According to a report in Climate Progress, Pope Francis will issue a papal encyclical — one of the highest forms of official Church teaching a pope can produce — on Monday, June 22. It is said to clarify the position of the Church on certain Biblical passages that have been used for generations to promote the extraction of natural resources such as coal, oil and gas.
A copy of the encyclical, written in Italian, has been leaked ahead of its official promolgation, much to the consternation of the Vatican. The leaked document is entitled “Laudato Si” or “Praised Be.” It directly addresses the biblical claim that because God gave humanity “dominion” over the earth in Genesis, humanity has a right to exploit it at will. This has also been a popular position among American politicians, who have used God to advocate for the continued development of fossil fuels.
“We are not God,” the document reads. “The earth precedes us and was given to us. This allows us to respond to an accusation made against Judeo-Christian thinking: it has been said that, from the story of Genesis, which invites us to subjugate the earth (Genesis 1:28), the savage exploitation of nature would be encouraged, presenting the image of human beings as ruler and destroyer. This is not the correct interpretation of the Bible as intended by the Church.”
It continues, “Even though it is true that sometimes Christians have interpreted the scripture incorrectly, today we must forcefully refute the idea that from the fact of being made in the image of God and from the mandate to subjugate the earth that one can deduce an absolute dominion over other creatures. It is important to read the biblical texts in their context, with the right hermeneutics, and remember that these invite us to ‘cultivate and care for’ (Gen. 2:15) the garden of the world.
“While ‘cultivate’ means to plow or work a plot, ‘to care for’ means to protect, heal, preserve, conserve, to watch over. This implies a responsible reciprocity between human being and nature. Every community may take from the bounty of the earth that which it needs for its own survival, but it also has the duty to protect it and ensure the continuity of its fertility for future generations.
“In the end, ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ (Psalms 24:1), to Him belongs ‘the earth and everything in it’ (Deuteronomy 10:14). Thus, God denies any pretense of absolute ownership: ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.’ (Leviticus 25:23).
Such words directly undermine the statements of such people as Sarah Palin, who once mused that oil and gas are “what God has created for man’s responsible use.” Ultra-conservative evangelist Bryan Fisher tells his followers that not using fossil fuels would be tantamount to an insult to God. “God has buried those treasures there because he loves to see us find them,” he says.
Even the Republican National Committee has wrapped itself in Scripture to justify wresting fossil fuels from the Earth in its official platform, which advocates “taking advantage of all our American God-given resources. That is the best way to advance North American energy independence.”
In his first papal mass in 2013, Pope Francis declared, “Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” In May 2014, he warned of the repercussions of inaction on climate change, saying “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
The indefatigable Pope Francis is using his papal office to advocate for a host of sorely needed changes in Church policy. In doing so, he is exercising leadership, something the Republican National Committee and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma — the infamous Senator Snowball — know nothing about. We can only hope the leaked encyclical becomes a reality and is not a hoax.