In this discussion, recorded at the November 2018 Sinai and Synapses Fellowship meeting, Ruth Shaver, Tim Maness, Myriam Renaud and Ian Binns discuss how personal stories about climate change can encourage us to think of ourselves not just as individuals, and not just as a component of a society, but as individuals taking action within a society. How do we relate the anecdotal to general trends? How might we help others see themselves as vulnerable to these global issues, but also empowered to do something about them?
The Sinai and Synapses Fellows raise these questions in a video focusing on “God’s Creation and Our Creation,” part of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum.View Full Video and Transcript
Ruth Shaver: So I’m Ruth Shaver, I’m a fellow at Sinai and Synapses, and I am here with Myriam Renaud, Tim Maness and Ian Binns. And the conversation today is focused on the topic: “As people of sacred stories, how do we use the best tool we have, which is storytelling, to teach science, and how do we move from data to story in our work to help people understand and make sense of what’s going on in the world today?”
So thankfully, Adam Pryor was very helpful. He reminded me of something that I had read several weeks ago that he’s actually using in some of his classes, which is by Marshall Ganz, which is “the story of me, the story of us, and the story of now”, as kind of a way to think about telling stories. And I like that format, so we were thinking about the “story of me” with regard to, let’s say, the climate change report that came out. Or what you do because of climate change, or because of your awareness, what story would you tell about yourself to introduce that topic to somebody?
Tim Maness: I might say that there’s a temptation for me to talk about climate change, not just about climate change, but about what we can do to respond to it, purely in terms of me – to say that, you know, I’ve changed to LED light bulbs, and you know, I signed a legal agreement with my local power company that certifies that my energy will be generated in a green manner, and I avoid styrofoam, and I do this, that and the other thing. And that’s all well and good, you know, that’s great, and not bad per se, but it’s not really what it’s about. My temptation is is to make it about me because I tend to think about these things in a moral framework, which I think is a good idea. But so often, the temptation when you’re doing a moral framework is to make things about your own personal morality and what your actions say about you – whether you’re a good person or a bad person. And I don’t know that that’s a helpful framing here, because this is a problem about collective action. And to be sure, collectives only do things if the members of those collectives do them, but I think this acting on climate has to be at least as top-down as bottom-up.
Myriam Renaud: The story I would tell is that I live in Chicago, and since we’ve become more and more aware of what cities around the country are going to be most affected by climate change, I suddenly become actually grateful that I made the choice to live in Chicago, because it will be one of the places in the country that will be the least affected. So I’ve actually researched – Chicago will be affected, of course, like everywhere else, it will have more rain the rain will be harder, it will last longer for example, but we won’t suffer from the rise of oceans or from hurricanes. So I expect at some point – this is a story of me – real estate will become more valuable in Chicago, because people will start to leave those areas and they’ll be looking for safe cities like Chicago. It’s even affected how, for example, where around the world will it be safe to travel because of climate issues? So to my great surprise, I’ve discovered, for example, that London, which relies on surface water, is going to go dry. I mean, they’re right by a river, right, who would have ever imagined that London – or Paris will suffer greater flooding, the Seine runs through it, and so there will be more rain, and a lot more of the water will rise and there will be a lot more flooding. So all the sudden, I see where I live, and where I travel, in terms of how those places will be impacted.
My mother’s house in Colorado Springs – she did not know that she had bought into a fire zone. It appears that in Colorado Springs, you don’t have to divulge that information. And so her house burned down in the Waldo Canyon Fire. So I’ve actually also been personally affected by an incident that was probably related to climate change. So this area has never burned down as far as I know, and here she lives there and her house burned down. And so I’ve witnessed the consequences my mom, who was already in her 70’s, to lose her house and everything in it. And how that still carries out, she goes through her cupboards looking for something she’s had her entire life. And it’s not there, there are things in there from Goodwill she’s collected that work fine, but they’re not the things that are familiar and comfortable to her.
