Christian Stempert, East Liberty, Eco-Justice, Environment, General Assembly 2012, Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD Blog, PCUSA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbyterians for Earth Care, Randy Bush
by Christian M. Stempert
Rev. Randy Bush must be some sort of rock star in the PCUSA. On Sunday, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson served as the liturgist at East Liberty Presbyterian, where Bush denounced the Great Commission in his sermon to a standing-room-only crowd.
Later in the week, Bush was the featured speaker at the Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) luncheon held at First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. PEC describes itself as an “eco-justice network.” It is the most prominent environmental advocacy caucus in the PCUSA. Founded in 1995, it recently obtained office space with the Presbyterian Hunger Program at the denomination’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.
Following the opening liturgy, Diane Waddell, Moderator of the PEC Steering Committee, invited Leslie Wood of the PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness up to say a few words. “This has been a difficult year for environmental issues,” she said. “The EPA has been under attack by members of the Republican Congress, and still we’ve been addressing some of the most exciting environmental legislation in years.” According to Wood, it was through the work of the PEC and other “creation-loving” supporters that almost 300 of the comments submitted by the National Council of Churches is support of EPA carbon-emission regulations were from Presbyterians. It has in large part because of their “faithful witness” on environmental issues “that so much progress is being made.”
One of the most active Presbyterian congregations with regard to the environment is Randy Bush’s home church, East Liberty Presbyterian Church (ELPC) in Pittsburgh. ELPC is currently involved in the largest rainwater reclamation project in western Pennsylvania, a venture costing almost $10 million, 90 percent of which is funded by grants of taxpayer dollars from the federal and state governments. Bush spoke of his congregation’s desire to set an example of good Christian stewardship to their surrounding community.
At the beginning of his message, Bush invited the audience to join him in an examination of the creation stories in Genesis. He focused mainly on the account in Genesis 2, which tells of the creation of Adam and Eve, and according to him is the older of the two creation accounts. This is the more “personal” of the two stories; the Genesis 1 version is more “philosophical” and filled with “poetic license.”
The Genesis 2 account, explained Bush, shows us man’s purpose. Contrary to the teaching that Presbyterians have held to for hundreds of years, he said that the primary reason humans exist is “to partner with God in taking care of the Garden.” We live on a planet that we did not create, he explained. “Plants, animals, minerals, people, all things need all things…To be a Child of God, we must understand and accept this first rule of creation.”
The second rule of creation, according to Bush, is that “to live righteously and justly, you must work to promote the well-being of all.” He quickly added, “All means all, not just human things.” This role that human beings have possesses a sort of God-like quality; it is not an idea of subservience, but rather of equality. But humans have taken this too far, according to Bush. “We have become uncreators.”
But there is still hope, and Bush tried to offer some solutions. “Every topic can be shifted and framed and recast according to the needs and biases of the speaker,” he said. Because of this, we have to “be willing to talk about policy and practices even more than morality.” The main question we should be asking when it comes to decision-making is: “Is it fair to all concerned? We should step back from trying to prove our position with data and arguments,” and start with the issue of fairness.
A second idea that Bush brought up was what he perceives as a misunderstanding that that many Christians have come to over the issue of stewardship. “Everyone talks about stewardship in terms of money,” he lamented. “We should work to do in this generation what is sustainable for seven generations,” he said. “That is good stewardship.”