions: drought and desertification have made a place intolerable, cyclones and flooding have caused mass migration. That kind of thing. “It’s a national security issue,” Obama said.
It’s also a spiritual issue. It’s been an especially anxious couple of weeks for The Church, and some of that challenge is because of the incidence of Climate Refugees in the church. You know who I’m talking about:
- Mass migration out of the church because the climate was too toxic and divisive.
- Individuals parting ways with their congregations because it felt so dry they were perishing.
- Families slowly slipping away because the spiritual food was scarce.
There are also the people who leave church for good reasons: they move away, they die. And there are people who leave for reasons that we can interpret in several ways: personal conflicts make church awkward, a personal life change makes church feel uncomfortable, their children’s schedules or their own schedules have become complicated.
But today I’m thinking about Climate Refugees we have known and loved. On the one hand, it’s very important to let people go – especially when they can be fed and refreshed elsewhere. Spiritual journeys shift and sway. What fed me as a child isn’t as satisfying as an adult. It’s normal and fine.
But the climate our communities create are just that: created. Churches are rarely impacted by the weather or environmental issues.
We can create a climate that feeds the soul and we can also nurture a climate that sucks the life out of people. And remember: the climate impacts everyone in a congregation no matter what my personal experience has been.
Maybe I like it hot and sticky. Maybe conflict doesn’t bother me and I kind of get a kick out of all the power moves. Maybe I don’t mind the chilly comments or cold stares. But I am not the church. We are the church.
How are we creating a climate that truly quenches spiritual thirst and feeds those who were starving in another land? How are we providing shelter for those who’ve been displaced? How are we tending to refugees and wanderers? Are we embracing them or tolerating them?
None of us can spiritually survive in a valley of dry bones. But climates can change to become life-giving again – at least in the church.