Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Sanctity of Mind

Written by: on April 5, 2019

The image above shared with me by Union Theological Seminary Professor Emeriti Larry Rasmussen demonstrates one of the largest hurdles climate scientists face when discussing the issues of climate change.  Often when discussing global warming, climate change or the climate crisis, changing our lifestyles, our former beliefs, or dare I say our elephants[i], ends up being the most difficult challenge for anyone making a scientific or even a moral argument.  Why become a zero waste facility when it costs more money?  Why advocate for cleaner air when we have all this carbon to burn?  Why not cut down the sacred glen, when we could build an apartment building on that same site and add to our tax base?

The last example I lift up in large part because the church I currently serve did cut down a sacred glen.  Back in 1876 a new congregation was formed and the location of our current building was chosen because of the beautiful fir trees that lined Boston Post Road.  Intended to be a memorial to that natural beauty, the original name of our church was “Huguenot Memorial Forest Church” and was only legally renamed within the last five years.  I often think of our history when stories of the Keystone Pipeline are in the news[ii], or when people like Rick Ufford-Chase (one of my interviewees for this semester!) are arrested for speaking up for sacred spaces.[iii]

In fact, tying creation care to the issues of sanctity (one of Haidt’s six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems which include: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity[iv]) has been one of the green movements most creative shifts over the past decade.  Exercises such as intentionally asking someone to remember a foundational or even spiritual experience that took place in their life somewhere in the out of doors and then to meditate on that experience, have resulted in seismic shifts about how individuals (whether they are right, center, or left) relate to, and wish to care for, the earth.  Common responses to this question range from examples like hiking, camping or fishing with loved ones while a child, to high school football games being played on “sacred ground” or visiting a famous ball park or golf course, like Wrigley Field or Augusta National Golf Club.  A trained discussion leader, like Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith (another one of my interviewees!) can then direct the conversation in a way that allows the participants to truly remember all that is good and mystical about their memory, by drawing out all the emotions one carries about that experience.  And then at just the right time, the participant is asked to imagine, what they would feel like, if that sacred location, all of a sudden, became the dumping site for toxic waste.  You can imagine everyone’s instant distaste for the proposed scenario . . . even though it is both less revolting, and more common, than many that Haidt gave in this week’s reading!

Earlier this semester, Larry Rasmussen reminded me that one of our jobs as people of faith is to never forget that we are the “keepers of the sacred.  We must ask what do the trees want?  What do the rivers want?  And then sing the old songs, because we are the home of the prophetic voice.”[v]  Caring for creation through prayer, worship and song . . . that sounds pretty righteous to my mind.


[i] Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. (London: Penguin, 2012), 49.

[ii] Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner, “Trump to sign order seeking to clear gas pipeline hurdles: Kudlow,” Reuters, April 3, 2019,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-gas-trump/trump-to-sign-order-seeking-to-clear-gas-pipeline-hurdles-kudlow-idUSKCN1RF1V5

[iii]Nick Smith, “Arrests made following rally of protesters, clergy at Capitol,” The Bismarck Tribune,  November 3, 2016,  https://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/bismarck/arrests-made-following-rally-of-protesters-clergy-at-capitol/article_37e60709-a2e2-511f-be4b-2db6608ae6e6.html.

[iv] William Saletan, “Why Won’t They Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt,” New York Times, March 23, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html

[v] Larry Rasmussen, February 2, 2019.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

6 responses to “Sanctity of Mind”

  1. Karen Rouggly says:

    This is powerful. I love this. Thanks for your wisdom and the way you are championing this cause for so many!

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Great post! I’m always amazed that no matter where you fall ( les, center, right ) we forget what Genesis says in that we were created from the dust of the ground and therefore are a part of the earth. As believers this should make us want to care for the earth as much as possible But some continue to igonre. What are some of these elephants you think causes to ignore?

  3. Jenn Burnett says:

    Two weeks ago we had a speaker come to share with us from A Rocha Canada and one of the things that stuck with people was that we are called to extend hospitality to wildlife as well as people. She invited us to consider how to make our yards or gardens places where wildlife could find a home and find rest, how we could better create hospitable places for these creatures made by God. It was such a beautiful way of shaping the story of what it means to care for creation. What do you think the biggest barrier in the church is to taking greater action? I’ve never met anyone personally who doesn’t believe in climate change, but have have met people who prioritize the economy of a given area over it (hence the Keystone pipeline debate up here…incidentally I live in the hold out province doing its darndest to stand against it). What might our role as pastors look like as we hold in tension the concerns of the local vs global community and the current vs future generations?

  4. Sean Dean says:

    Manifest destiny is a thing that has not served us in the church or the earth well. Unfortunately it’s become a rabid elephant within so much of American society. Turning the tide to see that destroying the earth for our gain is actually hurting us as well, while also denying God’s given work for us is a daunting challenge. Thanks for championing this cause.

  5. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Powerful post, Jacob. Thanks for the reminder that we are “keepers of the sacred.” Understanding that the spiritual walk is different for everyone and learning to appreciate (even though we may not condone) the differences in others is a first step to serving as a disciple and following Christ’s commandment of unconditional love. Thanks for your gifts to other, Jacob.

  6. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jacob, Thanks for showing how Haidt’s foundational structure can aid creation care. You did an excellent job of connecting Haidt to your research and showing us how creation care can become “up close and personal” for each of us and therefore the responsibility of each of us. Thanks again and great post!

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