Evidenced Based Policy
The march began with a man shouting into a bullhorn, “What do we want?” The crowd replied, “Evidence based policy!” He goaded them, “When do we want it?” and they replied, “After peer review!”
So began the March for Science by a few in our town and thousands in cities across our nation yesterday. It was also Earth Day – the 47th annual Earth Day, in fact. It’s no coincidence that these events overlapped, given the conversations in our nation about the impact of civil society on the world we live in. We, unlike any other organism on the planet, impact the health of the planet and the availability of its resources. We, unlike any other organism on the planet, have been gifted with rational minds and the ability to make decisions as individuals and as communities and nations.
That ability, that responsibility, is what was behind the March for Science yesterday and every Earth Day celebration since 1970. Now, I know that some of you have been around since before then, but as for me I was born that same year. I grew up watching commercials with a Native American shedding tears over the trash on our highways and bi-ways. I’ve never known a time without the guiding and regulating presence of the E.P.A. – which was started by Republicans and Democrats working together to respond to the needs of our nation’s citizens – and I am thankful for that.
I have served people in Appalachia and seen the fallout of strip mining first hand. I have seen the records of what our cities were turning into in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and I have been to developing nations in Africa and Central America and seen the result of civilization without infrastructure for trash removal or standards for construction. And we have all seen, in the last few years, what negligence of infrastructure has done to water quality in Flint River, Michigan. Of course, what we haven’t seen is the water quality issues Native Americans have been facing for years.
So, I marched for science yesterday. I did not march for science because I believe that science is the answer to everything. I marched for science because I believe that it is a tool to reveal what God has done and what people of faith can do together. I marched for science, and I wore my collar, because I wanted to make a clear statement that science and faith are not opposed to one another but actually go hand in hand.
Now, for most of you that is probably a no brainer. However, it does become a problem when we switch from fact to faith. Can we really expect to prove the existence of God? Haven’t we just explored passage after passage during Lent that focused on belief in the power of God?
Is not our our entire faith built on this crazy claim that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead by the power of God? Where is the evidence to guide our policy? How can we test it and review it for one another in a way that makes sense?
The simple answer is to draw a line and say that faith is not something you prove; it’s something you do without proof. It’s inherently irrational. Even Paul said that it looks foolish to those looking in from the outside. We could stop right there and say that faith is proven to each of us in our own way, through our own experiences. But what would we be left with?
Would we have much more than a personal testimony and a faith that works for me, but maybe not so much for you; a faith that works for those who are like me but maybe not so much for those who aren’t?
No, faith and belief in the power of God must be something more universal, more harmonizing, and maybe even more rationally understood than stories from days gone by. Let’s just look at the evidence in our scriptures today.
In the first public witness to the resurrection, Peter tells the crowd to look at the evidence. Jesus performed signs and wonders that could have only be done by God working through him. Yet, he was handed over and killed unjustly, so God raised his faithful One in the way promised by David in the Psalms. Not only that but all of the disciples with him were standing as witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.
That may have worked for those that were present, but I’m betting there are those among us that might say that all we have to go on is a personal testimony. Ultimately that is all we have, if all we are willing to accept as data is hard physical archeological evidence. If that’s all we will accept then we will find that we have become like Thomas, the disciple who is only known for his lack of faith. Let’s not forget that this is the same disciple who weeks before agreed to go to Bethany, expecting that they would all die with Jesus.
As I’ve come to know and love this disciple, Thomas, I’ve come to see that he stands in the place we all stand from time to time. All of us, at one time or another, have those moments where we say, “God, if you aren’t too busy with all the swirling stars and planets, I could use a hand about now.” Maybe it’s the distance that has suddenly grown between you and a friend or loved one. Maybe it’s a diagnosis you did not expect or a tragedy you see in someone’s life or in the news, Lord knows there is plenty of conflict (both real and imagined) to choose from.
I think that’s why the wounds of Jesus are so important. It’s important that we remember that even though Jesus has been raised into a new form, it was costly. The wounds no longer cause him to suffer, but they are real wounds. That’s important.
It’s important because it helps us to know that when we suffer, God suffers with us. That’s a great comfort, even though most of us will not suffer in the way that those in the early church did. We will have health problems. We will have relationship issues. We may have unemployment or housing problems, but we will not have – even as some others will – anyone trying to throw us in jail or do bodily harm to us because of our faith in Jesus.
But to those that did (and perhaps to those that do) Peter reminded them that they have a source of joy in their sure knowledge of God’s love for them. Now, here’s where it gets interesting! Peter tells them that because they know their eternal salvation is safe, they have a reason to be joyful when there is no reason to be joyful at all! In fact, they can even rejoice in their suffering because they know that what is coming will make their suffering seem like nothing at all.
These are pretty easy words to say, but they still have an edge of theory to them unless you see them in practice. These words came alive to me when I read about the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The attack that was substantially lessened by the sacrifice of Naseem Faheem, the security guard on duty that day. When his wife was interviewed, children at her side, she said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”
You see, that is the evidence of our salvation. When someone who did not see what Jesus did first hand is still moved to love as he loved, salvation is at hand. When someone who did not experience him directly still believes in what God is doing through him, salvation is at hand.
And all of us are witnesses. All of us are given the vision of Christ in the woundedness we see in others – even in the woundedness we see in our planet – and in the woundedness we are willing to bear even as Christ offers us a new birth into a new hope each and every day!
Is it so wrong to seek evidence of this faith? I think not. In fact, I think that the evidence of our faith is found in the joy that lets us endure. The evidence of our faith is found in the compassion that drives our choices, and it is found in the way we become bound in one another’s experience of light and love and faith.
And all of that evidence is up for peer review, and that happens here in this place. It happens anywhere that followers of the way of Jesus come together to pray and praise and encourage one another in good faith.
Because there’s not a one of us that wouldn’t love to see some evidence of God’s active, loving presence. There’s also not a one of us that is not capable of offering it to someone else. So, take a deep breath and let it out slow, knowing that the same Spirit that troubled the waters of creation moves in and through you!
And because of that, we will continue to march where and when we feel called to. We will continue to pray for and with one another. We will continue to struggle over the faithful use of God’s property. We will continue to offer relief to flood victims. We will suffer with and for one another and God’s good creation as long as we must, because we know that our salvation is not only safe and secure in the hands of Jesus but also at hand here and now in those hands that are willing to reach out in love and faith together.
I, for one, thank God that your hands are the ones that I am privileged to join in reaching out into God’s good creation. And to God be the glory for that, now and always. Amen!