In a story that would seem to be some kind of satire, a seminary where students gathered together during a chapel ceremony to “confess,” “grieve” and “sorrow in prayer” toward an assortment of potted plants laid out on the floor, actually took place as a part of an activity that, school officials say, was done to “atone for the harm” caused by climate change.
Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a progressive-identifying school located in New York City, which is affiliated with nearby Columbia University, tweeted out a picture and message on Tuesday from a chapel meeting where students gathered around various plants as an “offering” to the “beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.” The tweet asked the question, “What do you confess to the plants in your life?”
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? pic.twitter.com/tEs3Vm8oU4
— Union Seminary (@UnionSeminary) September 17, 2019
In subsequent tweets following the initial announcement, the school continued to refer to plants as “beings,” and acknowledged they were “worshiping,” and “speaking directly in repentance.”
“We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel, conducted as part of @ccarvalhaes‘ class, ‘Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response.’ In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance,” the tweet reads. “We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation. 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,” a follow-up post says.
“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?” another tweet asks.
UTS, which was once connected with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., is headed by Serene Jones. Jones, who identifies as a feminist and is the author of the book, “Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace,” is the 16th and first woman president of the 179-year-old institution.
Christian News Network reached out to Union Seminary and spoke to Virgina Fischer, the administrative assistant to the president, who was not able to comment on the matter, nor wanted to speak about whether or not she personally confesses to plants, or if she believed in the God of Scripture. Instead, Ms. Fischer referred Christian News to a Facebook post made by Miguel Angel Escobar, in which he writes about wrestling with what he hashtagged “#PlantGate.”
In the Facebook posting, Escobar states that he is “taken aback” and “saddened” by the response from his “respected colleagues from around the Episcopal Church,” which “have ranged from outright mockery to a thoughtful evaluation of the service from an Episcopal/Anglican viewpoint.” Fischer goes on to state the school is an “interdenominational and interreligious seminary” with “a strong Episcopal/Anglican contingent,” but “also [has] a very strong Buddhist and Muslim presence on campus.”
“There are students from many Christian denominations as well as a growing number of students who come from no denomination at all, but who are drawn by the deep social justice values of this seminary. In this religious diversity, Union reflects the world. So too, then, do the noon worship services that happen each day,” he further cited.
The Scriptures state in Romans 1:21-25: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”