Ian Binns: So I live in North Carolina, and so mine would be focused more on rising sea levels – and in fact, a hurricane. So when you were saying “I don’t need to worry about that,” I was sitting there thinking, “I do!” But you’re right. So in my state, we rely heavily on the tourism industry for the economy. And so one of the things that I think people need to better understand is the impact of the potential rising sea level, or the rising sea level potential amount, and what that would do to the tourism industry in my state. Back in my undergrad days, in the late 90’s, I had a professor tell us to go ahead and buy property in Newburgh, and this was 20 years ago – because eventually it will be oceanfront property, and it will be worth a lot.
And so, I think Newburgh was one of the ones that, if I remember correctly, flooded severely – from the first major hurricane to hit my state, in September. And so I think the big thing I’ll talk about is that, you know, most everywhere in this country where it hits, the money is what matters. And so helping people understand that, you know – I’ve got family who own a really big, beautiful house right on the beach in Nags Head, it’s gorgeous, and they talk about, at least if not their house, others have had to bring in sandbags, and other stuff has been affected.
And another example was the destruction of the Highway 12 bridge that goes out to Cape Hatteras, every – now, pretty much every single storm. And now they’re building a new one, but it’ll take longer to build, and so people are frustrated about that. And I just am always like, the fact that we keep losing the one that we have – when are we going to learn that maybe what we’re doing is not right, that we need to to rethink our ideas here? And then we had the moving of Cape Hatteras, years ago, because of rising sea levels.
So I think helping people really understand what this means – but part of it is helping them play into their desires, if they have children or grandchildren, to understand what it is we’re leaving them. Because I think that’s the hardest part for people with this type of topic, is that they want to know how is it going to impact them right here, right now, and we don’t know that. And so this is more long-term projections. So they want to know, “wait, if I do this, is it going to affect my pocketbook this way, so I won’t be able to put food on the table” or something like that, “I won’t be able to take care of my family, so I’m not going to do that”. I hope they will realize that you would still be able to do that, make some changes, and we could also look at what kind of world to leave our children. That’s a tough thing to do.
Ruth Shaver: It is a tough thing to do. Well and for me, where my parents live, in Corpus Christi, Texas, was originally where Harvey was taking dead aim – it went in, as the crow flies, about 15 miles north. And so the city kind of avoided the worst of it, although it got more significant damage than it’s had in 40+ years. So I’m keenly aware of the effect of climate change on my parents, who are aging in place.
Ian Binns: Sorry to interrupt – but Harvey is the one that sat over Houston?
Ruth Shaver: Harvey is the one that sat over Houston – exactly. But I have friends who had significant damage, who were either in places where people came as refugees from rising water, or people who were displaced from that, who in some cases were displaced for a second or third time in as many years from rising water in the Houston. And so, you know, the impact of that just make me aware of that.
But then I’ve also lived in Boston for a considerable part of my life, and Boston is going to be dramatically affected by rising seawater. You know, one of the neighborhoods that I lived in – you know, basically where I lived was high enough up that I would just be walking down the Boston Harbor about 100 yards instead of a half a mile, with the projected sea levels. I fly in and out of Boston fairly regularly, because I can get places better – Logan Airport will be underwater, it will not exist.
Where I’m living now, in North Conway, is a tourist area. It’s dramatically affected by extremes of weather – because last winter was coldish for there, but not as much snow as they normally get. So the ski season was shorter, and they couldn’t make snow as early as they normally do. This year, we’ve gone the opposite extreme. It’s already been colder in the month of November than it’s been in several Novembers, and we got snow much, much earlier. So the ski resorts are having a field day. You know, they’ve been making snow, and in a couple cases they opened a couple of weeks early.
That’s great for tourism, but it’s temporary. And it’s interesting to hear people who live there long-term reflect back on how consistent it used to be. They could pretty much say that ski season was the third weekend in November to the third weekend in April. And they were consistent with that, with very little variation. And now, just since 2000, it’s varied by as much as three or four weeks on either end.
Now, I’m only there temporarily, I’m aware that wherever I go next as an interim, the climate change issues are going to be completely different. So I’m going to have to be aware of that, and how that kind of changes how I even do ministry with people, because if I’m going to a place where it’s more prone to flooding, or more prone to extreme storms, that’s going to have a play in how I do my ministry.
