The New York-based Union Seminary has garnered a great deal of criticism and mockery for holding a chapel service in which students confessed to plants.
On Tuesday, Union posted a photo of the chapel service which showed a student sitting on the ground before several potted plants to offer confession, mainly over failures to protect the environment.
“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?” tweeted Union.
The tweet was met with numerous comments on Twitter criticizing the practice, seeing it as evidence of pagan practice at the school and mocking the confession as ridiculous.
Popular Christian satire site The Babylon Bee was among the critics, running a piece on Thursday titled “Disaster At Union Seminary As Giant, Angry Carnivorous Plant Does Not Accept Students' Apologies.”
“Campus faculty say the event was a success, as there are now far fewer humans around to pollute the planet,” joked the satirical piece.
For its part, Union defended the service in a series of tweets, explaining that “our community confessed the harm we've done to plants, speaking directly in repentance.”
“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 stated.
“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.”
Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, denounced the chapel event and tweets made in defense of it on his podcast “The Briefing” as coming from a “modern secular worldview.”
“If you do not worship the Creator, you will inevitably worship the creation, in one way or another. That is the primal form of idolatry,” said Mohler.
“We cannot be pleased with the desecration of creation, but we can also not be pleased or ever satisfied with the idea that creation exists unto itself, that human beings are a blight upon creation, and that it is wrong for human beings to exercise dominion over creation.”
Mohler also took issue with Union referring to the plants as “beings,” explaining that a “being is one who has consciousness, and has consciousness of consciousness.”
“A stalk of wheat is not a being, nor is a rhododendron, nor is an oak tree, nor even an acorn, nor is an entire forest. Plants are not beings, but what you see here is the confusion that happens when the biblical worldview is abandoned,” he continued.
However, Wheaton College Professor Noah Toly cautioned in a series of tweets on Thursday against making “a dismissive hot take” on the issue of confessing failures on “creation care.”
“There are ways to go about whatever they were doing that aren’t addressed by my comments above (e.g., seeking absolution from the plants; confessing to creation sins that aren’t against creation, like, ‘Oh plant, I confess that I have a problem with lust’) and would be bad ideas,” tweeted Toly.
“But if we think that the liturgy included confessing failures related to a mandate to serve and to keep creation, and if we immediately dismiss that as absurd or stupid and not even a hard question, then I think we’re doing it wrong.”
Union Seminary was founded in 1836 by a group of Presbyterian ministers and sees itself as rooted in Protestantism. Nevertheless, the school states on their website that they seek to train students of all religions to advance social justice.