Protecting a 'Way of Life'


So the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Bill foundered in Congress. Everyone knew it would stall and fail. What's the big deal?

For many American Christians, the deal is not that it failed but that their freedoms are being threatened to begin with.

Many American Christians believe that the American government is threatening to force Americans to change their way of life so dramatically over the next few decades that global temperatures will fall when in fact, they say, temperatures are not at the whim of human behavior.

Or at least that's what the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank based in D.C. with immense reserves and substantial global influence, said in their coverage of the bill's debate.

How often have we heard the argument, "It's threatening our way of life" lately? Global warming, immigration, Middle East oil mechanisms, marriage legislation, nuclear technology development and the threat from foreign languages have all invoked "way of life" rhetoric at one time or another.

And many American Christians--Christians who vote on all sides of the ballot--don't even blink at this phrase.

What many American Christians seem to fear most is not that God might look upon them and find them ignoring the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned, the naked and the oppressed. They worry not that God will see them doing special-interest justice, ignoring kindness and walking triumphantly with their God.

They fear instead that they might lose, to sound like a Spike Lee character, their "over-the-top-water-usage, cheap-fossil-fuel-energy, gas-guzzling-automobile, low-prices-are-more-important-that-just-wages, land-is-for-economic-development, whatever-is-bad-for-business-is-bad-for-America, I-vote-for-my-own-interest, my-church-has-a-new-$ 0 million-sanctuary-from-God, courtesy-of-the-red-white-and-blue, and the-poor-are-poor-because-they're-lazy" way of life.

This is the attitude of many American Christians, yet primarily from white Christians. Generally, Hispanic and black Christians really have only a partial share in this "American way of life", if at all.

Interestingly, what does Scripture remind the people of God whenever they prejudicially fear losing a "way of life?"

On one occasion, God diversified a people trying to establish a single powerful empire represented by the tower of Babel. Another time God punished Jonah for his and Israel's selfishness. At one point God states that "aliens" are to be as one's kin. Moreover, Isaiah and Jeremiah were prodding reminders that any kind of nationalism invoked by the Israelites could only have one meaning: absolute faithfulness to God, Israel's only "way of life".

Though many believe that Jesus remained above the social fray, they might want to look again.

Jesus dismantles a sinful family system in which the father owned everything and everyone. He also reverses a culture in which people with illnesses were excluded from first century Jewish society for physical and theological reasons.

Remember the rich young ruler who walked away sad when Jesus told him that in order to be perfect he must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor? Was Jesus talking simply about the man's wealth or about a "way of life" which not only tolerated deep social injustices, but justified them through through the dominant faith?

Furthermore, did Paul mean that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, master and slave, and male and female EXCEPT when this new "way of life" inaugurated by Jesus threatened the lives of the Jews, the males and the masters?

During the Senate debates over the Liebermann-Warner legislation, a Reuters article featured several interviews with Indonesians. The point of the article was to enquire how closely people around the globe were paying attention to the American handling of an issue that affects the entire planet.

One Indonesian commented on the proceedings: "They're talking about saving the world like in the next 10 years, 20 years, but in some places in Indonesia, like in my community, they can just die today."

The end of that sentence could have been vocalized by the thousands of poor minority children living with particle and ozone pollution-induced asthma in Chicago and New York, as well as rural white children whose asthma and other illnesses can be traced to a fossil-fuel energy plant.

We must remember that the American way of life tolerates disadvantage as a trade-off for advantage for others. It's our way of life. There is a connection between the fact that whites on average possess 11 times the assets that blacks do and the fact that inner city asthma is called a "black disease."

Unfortunately, most Americans notice the destruction in their wake only when it hits their pocket books.

Just this past Saturday a syndicated columnist wrote a piece in The Tennessean. There she attempted to make the case that Barack Obama is the wrong king of change America needs.

"Most Americans agree that change is in the air," she said. "Few of us desire the winds of change to come like a 230 mph tornado blowing us from Kansas to the Land of Oz. None of us want to wake up the morning after the election with an 'I'm not in Kansas anymore' feeling in our stomachs."

Connecting Obama with terrorism, she believes Obama to be a kind of change too swift and destructive. "Instead, most of us prefer change to come gently and predictably, just like those northern breezes whispering to the forest that it is time for a change of scenery," she said.

In other words, America's many seasons--either political, economic or moral--should change as they have for 28 years or more. Their change needs to be predictable and cyclical so that those who have the resources to enjoy the seasons won't miss them.

Martin Luther King reminds us that this moderate "way of life" so strongly defended by the white majority is the greatest barrier to God's justice when it believes, as King admonished in "Letter from Birmingham Jail," that it can paternalistically set the timetable for another's freedom, and that those who suffer should wait for a more convenient season.

The world seems to wait for America's timetable and America's seasons, and American Christians aren't bothered by this idolatry at all.

Andy Watts is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Belmont University.

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Tags: Andy Watts, Climate Change, Politics