For me personally, I’m keenly aware of the fact that one of the things that I could do on my own, to make even the smallest difference, is to not eat as much meat. I have the wisdom of that, I have the knowledge of that, I just don’t have the willpower yet. And that’s my own personal foible. So, to be able to share that, say, “yep, I’m guilty, you know, I’m contributing more than I need to.” At some point, I want to get a car that’s got better gas mileage, but I like my car, and it handles really well in the ice and snow, so it’s a good practical car for where I am now. There’s a tradeoff there.
And like you were saying, it does become that bigger moral issue, Tim, of how do we make those tradeoffs and balances for where we are at this particular time, for what we can and can’t do? And collectively, can we do enough in our own places? One thing I have done is I’ve stopped using straws. It’s small, but I want to be part of the solution, so I stopped using straws. I wasn’t bragging about it.
Ian Binns: Well, I think when you talk about solutions – so a few years ago, my church in Charlotte, the former rector and I did several classes on science and religion. And our second year of doing it was with this focus on climate change. And so there’s a climate change expert, a climate scientist, on my campus at UNC Charlotte, who I brought in to do it. He is an outstanding speaker, which is not always common with academic scientists. And so it was really nice having him come in and talk about it. And he ran out of time when he was presenting to really get into the solutions and sort of stuff, so we had to touch on that later, but at the end, a woman came up to him and said “you know, a member of my congregation just kind of said, ‘such a dire situation, what do we do, what we do?’” And it made me think about – was it you [Tim] who talked about it earlier, you said it was a dire – maybe it was what Geoff mentioned when we first got here about how the new report that came out paints a really scary and dangerous picture.
And so that gives people the idea of “there’s nothing we can do, so forget it.” And I know that the talk is that if we still do nothing, then we’ll get to a point where it’s too late. And I refuse to believe that. I refuse to believe that there is a point where it’s simply too late. It may be that it’s harder to make improvements that we want now, but the way I look at it is – I’ve got 8-year-old children. If I go into this with the mentality that “it’s just too late, there’s nothing I can do,” what’s the point, right? I need to do something for them. So you get back into the moral reasons of doing things, and that’s part of why I do what I do at times, because I think about, well, I want to make sure I leave a better world for them. Not just monetarily, but that it’s here, and that they can go to the beaches that I went to as a child, and they can do the things that I did as a child, because those things are still available.
And so I think that’s one of the – we were talking with an earlier group about the narrative, and I think part of the thing to be careful with is how it’s presented. If it’s presented as a dire situation, that there’s really no chance, then the people that we may convince to try to do something may just say “forget it, I’m giving up.” And then their friends will give up, and then their friends will give up. And so, we don’t want to do that. So I think that, again, comes back to the notion of storytelling. We’ve got to make sure we’re telling the right story.
Ruth Shaver: And that’s the story of us. The “what can we do collectively,” that’s proactive, to counterbalance that sense of dire consequence.
Ian Binns: And when it’s said that “well, the changes you’re making, is that really gonna matter?” Well if you want to argue the nitty-gritty on an individual level, could it matter, could it not, probably not. But if a million people did what you were doing, yes, it would matter.
Ruth Shaver: Absolutely!
Ian Binns: So I always get frustrated too when I hear people say “Well you’re one person, it’s not really gonna matter.” If we all thought that way, then again, what’s the point.
Tim Maness: I think that the real problem there is using the person’s individual actions as sort of a barometer of “is this a good or bad person.” Is this, say, a climatically good person, who I can therefore listen to, or is this in some way a hypocrite who I can dismiss?
Ruth Shaver: You mean like Al Gore flying? (laughs)
Tim Maness: Exactly, that’s exactly it. Yeah. And you know very few made excellent points that, you know, we all live in societies, and we’re not making the choices that we’re making sort of from whole cloth, you know. We’re already in situations, and that means that a lot of the time we’re going to be making bad choices, just by virtue of being who we are, where we are. And if the goal is that nobody can talk about climate until they’re already a climate monk, then that’s a wonderful way of stopping the discussion before it starts. Actually, I think there was something interesting you said, Ian, just now, you brought up the climate report. And all of us before coming in here, I think, read the New York Times article on that report.
