The 90’s “challenge” of the Internet and the “New” challenge of the Ecological Crisis

Back in 1990-91, I was in the M.A. in Religious Communications program at United Theological Seminary. It was a strategic time for Communications in that it was the dawn of the age of the Personal Computer and The Internet. I finished up that program with an eye toward the role of the Internet in extending the reach of the Church, and exploring the ways in which community could be enabled, enhanced, and expanded as the tools for interacting across space and time emerged and became ubiquitous.

I followed up that MA by working in the computer field (selling them, doing support work, and teaching myself Web “languages”). That took about 5 years to come to a point where I got my first denominational job in “Web Ministry” at the United Methodist Publishing House. That 5 year period was a time when church organizations were discovering the value and potential for the Web in communication and tools for ministry. Prior to then, there was scarcely any notice of the Internet, even though the “Internet” had been in existence for a couple of decades (“construction” having been started in 1969). The Web is what seemed to have brought it to the masses.

We have a similar, but more urgent recognition that needs to be realized today: the Ecological Crisis we face. The science has been around for a century or more, but it was not until James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988 about the urgency of responding to the disturbing growth of CO2 in the atmosphere, that people in this country started noticing in large numbers. The aforementioned 5 year “incubation period” to which I referred in the above story about the church organizations “noticing” the opportunities of the Internet and Web, was a much shorter incubation period than what it has taken for some of our country’s churches to “wake up ” to the urgency of the ecological crisis. It has taken 25 years and more for the movements to have been noticed and momentum beginning to build around the urgency of the call to care for Creation. A field of ecotheology has picked up momentum and speed.

So, I tell this story because it seems well past time for the church to proclaim that it has officially noticed that we have a situation here that is fraught with theological implications and calls to urgent action and discernment of new eco-centric calls to ministry. Newspapers and media have developed “Climate” beats, with writers dedicated to the vastly expanding desks of coverage of inter-related “Climate issues” and “Ecosystems” under siege. It is time for the church leadership to devote many many resources and create eco-ministry positions to address this challenge, just as they have long realized that ministry itself presents its challenges in many areas which end up producing “Youth Ministries”, “Children’s Ministries”, “College Ministries”, “Singles Ministries”, “Pastoral Counseling”, “Music Ministries”, etc.

News agencies of trhe churches should be moving to ramp up the “coverage” of the issues surrounding this ecological crisis, and how and why the church is called to such work (it’s called “doing theology”, and we’ve had a lot of experience in developing theological communications around justice work of various kinds, such as economic and racial justice. We seem to have a lot of writers who are very good in articulating the issues around race, sexual orientation, and work with the poor and in meeting disaster.

But our writing has a big gap between the level of urgency and the amount of articulated response to the ecological crisis. The issue (and issues around it) generate FAR less “print” than issues with which we have become all too familiar (the aforementioned race, gender, economics, and disaster). We need far more extensive “Eco-desks”, and people to man them and keep us informed and , hopefully, MOTIVATED as a result (meaning spreading the message more widely throughout all the communications of the churches: from the denominational level down to the more local expressions, and in preaching, teaching, faith formation, liturgy, and worship).

The urgency of the crisis creates an urgency for our readiness to the task of discerning that centers in what we are called to do in this crisis. We need a re-ordering of resources and attention appropriate to the vastly increased consciousness of the crisis that has been heightened by the dramatic uptick of concern from the Climate Science community that we are running out of time (or perhaps HAVE run out of time, depending on what we are talking about: we have “kicked the can down the road” for 30 years, and thus “locked us in” to certain levels of consequences, that we are seeing now (and just the beginnings of those consequences). The question now may be , rather, how bad are we willing to let this get? How many future lives do we wish to spare as much chaos as possible? Is that something worth our radical investment of time and resources? It is. We must be talking at a level of “Eco-Reformation”. We have some considerable “re-education” and “Formation” to do in the days ahead, in order to form a people of readiness and commitment to respond.

(Additional thought added, Wednesday, August 14, 11:18 am CDT)

It is also a rather convenient (and happy) coincidence that we have 20 years of Internet and Web development and tools available to help us with the urgent Communications and collaboration tasks we have ahead of us in meeting the challenge of the Ecological Crisis. Take all my initial envisioning of “possibilities” for online community in the church, and do exponential multiplication on it and lets put into action to enable us maximum collaboration!

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