Idolatry: Climate-Crazed Seminary Confesses Sins to Plants in 'Beautiful Ritual'

Students at Union Theological Seminary confess to plants. Twitter screenshot.

On Tuesday, Union Theological Seminary hosted a chapel service in which self-identified Christians confessed their climate sins to plants. No, this is not satire from The Babylon Bee — this really happened, and the seminary is defending it without shame. The incident illustrates how dangerous climate change hysteria can become, and how important it is for Christians to actually read their Bibles and reject the syncretism of the world.

“In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual,” the seminary announced on Twitter. “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.”

The seminary even shared photographic evidence:

The seminary acknowledged that confessing directly to plants — as though they were sentient beings or perhaps even a part of some pantheistic god — struck many people as odd. Yet it defended the confession, saying “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?”

Yes, because plants are not sentient and cannot engage in conversation with humans, it makes no sense to “engage with them” through speech. This is not normal, and Christians who know their Bibles can easily rebuke this essential worship of the creation rather than the Creator. Yet Union Theological Seminary claimed that Christian tradition is wrong, and its bizarre ritual is right.

“We need to unlearn habits of sin and death,” the seminary argued. “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. Churches have a huge role to play in this endeavor. Theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth have played a deplorable role in degrading God’s creation. We must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy.”

In other words, this seminary called traditional Christian theology destructive and “deplorable.” Shortly after creating human beings, God says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Is the Bible itself deplorable, degrading, and destructive?

The seminary acknowledged that its bizarre rituals would “seem weird” and “won’t feel normal.” So it reached for a Bible reference — that’ll show those pesky Fundamentalists! — “We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins.”

There is a kernel of truth to Union Theological Seminary’s false teaching, of course. Christians should be good stewards of God’s creation, because God will hold humans accountable for their dominion of the Earth.

Yet it is God, not creation, that holds humans accountable. In the seminary’s new political and quasi-pantheist theology, creation itself judges humans for their role in climate change. The response isn’t confession to God, but confession to plants.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul explained how the gentiles fell into idolatry. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is blessed forever! Amen,” (Romans 1:25).

Isaiah explained the folly of idolatry brilliantly (Isaiah 44:12-17):

The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

This idolatry certainly involves “engaging with” and “relating to” nature in a way similar to Union Theological Seminary. In fact, the seminary has cut out a middle step. Instead of carving an idol from the wood, they merely confess directly to the wood — that makes it easier!

Surely the seminary would object: “We’re not worshiping the plants, just confessing to them!” But confession involves humbling yourself before the object of your confession. Furthermore, the liberal idea that human beings have triggered a “climate emergency” by burning fossil fuels ignores the agency of God, who sustains the Earth. Climate alarmist predictions have failed spectacularly over the last 50 years, and there is tremendous hubris in the idea that human beings could destroy the world by burning too many fossil fuels.

Yet the seminary’s tweets did not just show the influence of climate change hysteria. The tweet storm praised Robin Wall Kimmerer for asking “all faith communities to develop new liturgies” in response to climate change.

Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, she called corn “one of our deepest and oldest relatives.” She humanized corn as the “Corn Mother,” saying, “Corn is sacred because she gives us her children in return for protecting us.”

Kimmerer works with Native American tribal elders to restore native seeds, a kind of work she calls “reclaiming the sacred. It’s honoring the memories that are in the seeds, and the promise that we will take care of seeds and by doing so, invest in the future.”

This notion of “memories” in seeds represents a return to animism — the pre-Christian, pre-pagan notion that all aspects of nature have a spirit, and that spirit is often identified as god.

Union Theological Seminary’s rejection of robust biblical Christian theology is nothing new. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer visited the seminary in the 1930s, he found that the students “are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are not familiar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, are amused at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.”

Mainline Protestantism has long embraced a kind of syncetristic “Christianity,” creating a hodgepodge of beliefs by combining popular academic and political ideas and reinterpreting the Bible to fit a worldly view of religion.

An adherence to the plain text of scripture can help Christians avoid this unfortunate fate, but ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary to prevent us from sliding into believing what we want to believe because it is popular.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, perfectly illustrates the threat of redefining Christianity to fit the zeitgeist. In the CNN climate town hall earlier this month, he warned that not acting on climate change is a “kind of sin,” as though God had a political program, and that program involved handing power over to Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg has consistently reinterpreted Christianity to support Democratic politics. The threat of syncretism is not just a liberal thing — Christians must be careful to put their trust in God before any political ideology.

The Bible consistently warns that human beings have an innate drive to worship something. If they do not worship God, they will worship His creation. Worship has the tremendous power of changing a person’s character: you become like the thing you worship.

Of idols, the psalmist warns, “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:5-8).

The students at Union Theological Seminary may not like what happens when they confess their sins to plants.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.