Ian Binns: Skimmed it, I’ll be honest.
Tim Maness: OK, but you know, you got the gist.
Ian Binns: Yes.
Tim Maness: And one of the things that jumped out to me was the way they used data to tell a story. And I don’t think that was the author or the editor’s intention, which makes it all the more interesting.
Ian Binns: Now I want to read it.
Tim Maness: Because the numbers, the data, that were closest to the headline were the ones that said, you know, “climate change will take off n-billion dollars from the US’s economic productivity. It will mean a shaving off of x% from the GNP.” And the fact that those are the data that we’re using – that we’re talking about, in monetary terms – tells us a lot. And I don’t mean to make this, you know, just a rant about money. Because it’s true that, you know, those figures are a way of talking abstractly about tourism, say, and about people’s livelihoods.
But the problem with focusing on economic data like that is that money is fungible. And I’ve already seen people saying online, “you know, well, is it really a good cost-benefit analysis to say ‘we’re going to shave off so much of our economic activity this year to avoid this much farther down the line?’” And I think that’s already conceding too much. We need to put this, you know, we need to make sure that – that yes, the economic factors are factors, but we need to keep in mind that there are data here that don’t get expressed in those numbers, and that you see further down in the Times article, but because they don’t fit easily into an infographic, can be easier to ignore.
It talks about so much money lost in terms of people’s debts, and so much money lost in terms of, you know, land destroyed. And I think that, you know, we need to make sure that we foreground the human terms in which this damage takes place. Because, you know, we like to pretend that we can put a cost on human life. And when we sort of cloak it behind those economic figures, we make it a lot easier for ourselves to do that. And I think that if we want to tell a compelling story, we have to put those people up front where we can see them, or [they can] see us.
Myriam Renaud: Well, I do think data can only go so far, in that people do react to stories about people like them. So, for example, the story of your family [Ian], with this beautiful home that they had to put down sand to protect, or other homes nearby, or perhaps your house will have to be lifted up on stilts to avoid being washed away. And those stories have resonance, unfortunately, in ways that, say, if you talk to me about a family in South Africa might not. Because I don’t really understand what their lives are like, but I can understand this story of this beautiful home that’s perhaps been in the family for generations.
Or I could tell the story of my mom’s house burning down, and I think people can relate to that. Or that there will be costs of you rebuilding your house. You will probably not have enough insurance, so when it’s washed away in some major storm incident, perhaps, you know, this family’s actually had to already rebuild twice, and may have to rebuild three times. But you know, are we going ask that family to leave the area that they love, where all their friends and family might be located, and their jobs, and their schools…? But that’s the choices that people, more and more, are going to face. So I do think the stories of what is happening to people, and what’s going to happen, just carries weight in a way that numbers [can’t.]
Ruth Shaver: And I think, too, what’s happening that as more people are affected directly by climate change, the people who are affected are more like us. Because if you remember, during Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of the people who were displaced permanently were lower-income, and often minorities. And it was kind of like, “oh, so sad.” You know, I mean I remember having conversations with people who were like “well, they chose to live there.” No, they didn’t choose to live there, that’s where they could afford to live, you know. But getting that across to people was very difficult.
And of course the irony is that many of those people were displaced to Houston, and they’ve now been displaced by Harvey, after having been able to find better jobs in Houston because the economy boomed and whatnot. So they were living in better neighborhoods that were oh, by the way, more integrate. And now more people who are not minorities were displaced, and now people are going, “oohhhh, they’re like me.”
Myriam Renaud: You mean like middle-class, white –
Ruth Shaver: Yeah, middle class, white, or at least not African-American, which especially in rural western Pennsylvania, I had to deal with a lot of that stigmatism and that kind of thing. A certain former president was right about that area. But that anyway. (laughs)
Myriam Renaud: So it’s not even just people living in this country, it’s people who are truly like –
Ian Binns: That look like you.
Myriam Renaud: That look like us and live like us.
