Every successful justice movement has its seminal speeches and moments that galvanize the movement, capturing the imagination of a core group of people who are then able to spread it outward. These justice movements have songs that touch and focus people's emotions, drawing people together within that movement. In the U.S. civil rights movement, a central song was "We Shall Overcome" and in the labor movement, there was "We Shall Not Be Moved." Although there are songs specific to the climate justice movement, in the church, these sorts of songs have been absent.
...like other movements for justice, we need songs to sustain, guide, and inspire us.
The Porter's Gate (a worship collective that intentionally brings together people from different denominations, theologies, races and cultures to create diverse worship music for churches around specific themes), the Evangelical Environmental Network, the World Evangelical Alliance and Million Prayer Mission are working on a joint project to create "the world’s first, major Christian music album to focus on the climate crisis."
In the same way that the church has historically led in other areas of justice, many believe it is (past) time that the church take a leadership role in this area of justice.
Climate change hurts everyone, of course, but especially those who are least responsible for it: the poor, our children, and generations yet to be born. This is a serious injustice, and Christians are called to respond–with faith, hope, and love. With prayer, and with action…It has never been more urgent, and it’s time for us to step up. All of us…
The full album is scheduled to be released this April. In the meantime, other work is being done, including a #ClimateVigil that happened in November 2021 to garner support for the project. Since then, two songs for the new album have been recorded and released. As you listen to these two songs, notice the commonality with church worship songs that are familiar to you. How are these the same—and how are they different?
Brother Sun (based on the Canticle of St. Francis) hits upon the familiar theme of the beauty of this earth that God has made. This theme is one we find present in traditional and contemporary worship songs, such as This is My Father's World, All Things Bright and Beautiful, For the Beauty of the Earth, How Great Thou Art, and God of Wonders, to name a few. In addition, Brother Sun touches on the theme of creation being a witness to God's presence and power, another theme that has long found a home within church music.
But, Brother Sun moves beyond the theme of praise and celebration: "Brother sun, sister moon/Your light shines from the heavens," as we are shifted to a new, less familiar place, where we are called to take action in the arena of climate justice. We probably have not heard this call in worship songs before since worship songs about climate justice are scarce if not nonexistent.
With the phrase, "all you people/ join in the song/ there is work to be done/ for the glory /all the glory of the maker," Christians are directly called to see the work of climate justice as part of the mission of the church. This is a call to bring glory to God by acting in harmony with the rest of creation, not singing to God as the sole voice of praise, but as a part of the harmonious whole, one part of the song which the entire creation sings together.
The Promise, the second song that has been released by The Porter's Gate for this album, also begins on mostly familiar ground, but again moves to a place less familiar within the church.
The beginning of the song frames the earth, as a gift given to us:
"This gift you gave
from the beginning
blue water brimming
from the earth
there came a growing
From seed to bloom,
all the while you were sowing
it was love, love given in the water"
These lyrics are beautiful, and not so very unlike songs we may have sung before. However, lest we get too comfortable, we are then challenged with a pointed question to grapple with:
"God's earth, given with a promise - can we keep it?"
This idea of the earth as a conditional gift of God shifts the responsibility for its care directly onto humanity. It suggests that in the same way that we are capable of destroying (or nurturing) each other, systems of justice, and segments of the ecosystem, we must consider whether we have been given the capability of destroying (or nurturing) the earth itself. If we believe that God has made us caretakers of the earth, does that mean he has actually turned the care of the earth over to us—that our actions matter and have real results? From the song,
"...out from the silence I hear a voice. I follow it onwards
you whisper to me, I am reminded
of every gift you gave
So, spirit lead me unto the waters,
unto the earth you made
teach me the secret to ever
care for, to look after it."
Throughout the song, the lyrics continue to return us to the question— "Can we keep it?"
The climate crisis has become stuck in statistics; science can explain what is happening and why, but often that's where the information stays. Up until now, the engagement of Christians has been disappointing. As Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says, people decide to take action on climate change when you connect with their emotions and values. The purpose of the album and the campaign is to create worship music and arts that help the church wake up to this area of justice so that they can be leaders, rather than being dragged into it reluctantly and when there is finally no other choice. The goal is that Christians will see and feel the connection between what they know they care about and the movement for climate justice.
As Chris Elisara, director of the Creation Care Taskforce for the World Evangelical Alliance said, "The Bible says, 'the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.' For those of us called to love God and neighbor—and that includes every Christian—the overwhelming evidence of our climate emergency leaves us on our knees in prayer. That's where we find the strength to stand and act." The creation of songs to motivate us and give us vision for this work is something I eagerly look forward to.
You can keep track of the album's progress through The Porter's Gate Facebook page or can sign up for updates and hear more of their prior musical projects (such as "Work Songs" and "Neighbor Songs ") on their website.
Feel free, as always, to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.