This is a nuanced and complicated subject with very different views and opinions.
Among all the narratives and social justice issues clamouring for our attention, the most pervasive, the most universal and most demanding issue of the last decade has been – and will continue to be – climate change. It is defining a generation who are increasingly frustrated with what is understood to be a lack of progress from governments. Before the pandemic struck demonstrations in cities by Extinction Rebellion were commonplace. People are understandably upset at the rise in environmental destruction and harm caused by industry and populations around the world.
How does the local church respond to this? How does the global Church respond to this?
Firstly, let me just set some parameters. By climate change I mean:
“a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.” (Oxford dictionary)
Therefore, other environmental issues such as pollution, overfishing, littering, nuclear waste etc are simply classed as ‘environmental harm’ and are not climate change. We shall look at how to respond to both, as some people say one and mean the other.
There are two points I would like to bring in our response – that we are responsible for Creation and its order, and that God is sovereignly in control of Creation and its order.
Our intended role in creation
God has not only so clearly created the beauty of the natural world but also impressed that beauty on our hearts. We share his love for majestic mountains, woodland walks and babbling brooks – we join with the whole of creation in our adoration and worship of him (Psalm 66v4)
As Gods steward of this earth, you and I are in a unique position to care for and look after those around us and their environment. Genesis 1 details both how good God’s creation is, and our responsibility for it, to work it and keep it:
Genesis 1 v26 (emphasis added): Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
This word ‘dominion’ is key. It can and has been used to justify the unmeasured consumption of natural resources without care or compassion. But creation’s purpose is to reflect the glory of God and to provide us with sustenance. Our responsibility, our dominion, is to strike the balance between preserving and protecting creation, whilst taking from it what God has given us to use. As we grow as a human race so our responsibility increases; We consume more, we build more and so we need to more carefully manage and protect God’s green earth.
Think for a moment; – God has dominion over your life. How does he exact that dominion? By getting what he can, when he can, by whatever means? Or does he gently, lovingly bear much fruit in you by tending you, nurturing you and blessing you? God demonstrates to us what our dominion over creation should look like.
Gods role in creation
But our ties to the ecology of the earth does not stop with Genesis – When God speaks of blessing his people throughout the bible, those blessings are often from the earth. When he curses his people, he often cursed them through droughts and failed crops. Read the following verses and, as you do, think ecologically:
Ezekiel 34:26: “And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land.”
When I read verses like this it is so clear to me how God is profoundly responsible for the ‘normal’ ecological processes all around us, and that throughout the Old Testament these processes have been blessed or cursed depending on whether God’s people have worshipped him or worshipped themselves. His rule and reign over the earth is so abundantly clear, and this should give us hope for the future, and peace in the face of fear. We do not look solely to our own actions but lean on and trust in God’s sovereignty over all that he has made.
Our response as a church
We therefore have both a responsibility to God to work and keep his creation in order (Genesis 1:26) and we submit to him who is ultimately in control of the whole earth and everything that is in it. Holding these two points in balance is critical when we look at our response as a church to climate change. If we forget our responsibility to God, the very first command he ever utters in the Bible (albeit not the first issued chronologically), then we resign our God-given biblical responsibility from the equation. We will say: “God will make all things new – so does it matter?” – this is a very poor response. Like any of Gods instructions to us, if we choose to ignore them, they will have painful consequences. If you are fortunate, those consequences will be felt quickly and directly allowing for repentance and change. Much of the time, especially with environmental matters, the consequences are felt over time and by someone else.
By removing our responsibility to this earth and everyone in it, either by denying that God exists (which makes the planet a sponge out of which we squeeze all that we are able while we are able), or, by assigning all the responsibility to God who creates a new heaven and new earth anyway (the end justifies the means), we allow greed and short-sightedness to overtake our management of the planet. Forests are removed for financial gain, waste is dealt with poorly and cheaply, human value is diminished either by cheap labour or poor conditions, normally both. As Christians we must take seriously God’s command to keep the earth and care for the environment around us. We demonstrate to the world the responsibility that God has given us by taking great care in reducing our impact on the earth – both in terms of climate change and environmental harm. From picking up crisp packets on His beaches to walking to the shops, to buying recyclable cups at church and keeping the lights and heating on low – these actions demonstrate a heart that cares for the earth that God made.
But we need to hold our responsibility in tension with our limitations when we consider our response to both climate change and environmental harm. As I write this my boiler has just sparked up, burning gas from the North Sea in an unsustainable way and is, right now, spewing carbon dioxide from the side of the house into the atmosphere. I am both contributing to climate change and unable to reasonably avoid it. I drove to the shops earlier, burning a fuel that originated with the dinosaurs and left a trail of noxious poisonous gasses through the high street. I am writing this on a laptop that has a lithium battery mined from appalling conditions (probably).
You are reading this on a website, the server for which is consuming vast amounts of electricity contributing directly to increased global emissions.
We are, all of us, complicit in our impact on the earth and most of it is (currently) an unavoidable consequence of our existence.
This knowledge is what is driving people like Extinction Rebellion to the streets, closing roads, stopping traffic, scaling buildings – to demand change for the future, marching through cities declaring in a bizarre pseudo religious way “The end of the world is nigh! Repent of your emissions and eat vegan!” (or something like that). The world is responding out of a state of anxiety that we as Christians must not partner with! We must never let fear be the driving factor behind any of our decisions – God’s people do not respond out of fear and anxiety, quite the opposite. God takes his people time and time again to places where the flesh is not enough (think of the story of Gideon as my favourite example) in order to demonstrate that we need not fear but trust in him. While the world will tell you to be anxious, we must rest in the peace that God’s sovereignty provides us, whilst doing what we can, when we can with what we have been given.
As a response to the scientific consensus on global CO2 emissions and our responsibility as Gods stewards, Chris Joyes (as our Operations Manager) has ensured that Christchurch Hailsham now only uses renewable electricity for the building (our only energy consumption) . Furthermore, we will be offsetting all our carbon emissions by purchasing carbon units sequestered in UK forest planting schemes, meaning Christchurch Hailsham will be entirely carbon neutral in 2022 and beyond.
Let me leave you with one final thought; The single largest ecological catastrophe in recorded history was God flooding the earth in response to human sin. After the flood, he makes a covenant with Noah, his sons, and all living things.
Gods covenant with us and with all living things stands to this day, displayed in glory in the skies for everyone to see. When the world tells you that global warming is going to destroy the planet, remember these words:
And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”Genesis 8v21-22