Ruth Shaver: With a lot of people, that’s what it is.
Ian Binns: And people – and that’s just how people have to be able to relate [to that]. And, unfortunately, I think that’s how for the most part – at least, let’s just focus on American society, a lot of American society operates on that they focus on “well, if that doesn’t relate to me…”. So when we hear the stories about how there’s islands in the Pacific, and those countries will be completely wiped off the planet because of rising sea levels – you know, that’s tragic, it hurts me to hear that, and probably others would look at it and say it’s tragic too, but then it’d go right over them, because it’s like “that’s not me, there’s no relationship to me whatsoever, there’s no way I could relate to that.”
You know, it makes me think a lot about with teaching, you know, one of the things that I do when I teach my future teachers is that – and this has been argued for probably decades, even longer, but this whole notion of storytelling is to – we always tell them, especially when it comes to a topic like science, you need to help your students relate to what it is you’re teaching them. If they cannot relate to what you’re teaching them, they won’t learn it. Some will, but the majority will not. And we know that.
Myriam Renaud: Because they won’t see how it matters.
Ian Binns: Right. And then they’ll ask that age-old question of “why do I need to know this? Why does this matter to me?”. So you have to figure out ways to help them, no matter what community you’re in – it could be a very small neighborhood, – how those individuals can relate to the topic that you’re teaching.
Tim Maness: And this is, I suppose, where we as religious professionals ought to make use of the religious stories that we’re accustomed to that focus on welcoming the stranger and opening our circle of people “like me” to embrace everyone, because that circle is going to be pushed further and further in. It will become narrower and narrower. I think that part of the way that people try and insulate themselves against feeling compassion from others is with that exact – “oh, they chose to live there.” There are certain places on the planet that, you know, we, as relatively wealthy people living in the US, have sort of crossed off the list. So you say, “you know, that’s the sort of thing that happens in a place like that.” And I see that sort of language creeping farther and farther. We see it in the way that people talked about Puerto Rico…
Ruth Shaver: Oh yes, I was gonna say that.
Tim Maness: That, you know, “that’s just a third-world country, you know, we can’t expect –“
Ruth Shaver: And never mind that it’s a United States Territory and they’re American citizens.
Tim Maness: Yeah, they’re Americans. In California, you know, it’s oh, you know, fires happen there, that’s just, you know, down to the way they do things out there, “none of my business, you know, I can’t change that.”
Myriam Renaud: Well, I think I agree. I think also that where religious leaders come into – can really make a difference, is that I think religious narratives are such that they talk about sacrifice, that religious people talk about sacrifice to help others. And that we’re called upon, for the sake of the good of others, to be willing to give up something that we hold very precious. And I think that’s kind of why we let things roll off. Because we don’t want to move into smaller houses, we don’t want to give more money to help them settle in other places, we don’t want a flood of new people into our school district –
Ian Binns: – they’ll “bring it down.”
Myriam Renaud: – because there’ll be 36 students in my son’s classroom – and right now, there’s only 20, and I really love that for him. So I think the notion of sacrifice is something religious.
Ruth Shaver: In the case of New Hampshire, because property taxes are directly tied to the number of students in the school district – I was talking to somebody who had been on the town council in his town, which has partial control of the school budget. And there were three new families that moved in, with a total of seven kids between them. And people were upset that these families moved in, because it raised their taxes by, you know, $100 a year. It’s like – these families moved here because we have a good school system – you know, the sacrifice is $100 per family. You know, that kind of thing.
It reminds me, we were talking earlier in our big session and Geoff mentioned, what was it, the – Adam, Joseph and Jonah, or whatever it was, that cycle, the three that had to do with climate change, and those kinds of things. Or maybe Rachael mentioned it. But you know, I was thinking about Joseph, and his foresight from the vision that he had, to save up 20% of everything that was grown over seven years, to prepare for a famine that would last for five years, or vice versa, whatever it is. You know, it’s like, we don’t do that kind of thing – unless, well, Latter Day Saints do, they have their storehouses and whatnot. But most of us, unless we’re Doomsday preppers, we don’t do that kind of thing, we don’t save, we don’t stock up. And as a society, we certainly don’t invest in future-related things, to be prepared for it, because it’s sacrificial.
