By Wayde Marsh, Duke Divinity School Intern
Being a student in a divinity school with graduates heading to careers in parishes, academia, nonprofits, and many other fields, I hear a lot of talk about finding my “vocation.” Being a student of a professional school within a large research university, I also hear a lot of talk about developing my “profession.” As people of faith, we understand that our vocation is God’s calling on our lives to live and act in particular ways for God’s glory. Discovering one’s vocation is a challenging endeavor. It may take years to figure out, and it often changes on us just when we get comfortable. Committing ourselves to continually and faithfully tune our ears to hear God’s calling is a serious and difficult pledge. And yet, discovering our vocation is really only half of the equation. The profession, the public declaration of response, is the necessary follow up to discerning our vocation. The profession is the way we demonstrate that we hear God’s calling and are faithful in acting in line with such a calling.
This year the Pope released an encyclical on climate change, charging the world’s largest Christian denomination at an estimated 1.23 billion adherents to commit itself to creation care. Also this year, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church have committed to divesting from fossil fuels, two years after the United Church of Christ’s commitment to divest. Representing approximately an additional 7.3 million, 1.9 million, and 1 million members respectively, momentum for divestment from fossil fuels is definitely moving in Christian communities. And yet, even these denominations express concerns about the possibility of actually enacting the divestment plans for which they have voted. The tension, as it often is with people of faith, is between the practical and the theoretical. In theory, these denominations would love to divest from polluting, unsustainable fossil fuels and invest in clean, sustainable energy that considers our responsibility to care for God’s creation. And yet in reality, such divestment would threaten pensions for those employed by the denominations and the overall financial health of the denominational structures.
To be sure, the Catholic Church, the UCC, the UMC, and the Episcopal Church, along with many individual congregations and organizations have discerned their vocation and have made a profession. The size of these denominations is one of their biggest strengths: when they make a public declaration, people hear them across denominational and religious boundaries. But their size is also holding them back from fully committing to divestment from fossil fuels and a system of consumption that destroys God’s creation. And so, it comes to individual congregations and Christians to commit to renewed vocation-seeking on issues of climate change and creation care. With the earth in increasingly dire conditions, we cannot rely upon large institutions alone to respond. This summer, in the wake of the prophetic first steps made by the Episcopal and Catholic Churches, the UMC and UCC, individual churches and people of faith in North Carolina, both those members of these denominations and outside them, must tune our ears to God’s calling for a cleaner earth and find ways to act.