I am surprised that there is not more writing or reflection on the opening salvo of the public ministry of Jesus. His first recorded words are quite remarkable and unequivocal in their focus and defiance:
“When he arrived at the village of Nazareth, his childhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and got up to read the scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was given to him. He unrolled the parchment and found the place where it was written
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim that the captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be liberated,
and that the time of the favor of the Lord has come.
“He rolled up the roll, handed it to the attendant and sat down. All the eyes of the synagogue were watching him attentively. Then he started talking to them. ‘The Scripture you have just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:16-21, NLT)
Jesus came to bring good news, what is called the gospel. God’s redemptive message to the world. There was also a concern for a particular group of people: the poor.
This is the third and final installment in an informal series of creative care blogs. It started with trying a simple and concise theology of creation care. In the second blog, I focused on just one concern – rainforests – and why they matter. Here I want to remind us all of one of the most overlooked aspects of creation care. To know that the litany of nightmarish environmental concerns – such as extreme heat, drought, landslides, the rise of intense storms and hurricanes, wildfires and melting glaciers – will fall from disproportionately on the poorest of the poor.
If you haven’t downloaded and read “Loving the Least of These” from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), I urge you to do so. You will read these words:
“Although the changing environment affects us all, the disproportionate devastation upon the most defenseless must break God’s heart. Creation, though groaning under the fall, is still meant to bless us. However, for too many people in this world, the beach is not about sunscreen and bodysurfing, but a daily reminder of rising tides and failed catches. Instead of a sip of fresh air from a lush forest, too many children breathe deeply to gasp with the toxic air that has irritated their lungs.
Vulnerable children in developing countries who are among the poorest of the poor are at the forefront of the devastation to come if we do not care for creation. The NAE report went on to describe four harrowing realities.
First, the poor and their children are more affected by disasters, especially in terms of housing and health. The reason for this is that they have no savings to deal with the loss of crops or homes, their livelihoods are more likely to depend on ecosystem resources, and they do not have insurance against floods or other disasters.
So when Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Harvey wiped out many coastal communities, the poor in those areas could not afford to rebuild.
Then there are disaster-related health issues.
Health problems related to climate change result from both sudden disasters and gradual changes such as heat waves, spread of disease, increase in parasites, air pollution, droughts, fires and flooding. Poor children are more likely to have asthma which is made worse by increased heat. Heat waves kill people who don’t have access to air conditioning, who can’t pay to go to cooler areas, and who can’t even open windows because of the risk of crime.
Here is a second reality: the poor and their children cannot afford the costs of prevention and survival. Or in technical terms, adaptation and mitigation costs.
Think about prevention or adaptation. People experiencing poverty are less likely to have reserve funds to allocate to adaptation efforts. If they choose to spend money to adapt or prepare for changes such as building cisterns, moving a settlement, or adding technology to save energy or water , they do so at the expense of other necessary things such as food, education or health care.
It becomes even more volatile in an economy based on fossil fuels as food prices follow a rise in oil prices, a phenomenon illustrated this year by the global rise in food prices after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war. .
Then there are the costs of survival, or mitigation.
Preventing greenhouse gas emissions means changing the structure of the economy. New technologies are first available to the rich and only later become available to the poor. Purchasing low-emission buses and vans for public transit and investing in other alternative energy infrastructure costs money that poorer communities simply don’t have.
Here is a third reality: The poor and their children are more likely to be displaced. Disasters, resource constraints and conflicts can cause massive displacement of people within and between countries.
Sea level rise due to melting glaciers is displacing countless coastal and island groups. We are already seeing coastal Alaskans forced from their homes as the sea invades their land, and Pacific Islanders moving out as their islands simply disappear. Coastal groups and islanders are often among the poorest of the poor and when displaced they have nowhere to go and no other way to survive.
Here is one last reality: The poor and their children are more likely to be affected by the resulting conflicts. Even the most cursory study of world history shows that a lack of resources leads to violent conflict over territory and property, with the poor often being the victims of conflict.
Those who are followers of Christ would be wise to remember such things. After all, those who plan to enter the Kingdom of God supposedly have one thing in common:
“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
“I was shaking and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in jail and you came to me.
(Matthew 25:35-36, Msg)
James Emery White
“Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment,” published by the National Association of Evangelicals, Revised Edition (2022), read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I believe”, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. .
Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.