Union Theological Seminary in New York City has long been one of the most respected and academically-prominent institutions in mainline liberal Protestantism. Earlier this week, during a chapel service, the seminary students confessed their ecological sins to plants.
The seminary sent out this tweet on Tuesday:
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.
What do you confess to the plants in your life?
Responding to the ridicule, the seminary issued a statement defending prayer and supplication to plants. Here are some excerpts, from Jon Brown, “Absolute theological bankruptcy”: Union Theological Seminary students confess climate sins to plants:
“We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel,” the statement read in part. “In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual.”
“We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation,” the statement continued. “Far too often, we see the natural world only as resources to be extracted for our use, not divinely created in their own right—worthy of honor, thanks and care. We need to unlearn habits of sin and death. And part of that work must be building new bridges to the natural world. And that means creating new spiritual and intellectual frameworks by which we understand and relate to the plants and animals with whom we share the planet.”
Encouraging churches to turn from “theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth,” Union asserted that “we must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy.”
“No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other,” the statement went on. “What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed. Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them? So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking: Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings?”
So if human beings can apologize to each other, why can’t human beings apologize to plants? (Do you see a logical error here?) I’m glad that Union is so committed to creationism. But since everything is God’s creation, does that mean we can communicate to everything? As the seminary is “birthing” new plant-centric theology and liturgies, those of us with more orthodox theologies can take heart that whatever the problems in our churches, mainline liberal Protestantism is in far worse condition.
Photo of the plant liturgy from Union Theological Seminary Twitter Account