Tim Maness: I think – just as a side point, it’s also good to point out that in that passage, Joseph takes action. There’s not an attitude of, you know, “Well, I, Joseph, and my people, we’re beloved of God, and therefore God will provide for us, so we don’t have to do anything.” The form that Providence takes is – we find out, we need to know what’s going on, and we act on that knowledge.
Ian Binns: So instead of doing what – let me make sure I’m understanding correctly. Sorry to interrupt. That whole notion of – there are many people who argue that we shouldn’t be thinking about impacting or adjusting or fixing climate change, however you want to say it, and the ramifications of it, because God will provide, God won’t do this – Joseph kind of countered that argument.
Ruth Shaver: Because Joseph had the vision. So once he had the vision –
Ian Binns: So he could have said, “well, God will provide, so there’s nothing for us to do,” but instead, he acted.
Ruth Shaver: But he recognized that the vision was God’s way of providing. OK, so how do we, then – follow my train of thought here, if it goes to a station – if we take this national climate change report as the vision, how do we tell the story of that vision in a way that’s compelling, so that people will take the action that they’re capable of taking, as individuals, as families, and as communities? You know, even if it’s one community of faith at a time, or one individual family a time, how do we get people moving along that way, so that the next report, or the report after that, is slightly less dire?
Tim Maness: I think that part of the way that we’ve talked about climate change – we’ve allowed it to be spoken of as though concern for the environment was a sort of luxury good.
Myriam Renaud: It was optional.
Tim Maness: Yeah. In a sort of – “there’s the environment, and beautiful national parks, but you know, really, what is that compared to the needs of people”? And I don’t want to have the argument now, that we had actually in our previous video, of you know, what is the value, in themselves, of other “pretty good things.”
But I think that it would help us if we tell the story around people first. If we say, people are in danger – the jobs that people depend on are in danger, not just of becoming harder, but of vanishing altogether, or becoming impossible to do. The communities where people live are at risk of being destroyed, or of becoming uninhabitable. People themselves are at risk of, you know, harm to their life, to life and limb. I think that is an important framing for talking about climate change, that this is not just our responsibility to the environment in the abstract, though that’s a good conversation to have as well, but this is about our responsibility to our fellow human beings.
Myriam Renaud: Well I do think, also, the key is changing laws. That you may not be able to change hearts and minds, and you may not be able to motivate people to be willing to sacrifice, or to be more hospitable, and more welcoming of their neighbor… the reality also, if you’re going to go theological, you could say that we’re all fallen, and it’s our tendency to want to protect what we have, and to maintain and hold on to the things that we value.
And so perhaps ultimately, it’s advocacy, it’s lobbyists, it’s changing the law, so that those who would look the other way are really actually compelled to change their behavior, whether it’s something that comes from within or without. That we can’t wait anymore for people’s consciousness to change around climate change. The best thing we can do, as us, is to pass laws that make all of us behave in ways that are going to preserve what we have. Because I do think that the world has already changed in ways that there’s no turning back. But we can perhaps stop the clock, or –
Ian Binns: So the issue with that, and I do agree, I think that’s what a lot of this needs to take, it’s that laws that need to be change, but it’s the people who are writing those laws. They don’t have any incentive to change right now, because of lobbying from big businesses, and coal, oil, and all those people.
So then it comes down to going back to the people, having the voters be the ones – but, the issue there is that what is the narrative that they’re getting? When you have people who – I appreciate Al Gore, and I appreciate what he’s done trying to bring it to the forefront, but I partially feel like Al Gore needs to not talk anymore when it comes to climate change, because the issue around that is that people have successfully put him as the face of climate change, and a lot of people hate him, because he’s a Democrat and liberal. So they hate him for that, and so they will always equate him with climate change, and hate climate change, because of a successful campaign to –
Myriam Renaud: A successful narrative that tied Gore to climate change.
