The BP Oil Spill: A Christian Call for Lament and Reconciliation

As I type this I am looking out my office window at Tampa Bay and thinking about the volcano of oil that has been spewing into the Gulf for so many weeks.

What a pity that our country’s reaction is more anger at B.P. than shame at our complicity in this disaster.   While this particular episode happened under B.P.’s corporate flag, is there any reason to think B.P. is somehow more reckless than the other multi-national corporations sucking oil from beneath the Gulf to feed our habits?  Is there any reason to think this couldn’t just as easily happened on a Shell or Exxon platform?

I don’t think so.  Underwater drilling is inherently risky, and the risks are unacceptable.  This never should have been permitted and may we have the wisdom to finally stop it now.

I have to just shake my head in frustration when I read so many calls for increased government regulation of drilling and of oil companies.  It is the typical reaction in a culture that is dependent upon the government and oblivious to its inherent incompetence.

This well was drilled into the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, far from our shores.  It is in what is euphemistically called the U.S’s “zone of economic influence.”  This crime was committed because it was specifically authorized by the U.S. government.  The MMS, a typically corrupt and incompetent agency of the U.S. government, leased the drilling rights to B.P.  And with those rights came a $75 million limitation on economic liability, courtesy of the U.S. Congress which passed that law nearly unanimously after the Exxon Valdez disaster.  In the aftermath of that catastrophe Congress established a new federal agency, scads of new federal employees and a few volumes of new regulations, to protect us from that sort of thing ever happening again.  But to incent oil companies to keep on drilling, the limitation of liability was added.  Congress wanted to make sure that oil companies weren’t risking their existence when they drilled a well.  We were told that it was necessary to drill offshore to lessen our dependency on foreign oil.  So the taxpayers gave the oil companies an insurance policy with a $75 million deductible.  That’s probably less than the profits these companies earn in an hour.  B.P. alone pockets over $66 million in profits every day. And today we are more reliant on foreign oil than ever.  And we have ticking timebombs off our coasts.

So now the frightened and angry public goes crying back to the creator of the problem, begging it to fix it.  Protect us please.   We need more regulations.   A new and more powerful federal agency.  More government inspectors.  We need our president to go on TV and look angry.  We need an illusion of safety. 

And the next disaster is just a matter of time.

There are few folks who I think are seeing this correctly.  The Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation has issued a “call for lament and reconciliation,” which is being promoted by our friend Jason Fowler and his blogazine Sustainable Traditions

Here is the text of it:

The BP Oil Spill:
A Christian Call for Lament and Reconciliation
June 4, 2010

As followers of Christ, creator and redeemer of all creation, we mourn the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the BP oil spill now polluting the Gulf of Mexico. We mourn the human and animal lives lost, the economies and ecosystems destroyed, and the gifts of God, created from and for his love, squandered and poisoned. Most of all we mourn our complicity and active participation in an economy based on toxic energy that has made such death inevitable.

We find our lives dependent upon the destructive forces that have been made visible in the oil spill, but which have been a sinful and deadly presence in creation for many decades now. We acknowledge that our current lifestyle of convenience and hyper-mobility, which is based on oil and oil-based products is at the root of the problem and that the irresponsibility and hubris of companies such as BP are only outgrowths of this deeper reality. As the prophets of old said, we hear the land witnessing and testifying against us.

Having acknowledged these realities we now make a public confession of the sins against God’s creation that we have committed and have been committed on our behalf. We pray for the grace of God to change our lives, and we invite all of our Christian sisters and brothers to join us in this acknowledgement of our sin and culpability, and in working toward a true repentance.

As a sign of this recognition of our sin we commit to:

  • Fasting from all food on Fridays except that which has been locally grown with methods that do not rely on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Making every effort to take each Friday as a day when we do not drive but rather walk, bike, ride public transit, or carpool to school or work.
  • Praying for the transformation of our lives as individuals and churches toward freedom from fossil fuels and reconciliation with all God’s creation.
  • Continuing these practices until the oil spill has been cleaned up and the work of restoration of God’s creation in the Gulf has begun.

On Sunday June 20, the two month anniversary of the beginning of the spill, we invite all Christians to lament the oil spill with a fast from oil. On that day, we will celebrate the Sabbath as we mourn: abstaining from driving motor vehicles of any kind, avoiding food that was grown and shipped great distances, and reflecting on the aspects of our lives that are so entrenched in the oil economy that we cannot even quit them for one day. We commit to exploring other appropriate acts of lament in our own church communities.

We hope that on this national day of lament, church communities will gather together for meals prepared of local ingredients and begin to discuss a new future that honors God’s creation and seeks to love the world as God does. Out of these discussions we pray that communities will begin to organize farmers markets, encourage alternative modes of transportation, and build a creative hope in their communities.

We are confident in God’s grace to give us hope from our lament as we repent and turn from our sin. Now is the time for our turning.


Litany of Lament

We hope to join with our congregations in mourning this disaster by praying together this litany in our churches.

The earth is the LORD’s, and all that is in it. (Ps 24:1)
From the depths of our hearts, as from the depths of the seas, let lamentation pour forth over what we have made of this good earth.

In the garden, our first home, you planted two trees, O God: one to feed us, and one to limit us. (Gen 2:16-17)
As Adam and Eve ate what was forbidden to them, we have feasted on the bounty of your creation, but ignored the boundaries you ordained. Forgive us, we pray, and teach us proper restraint.

Oil pours into the sea, a judgment against our destructive pursuit of a life that is cheaper, faster, and easier.
For these sins, the land trembles and the people mourn. (Amos 8:8)

If the people of God are silent, the very stones will shout out! (Lk 19:40)
We confess our silence. This disaster leaves us speechless; Lord, give us the courage to repent with out lips, and with our actions.

The earth is the LORD’s, and all that is in it.
Hear the cries of your servants, O Lord. Deliver your creation from this peril, and put a new and right spirit within us. (Ps 51:10)

Of course much of this is symbolic and could easily be forgotten once the news crews move on to the next story.  But maybe this will change some lives.  Maybe some eyes will be opened.  Maybe we’ll begin the process of healing ourselves.  Maybe there will be redemption.

Love Wins