Christ, Christians, Church, Community and Climate Change

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Green Christian member, Revd David Penney shares his thoughts on the spirituality of the climate crisis

The climate emergency is a spiritual as well as an environmental crisis. From a Christ-like perspective, the danger of ecocide is seen as the crucifixion of creation. Christians build their lives on the foundation of Christ, not the church. A church which does not put Christ at the centre cannot claim to be Christian. If we love Christ, we must love his creation as he “is all and in all” (Colossians 3.11). “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church.” (Colossians, 1.15-17). In fact, Christ did not want to establish a new religion. He wants us to follow in his footsteps by living his way of life in his kingdom on earth. He is the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14.6).

Christ showed his love of the whole of creation, of which we human beings are part, when he said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 5.26). This demonstrates that Christ and creation are inseparable. As a prophet, Christ shared the teachings of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. He would have been fully aware of the warning to care for creation: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11.9). We are in the midst of a global climate emergency of our own making, which is in danger of getting out of control. 

If we care for Christ, we must care for the whole of his creation, the planet and its people. This is the sole purpose for our existence. From the beginning, the Creator commanded human beings to care for creation: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2.15). So, for Christians, the principles and values of ecology and theology go hand in hand – to see the secular in the sacred. If we do not accept that life on earth is sacred and the need for it to be protected, then we are not fulfilling our calling as Christians to care for creation. 

If Christians don’t have a reverence for creation, they can end up worshipping themselves. In our selfishness and desire for power, wealth and material possessions, human beings are responsible for causing climate change which can lead to ecocide, the crucifixion of creation. This would be to reject Christ whom the Creator bought into the world: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16).

Christ did not come into the world to be our personal Saviour to the exclusion of others or the care of creation. He came because God loves the whole world. If Christ is only for those who are saved then it fosters the danger and arrogance of selfishness, judgement and separation from our fellow human beings and their needs and those of creation. Jesus warned those who thought they were saved and right “not to judge less you be judged” (Matthew 7.1)

We should remember that “The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members” (Archbishop William Temple). In other words, the church should serve the community. This involves not just caring and sharing but also ensuring that all people in the community are treated equally with social justice. This means that Christians and the church will have to surrender their power in order for the community and creation to benefit from Christ’s Love for all people. 

It is no accident that Christ linked the twin commandments to love the creator and our neighbour. Christ made it clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that every human being is our neighbour.

If a church becomes a holy club, a safe refugee from being involved in the trials and tribulations of people in the community and creation, it will fail to achieve Christ’s mission. A church that lives to itself will die to itself. We should also heed the warning of Christ when churches fail to agree on what should be done in serving the best interests of communities and creation they are called to serve: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3.24). The same goes for Churches. The Christian gospel is universal and embraces all of humanity and creation.

It is true that Christ said: “I have come that they might have life and life in all its fullness.” (John 10.10). This does not mean we can have everything we want for ourselves. Life is more than quantity. It is about a quality of life and relationships in which we share the Earth’s resources and care for others and creation. The hallmark of a Christian is to be a disciple of Christ and follow his way of life which will “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13.5) so that others can live fulfilled lives and creation is cared for and future generations can meet their needs. Christians should “live simply so that others may simply live”

Above all, Christians and the church should heed the warning of Christ over the danger and hubris of wanting everything for ourselves to the exclusion of others and the damage caused by selfish and greedy consumerism of creation: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet lose their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16.26). If we possess the whole world for ourselves, then we will not only lose our essential being and our right relationship with Christ and creation, but also destroy life on Earth.

So, Christians should campaign for both eco and social justice. The wellbeing of people and the planet go hand in hand as human beings are part of and belong to creation. So, the church should reflect these values in its teaching and practice. Charity alone only patches things up and tends to ignore the church’s main purpose is to seek justice. Its mission is to bring good news to the poor and live it out by applying the lessons of Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes

Christians and the churches have a duty to prophecy and protest over issues of injustice as Christ did. Being a Christian in the church is more than offering pastoral care and charity, which can end up papering over the cracks and avoiding tackling the underlying problems facing society. So, following in the steps of Christ, we should not be frightened to face up to the challenges and problems which urgently need to be addressed and resolved. 

Christ did so when he spoke out against the corruption, hypocrisy and abuse of power by the political and religious elite. Christ said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5.17) In doing so, Christ was committed to ensuring that the righteousness of the Creator for the wellbeing of his people was respected and adhered to. So, we should do in our own day and age in respect of serving the community and saving creation.

Christ did not say it would be easy to seek justice and pursue it but it should be the main priority if we are serious about serving the community and meeting the needs of people and planet. Christ said Christians and the church would be ridiculed and rejected for advocating the radical changes needed to establish social and eco Justice in God’s Kingdom on Earth: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5.10-12). So, Christians and the church may have to make sacrifices in order to achieve the objective of serving the community and saving creation, such as sharing resources. 

In other words, Christians should seek a different way of living, based on Christ’s teaching and example, which rejects the desire of economic growth, and develop a different system whereby we put people and the planet before profit, personal power and possessions. One way of doing this is by a circular economy, which puts into practice the sharing and use of the Earth’s limited resources by applying the “R” Principles: 1. Refuse; 2. Rethink; 3. Reduce; 4. Reuse; 5. Repair/Renew; 6. Refurbish; 7. Remanufacture; 8. Repurpose; 9. Recycle; 10. Recover/Restore. 

In so doing, Christians and the church can regenerate communities, meet their social and spiritual needs and bring true healing and wholeness of living in community and creation.

Christ, as the “Son of Man”, reminds us what it is to be truly human. “He came to serve and not be served”. (Matthew 20.28) So, as Christians, followers of Christ and members of the human race, created in the likeness of the Creator, we have a moral and social responsibility to combat climate change by meeting the needs of communities and caring for creation

Revd Dave Penney is the Former Rector of Easington cum Liverton, Diocese of York, and former Director of Social Responsibility, Diocese of Salisbury



Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 6 October, 2023 | Category: Climate Emergency Opinion | Comments: 0

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