March 31, 2006
"A planet in jeopardy"“We’re all behind the curve on Earth issues,” Larry Rasmussen said last night to a roomful of students at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, their professors and a few others who’d heard about his lecture. “Earth is a planet in jeopardy at human hands.”
That was the plain talk—the bad news—from the renowned Christian ethicist who is spending a good deal of his retirement time working to provide a moral and theological reorientation to address Earth’s distress that results from what he sees as the “unsustainable uses of human power.” Rasmussen holds a B.D. from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and a Th.D. from Union Seminary, New York City, where he taught social ethics until 2004. I’d given his book Earth Community, Earth Ethics (Orbis, 1996) to my son Dan for Christmas. Dan earned his master’s degree in environmental management, or “green technology,” knows the secular concerns about sustainability and spends weekend hours volunteering with a Chicago group that does green rehabbing.
Rasmussen centers such concerns for Earth’s future—from global to neighborhood—deeply in his Lutheran Christian faith. (He's written about it for The Lutheran.)He talked about how, as Lutherans, we have in our tradition and theology “resources” that we can bring to the cause of sustainability.
•Martin Luther, as a medieval man with a medieval cosmology understood that “Christ is in all things” and had “awe, healthy fear and deep reverence” for the natural world. “He knew we are utterly creatures of Earth.”
•Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1932 wrote that the human conquest of nature is the foundational theme of Euro-American life and said it was “in essence, a means to kill.”
•Joseph Sittler in a 1961 address to the World Council of Churches called it a blasphemy against “the Christ of nature” that modern man “strut the Earth as if they owned it.”
So? “We are people of the Reformation and re-beginnings,” Rasmussen said—the good news. He urged “boldness to venture in to new areas.” Risk? Sure, he acknowledged. It’s dangerous to look at our “good life” this way. But its needed. And, he said. “There is grace. So let’s get on with the great work.”