The business of being a good neighbor

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Farmer holding kid

In our global economy, our daily lives are increasingly interconnected – from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to even the cars we drive – these resources are connected to our neighbors living and working across the world. Typically, when we think of loving our neighbors, we focus on direct acts such as meeting needs, providing comfort, showing kindness, and offering forgiveness. But what about indirect impacts? While we may be faithful in loving our neighbors near us, what if the way we are living or our choices are causing unforeseen harm in others? What would be our responsibility as Believers?

In the Micah 6:8, the Lord requires us to “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Perhaps, part of loving our neighbor is striving to live in a way where our everyday choices and actions reflect what God has called us to. As Christians, we are called to not only love our neighbors, but to stand up against injustice, to “Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). We need to be sensitive that loving our neighbor may also require us to act or speak out at times when we know that they are being harmed.

For example, many churches, including my local congregation in Minneapolis, serve coffee before and after church services as a way to help foster community relationships. During the last decade or so, many congregations started learning more about the negative impacts to farm workers by the coffee industry and began questioning whether the coffee they were serving matched the values they stood for.  As a result, many churches decided to pay higher prices to purchase Fair Trade Coffee in order to help ensure that the coffee they served every week was providing fair prices to coffee growers and supporting local communities.

While individual lifestyle choices are important, there are some problems in this world that cannot be solved by personal choices alone but may require systemic change and a collective voice. For instance, you could change all the light bulbs in your house to LEDs and lower your electricity use, but this does not change that the source powering those bulbs may be coming from a coal-fired power plant that is releasing toxic amounts of air pollution and harming the health of our neighbors and God’s creation.

I have been working in the environmental community for over 10 years. It is because of my deep love for God, my desire to protect His creation, and my concern for the health and well-being of God’s people that brought me into this work. Throughout these ten years, I have repeatedly witnessed that when we fail to be good stewards of the environment, often the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, and the unborn – are the most negatively impacted.

People can be surprised to learn that roughly half of our electricity in Minnesota is generated from coal-fired power plants. These plants produce more than just electricity. Coal-fired power plants in the state release more than a third of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions and many other dangerous air pollutants. That means, a high percentage of the electricity powering our churches, schools, and homes may be damaging the health of Minnesotans and our environment and not be in line with the values we stand for.

What does this mean for members of the body of Christ? Do we have a responsibility to call on our electric companies to act as good neighbors- to do business in a way that does no harm to others? What would happen if thousands of Christians put forth a new vision for our energy system- one that is guided by our love for God, and by justice, mercy, and stewardship? How do we wrestle with both the call for us as individuals to speak out and protect our neighbors but also ensure that the Church does not become political or off mission?

There are many questions and no easy answers. But as Christians, we should be willing to struggle with these difficult questions and to be sensitive to where the Spirit may be calling us.  I am optimistic that as we humbly wrestle with these complex issues, together we can ensure that our whole way of life, including our daily choices and actions, increasingly reflects our deep love for God and our neighbors.

This article first appeared in February 2014 in the Minnesota Christian Examiner.

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