Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Praying for rain?

(Note: this blog is not meant to smear all evangelical Christians, as I know there are many socially and environmentally aware evangelical Christians out there. It is meant to highlight a particular sort of evangelical Christian, a sort that is rather prolific up here in rural reverend land)

I admit I find the local evangelical Protestants hard to understand. Some of the ideas and beliefs that particularly male evangelical Christians subscribe to are difficult to fathom, and they seem to live in a very small world dominated by a stern and humorless deity. They tend to be conservative politically, and feel women’s place is in the home. They could enter the TV set of Madmen and just be themselves, and no one would think they were out of place.

This week an email arrived in my inbox that announced that one of our evangelical colleagues had decided to call a Public Prayer meeting to pray for rain in our local area.

While public prayer meetings aren’t quite our style of ministry, we were happy to support it, and thought it might be an opportunity to also acknowledge that we should be concerned about where our planet is heading. Such a meeting could encourage people to also think about the causes of these current extreme weather events, and to consider the impact of changes in the climate on the earth, and think about taking some action themselves.

The other ministerial inhabitant of the house replied to the email, and suggested that we could perhaps also offer prayers that took into account the multiple effects that climate change was having on millions of people worldwide. He also provided some prayer sites that looked at the impact of climate change on human societies in many places around the globe, such as Tuvalu. You can find them here:

This seemed harmless enough to us, and quite topical in the light of the fact that half of Australia appears to be on fire, and those places not on fire are suffering from 40 plus centigrade temperatures. Scientists were already equating our extreme weather with climate change – see http://takvera.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/climate-change-causing-increase-in.html

The reply we got was therefore somewhat surprising. I doubt we will be praying for that, said our friend. Some people attending will be climate change – or maybe that is global warming - skeptics. Anyway, they are not true believers. And we will be looking to pray, not fight. I myself, as a tin pot scientist, have real questions about the supposed settled science. So my agenda, and not yours or anyone else’s will prevail. Unless of course, they agree with me.

Right then. No prayers for Tuvalu or Kiribati. Instead we will pray for “a change in the Human heart towards the Lordship of Jesus Christ and God's sovereign action response.” Then it will rain, sinners will be punished and all will be right with the world. The bible says so. Insists, in fact. I am reminded of Deuteronomy 28 and its curses. In case you are not familiar with Deuteronomy, the following is an extract from 28:16-68:

Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me. The LORD will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The LORD will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed. Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.

You can see the point Deuteronomy is making. So the future is bleak, should you not obey the Lord in very precise ways. And it appears the part of that bleakness is no rain.

If indeed our friend is thinking of Deuteronomy he is patently ignoring the fact that the curses are a result of not keeping the Law, and nothing to do with his concept of individual sin, or indeed with belief in Jesus. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus ever call down such curses on non-believers or sinners, though he does have a penchant for consigning them to hell in the afterlife, particularly in the gospel of Matthew. The sin however, differs markedly from the sin our evangelical friend is thinking of. Sin in the gospels is not helping the poor and oppressed. It is not sharing the good news with all. It is not recognizing the face of Jesus in your fellow human beings.

The other problem we Protestants have, and particularly evangelical denominations, is the lack of tradition to draw on. Protestant denominations do have a habit of splitting, and forming new denominations. Impoverished by the lack of rich tradition that the Orthodox and Catholics have, evangelical Protestants struggle to justify their ideas and actions.

The reason our friend gave for ignoring global warming (apart from his own and other skepticism) is that prayers for rain have a much, much, much longer history than supposed global warming.

This is all well and good, but what does it mean? Does it go all the way back to rituals of sacrificing virgins? To Apaches doing rain dances in feathered head dresses? To burying bodies in peat bogs? These also have a long and fine tradition of producing rain. Should we try all of these ancient practices in case one of them works better? Adopting the tactic of prayer ‘because it is older’, is bad theology. Saying climate science is wrong ‘because I think so’, is bad research. And voting for the National Party is unthinking politics. (I know that is irrelevant but it seems to be part of the rural evangelical package).

Relying solely on one’s own interpretation of scripture leaves evangelical Protestants at the mercy of their own experience, their own (usually white) culture and conservative politics, and their own prejudices. No tradition means that they can read whatever texts tend to support their own reason, and ignore others that don’t. Throughout history, this means that such Christians have supported institutions such as slavery, have discriminated against women, and are actively anti-homosexual. In modern times, they have also become climate skeptics, and pro-economy-at-the-expense-of-everything-else. Social justice is an irrelevancy, and care for the foreigner and alien is non-existent.

Praying for rain? Or praying that the environmentally expensive and insular way of Western living doesn't change? Are we praying that our eyes be opened, or that they remain shut tight?

It seems to me such praying is designed to make people think they have done something—indeed, done everything that is possible. There is no sense of responsibility here, no sense that by changing our individual and collective behaviour we might just be in time to stop the worst effects of climate change happening. God helps those who help themselves, and our looming environmental disaster is not going to be prevented by divine intervention alone.


  1. Umm.... looking back at this post from the perspective of October 2013... recalling the two massive storms and associated flood events, it seems their praying worked! Might they do that again please, we're parched!

    If it works, it should work again...

  2. Given those storms had been predicted two days earlier than the prayer meeting, I think it unlikely the praying was responsible. And it certainly hasn't worked since then, despite holding monthly prayer meetings. I don't think God quite works this way.