A sensational photo is blowing chaff all over twittersphere. The tweet sent out by Union Seminary in Manhattan, pictures students praying to plants. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. The caption reads,
“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?”
To be honest, I often ignore the plants in my life. In fact, I didn’t know I had plants in my life! Sometimes I step outside to admire a flower. I do enjoy the scent of springtime blossom and flowers. I mow the front lawn every other week. We have parsley, thyme, and mint growing in the back which we use for cooking. And I know how much our dog loves to wee on any plant he sniffs. But praying to a plant and begging for its forgiveness? I may not be the world’s greatest horticulturalist, but neither am I a fool.
Is this a serious tweet? Surely, this is a student-led prank? A fantastic imitation of Babylon Bee? Or, as someone suggested, had these students stolen a few of those green leaves for a pre chapel smoking ceremony? Are we meant to be following suit, and head down to Bunnings after work to buy a tree for prayer? Which tree? What kind of plant? Does it matter? Do the plants communicate with each other and pass on my deepest regrets? What about the tree that I cut down last year with an axe? Did I kill the Divine in a moment of nietzschean madness?
There is plenty of mockery being aimed at Union Seminary today. Some of it makes you laugh, for if we didn’t, one would likely weep. The absurdity of the original message is being matched by the Seminary today as they double down and attempt to explain why praying to your indoor garden is a great idea:
“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?
What harm do I cause without thinking?
How can I enter into new relationship with the natural world?”
When Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke at Union last year, she concluded her lecture by tasking us—and all faith communities—to develop new liturgies by which to mourn, grieve, heal and change in response to our climate emergency.
We couldn’t be prouder to participate in this work.
And here’s the thing: At first, this work will seem weird. It won’t feel normal. It won’t look like how we’re used to worship looking and sounding.
And that’s exactly the point. We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins.
But it’s also important to note that this isn’t, really, that radical a break from tradition. Many faiths and denoms have liturgy through which we express and atone for the harm we’ve caused. No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other.
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?”
“At first this work will seem weird”? You think? True to form, this theological progressive Seminary then rips a Bible phrase out of context and fills it with whatever nonsense it pleases. They then justify this practice by saying, ‘but many faiths do what we are now doing’. I guess they didn’t read those bits of the Bible were God warns his people, “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you” (c.f Deuteronomy 6:4).
Given the reaction to Union Seminary, I suspect there are a few people in Australia today who are hiding behind a tree or bush, hoping no one notices that they too have a habit of talking to the environment, as though God is somehow radiating through the leaves and wind and the soaring pollen count on a Melbourne Spring morning. That’s the sad reality, there are people who believe in communing with nature, even believing that God somehow exists as part of the creation.
The Union Seminary website states
“Progressive theology has long taken shape at Union, where faith and scholarship walk together to be a moral force in the world. Grounded in the Christian tradition and responsive to the needs of God’s creation, a Union education prepares its students for committed lives of service to the church, academy, and society. A Union education develops practices of mind and body that foster intellectual and academic excellence, social justice, and compassionate wisdom.”
When an institution which identifies as being Christian allows weeds to grow, should anyone be surprised if they eventually begin to worship those weeds?
The Apostle Paul was familiar with pagan religions who turned the creation into objects of spiritual connection and worship.
“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:24)
Progressive theology not only follows the trajectory of Romans ch.1, it embraces the trip with pride and staggering delusion. The tweet is imbecilic because false religion is asinine. It tries to grow around it an air of intellectual cogency and spiritual authenticity, but it’s nothing more than rose-scented air-freshener in a can that’s trying to conceal the pungent smell of the toilet.
We are all worshippers. All people worship someone or something. If we turn our backs of the God of the Bible we are required to created alternate spiritual objects to provide purpose and meaning in life. We would do well to revisit Romans 1, for just as western culture is returning to the sexual ethics of the ancient world, we are reconstructing theologies that belong to old time paganism. There is nothing progressive about liberal theology, it is filling a field with toxic weeds.
The theological principle is simple: you harvest what you sow.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
Union Seminary’s journey into spiritual paganism has been gradual. I don’t think the faculty and students woke up one morning and decided that instead of worshipping Jesus, let’s pray to these plants. This is the result of decades of pruning back evangelical teaching and digging up orthodox doctrine. This is the outcome of appointing teachers who don’t really believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. This is the result of generations of theological experimentation and pining for cultural relevance.
While we may rightly ridicule Union Seminary, there is a serious warning here. If we don’t want our churches turning into prayer halls to shrubs and plants, and if we don’t want our children crafting idols out of creation, we need to make sure that we are doing the job of a faithful gardener. We need to ensure that our Bible Colleges have suitable gardeners who are using the right tools. There is only seed God gives, that is his word. There is only one seed which produces life, that is the Gospel of his Jesus Christ. Union Seminary deserved to be mocked, but are being diligent in our own fields?
Let’s not forget what Jesus says about those who sow weeds that congest and confuse, and that try to starve wheat of nutrience.
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13)