Ian Binns: Correct. And that’s what this all comes down to, is the story that’s told, the narrative that’s told, to get people to do what you want them to do. And unfortunately, we live in a society where a lot of that is indirectly or directly controlled by money, because the money helps determine what the narrative is.
And so you have to get – first of all, you have to get lawmakers who are willing to sacrifice their job and career as a lawmaker to make those changes. Because I mean, we know that – I can’t remember who it was, it was a gentleman up north, further north than this, what he did – it was back in 2009, 2010, with the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military. And I always forget his name, but I really want to meet this guy someday. And he was an elected official in the House of Representatives, and he was the one who really pushed for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And there’s apparently a little story that came out where Obama went to him, his office, after a long morning, and said “if you do this, understand you’ll lose re-election. You need to know that.”
And apparently his response was that he wanted it to be where his children, one day, his sons would one day, say “what my daddy do when he worked down in Washington?”, that they’d be proud. We’re not gonna get a lot of people like that who run, because they don’t – people ask me if I would run. There’s no way I would put my family through that. I just can’t do it, because of what they’ll go through for me to want to run for office. It’s just – I can’t fathom actually doing that to my family.
So there needs to be things in place to protect those, away from all the lies and everything and the slander that’s presented – there’s a way to change that narrative. I mean, anything could be said now, and it doesn’t matter what it is. You could say anything.
Ruth Shaver: It doesn’t matter if it’s true.
Ian Binns: Correct. You could say anything. It doesn’t matter. If you have a pedestal to stand on, and you have a voice at the moment, it doesn’t matter what you say, people are going to believe you. And we see that with our current administration.
Ruth Shaver: Or they’re going to believe you if they’re entrenched in the narrative that you’re selling, and part of that, because I think –
Ian Binns: If you’re perceived as one of us.
Ruth Shaver: Correct. And I think there’s also – some of the whole climate change piece is also related to religious understanding, because I think there is a divide, in American Christianity in particular, between the mainline Progressive denominations and even the mainline more conservative and the Evangelical traditions that are not progressive. So progressives and traditionalists, I guess, is probably the best way to say that right now. Because there is that narrative, that “it doesn’t matter what we do, God’s in control, and if this is happening, it’s God’s doing” on the one side. But then there’s also the narrative within progressive Christianity that says that, you know, “we’ve done a lousy job of being stewards of creation, and we need to repent and change before we destroy creation.”
Tim Maness: And so then it comes down to –
Ian Binns: – who’s right.
Ruth Shaver: Who’s right, exactly.
Ian Binns: And that’s the issue in the – sorry to interrupt – I think that what needs to happen, then, is it needs to come down to religious leaders within the more traditional Christian part of the US – however we want to call it, sorry, I’m tired. We want to get them to understand what it is that should be done. Because people will listen to them. But it comes down to a discussion of which narrative is correct when it comes to our interpretation of the Bible and those passages. Is it that we’re supposed to take control over everything, and God will just provide, and we can do whatever we want, or is it that we’re supposed to give up –
Tim Maness: Give up everything, you mean?
Ian Binns: Yeah. But what I mean is that we are the top pinnacle, and it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re provided for, so we can do whatever we want, type of mentality. Or, is it that we need to recognize that we are part of nature, part of the system, and we’re good stewards of the environment and of the earth, and that we need to take care of things. Which one’s right?
Ruth Shaver: Yeah, exactly. And you can kind of see that those leaders in the more traditional elements of Christianity in the United States, who do speak up about climate change, tend to get beaten down or kicked out. You know, Brian McLaren is the one that comes to mind for me, because he’s been vocal about a number of issues. And finally they had enough, and you know, he’s now firmly aligned with most of the progressive trends. Rob Bell is another one –
Ian Binns: That I highly respect.
Ruth Shaver: And they’ve spoken what they’ve come to understand, and they’ve lost their standing in that particular community. You know, and I listen to some of the folks on the ethical – I don’t remember what it’s called, but it’s the ethics board for the Southern Baptists. They make big statements, but then they kind of walk them back, because they’ve gone out a little too far. And it’s like, no really, do you realize how many of your churches, how many of your congregations have been affected by climate change due to hurricanes in the last five years? You know, if your insurance people were to put the number in front of you, maybe that would make a difference. But then that goes back to money.
