By Wayde Marsh, Duke Divinity School Intern
“[Pope] Francis almost makes me want to convert to Catholicism.”
This is the sentiment generally expressed by many of my colleagues at Duke Divinity School. Many of us who are not Catholic find refreshing a Pope who is faithfully in touch with so many social justice concerns in such a visible way. He was almost from the outset a popular leader for all Christians in many ways because of his concern for the poor, the marginalized, and those without a voice (including our earth).
Since Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, thankfully I think it has gotten more hype than did the release of the last Hunger Games movie. I have seen a trailer for its release, almost daily postings from friends across the religious spectrum as well as non-religious friends, have seen news stories about it morning and night. Susannah Tuttle, director of NC Interfaith Power & Light, along with atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe co-wrote an Op-Ed in The News & Observer. While Pope Francis is without question an unusually popular pope, one whose travels, actions, and words are often recorded and “shared” on social media, the interest in this particular encyclical is especially interesting, and very exciting.
At Duke Divinity, we learn about the importance of care of creation in every class. In our Bible and language courses we learn that when the Bible says that we are to “rule over” the earth, it means that we are responsible for nourishing and caring for it, that we are stewards, not despots. In our theology and ethics courses, we learn about the reality of environmental racism, in which humanity’s role in climate change is causing environmental refugees and disproportionately harming the poorest in our world.
In our history courses, we learn that for centuries Christians understood the importance of giving the land a Sabbath and living as a part of creation, rather than as destructive and shortsighted lords over and above the land. And finally, in our preaching courses, we learn about the challenge of speaking prophetically and pastorally on issues of climate change, of understanding how to bring together the urgency of environmental destruction at the hands of capitalistic greed and individualistic society with the need for Christians to develop ways of being a part of creation again, of truly caring for and protecting creation.
Pope Francis has emphasized the pressing need for action to curb climate change before, but by dedicating an encyclical to this topic, he has committed the entire Catholic Church and other religious leaders and communities to take seriously their charge to protect God’s creation. I am baffled by statements from many US politicians saying that they will listen to the Pope on theological matters, but not scientific ones. Pope Francis is a scientist—he has a master’s degree in chemistry, as has already been pointed out several times. Second, theology cannot be put in a box. At Duke Divinity we learn that theology infiltrates all of what you do and forms your worldview. We form our theology from scripture, experience, tradition, and revelation. If we actually do theology, then, we will of course find ourselves working in other disciplines to speak again injustices, because theology apart from the world and its condition and the condition of its inhabitants, is not really theology.