“Is God’s Charity Broad Enough For Bears?”
I have a difficult relationship with the institution of the Church. Often, what drives me away from organized religion is the pressure to be the stereotypical Christian. In many churches, especially in the south, there is pressure to be a traditional fundamentalist, which feels very exclusive to those of us who don’t fit the mold. The dedication to the denial of evolution in the natural world and all of the new knowledge that divinely inspired science has presented us with is incomprehensible for me.
The Catholic Church has also been a sore subject for me over the years. Learning about corruption, violence, and gender inequality, along with other injustices, in Church History with Dr. Leonard has solidified my distaste for the institution. The Catholic history is grisly and not something that I feel like I can support. I am finding, however, that many contemporary Catholic figures seem to be moving in the right direction. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si pushed for reform in valuing the Earth as a gift from God to be taken care of. Elizabeth Johnson, a Catholic theologian, echoes this call for preserving the Earth as well as promoting the revolutionary changes of the Second Vatican Council.
Considering my history and stubbornness, it was shocking to realize that Johnson is one of my favorite theologians. It was a pleasure to hear her speak at the 2016 Steelman Lecture at Wake Forest. Her question “Is God’s charity broad enough for bears?” led us down an unexpected path. It’s not every day that you hear quotes from Scripture and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in the same lecture! She advocated brilliantly against ecological destruction and the greater negative effect that it has on people living in poverty, including minority populations. She challenged the popular notion of dominion: that Creation was created for us and for our use indefinitely. Johnson claimed that God is “madly and passionately” in love with our natural world. For this reason and many others, we are called to protect it.
The environment should be an integral part of our faith, not a separate or unrelated matter. Johnson’s argument considered the Earth and its relation to God and Jesus, respectively. God’s Creation is constantly occurring, divinely sparking all life around us. Johnson goes so far as to call the natural world sacramental and capable of communicating God’s revelation to us. Jesus’ “earthy” life confirmed the passion that God has for us and the Earth. He reminds us that no creature dies without God’s knowledge and compassion. It is clear that Johnson believes that God’s charity is broad enough for all of Creation, including bears.
Elizabeth Johnson’s Catholic theology is one that I enjoyed immensely. It is wonderfully inclusive, loving, and compassionate for all Creatures and Creation. It does not discount the Truth that God has revealed to us through science. While I continue to feel that my Christianity does not fit into any box, it is encouraging to know that there are others out there that are doing theology outside of the box, challenging the status quo.
Kim is a joint M.Div and M.A. in Counseling student, originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. Prior to attending Wake Forest University, she attended University of North Carolina at Wilmington and worked in community mental health. In her free time, Kim enjoys Netflix, crafting, and spending time outside.