Myriam Renaud: Well, it also goes back to – climate change activism has been, now, coded as progressive, and so how do you remain – how do you maintain the claim that you are traditional in your theology, and yet you’re advocating for something that’s become coded as a progressive agenda? So I think that’s where the pushback happens, for those who are stepping into that territory.
Ian Binns: And I think the biggest thing, we talked about this earlier, is to recognize that it takes sacrifice. You know, if you are a religious leader in the community, you are potentially sacrificing your standing within the community and your relationship with all those people. I’m sure we all can think of people who, as they were growing up, were taught in a more fundamentalist – or grew up in a more fundamentalist household. They get to college, something happens, either in college or elsewhere, that changes their perception of things, and how they view that particular way of believing. And they’re ostracized for it from their entire family.
Myriam Renaud: So in the same way that you are suggesting that politicians should be willing to take a stand, even if it means that they’re not re-elected, you’re suggesting that some religious leaders need to be willing to take a stand, even if it means that they lose their standing in their community.
Ian Binns: Yes, because unfortunately, that’s the way it is. That’s how it works right now.
Ruth Shaver: And it isn’t just in the traditional congregations either. There are some progressive congregations, that have elements of conservatism within them, where if a pastor takes a stand, it could mean their livelihood.
Ian Binns: And, I will not say the person’s name, but I know someone personally that that happened to. And I think about, too, over a decade ago the Episcopal Church split because of Jean Robinson, the openly gay bishop. He was elected as a bishop, consecrated as a bishop, and because of that, some of the more conservative parishes and conservative congregations left the Episcopal church, completely left it, and created the Anglican Church of America or something like that.
Ruth Shaver: Which is in the diocese of Nigeria or something.
Ian Binns: So they’re completely different now, because of that one thing.
Tim Maness: For those of us within the Christian tradition – Jesus is very clear, this is the sort of thing that will happen if you try to do the right thing.
Ruth Shaver: Exactly, yeah, it really is. It’s interesting because, of course, the first Sunday in advent is this week, and the Scripture passages from Luke 21, which is an apocalyptic passage, talking about the signs and portents. And you know, I was very happy that this was happening this week, because I can focus on this sermon from what we’ve talked about.
Myriam Renaud: So you’re kind of suggesting kind of imitatio dei.
Tim Maness: Yeah.
Ian Binns: What is that?
Myriam Renaud: Imitation of Christ – imitation of God.
Ruth Shaver: Yeah, exactly. It is, and it’s tough. But it goes back to that sacrifice, it goes back to that notion. So the question I will leave us with is: what story of sacrifice does the narrative need to become, so that people are engaged with it? What can [we] reach them with to get them oriented toward it, so that they can then perhaps make other sacrifices down the way? You know, [for example], I sacrifice a straw in my fast food beverages and at restaurants.
Ian Binns: Well, one thing that I want to end with is – at least for me, I know I dominated and I apologize. Some of the stuff I do with social media and me trying to fight or argue against the narrative of fundamentalism and how people view that as “that’s what all Christians are like,” you know, I’ve been called many, many things. But what I’ve told people is that in my congregation, in my church, the religious leaders, when we’re going through the search process, and we’ve hired our new rector, but the concern I was having was is that did they have my back? And I know they did, but I would keep using the metaphor of “if I’m gonna walk out on that limb and it was cut off from under me, I want to know you’re there to catch me.”
And I just kept having that image in my head. Well then I went to go see a friend of mine, she’s a counselor, we’re always kind of talking, and I mentioned the same thing. And her perspective was absolutely amazing. She said “Why don’t you just reach for another branch?” And I was like, Oh. She said, “so you’re making a sacrifice, which you need to make, but Ian, that’s not the only branch that exists. There are other branches.”
Myriam Renaud: And some might say God is there to catch you always.
Ian Binns: So I really appreciated that from her, because now I have a totally different perspective from her saying that one sentence.
Ruth Shaver: Absolutely, that’s fabulous.