Prayer and care for our planet
Guest blog by John Anderson, member of Green Christian and Baildon Methodist Church in Bradford
Placards at climate change demonstrations sometimes read, “Save the planet”. I think this is misconceived. The earth has all the time in the world: we don’t. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24). The planet is not at risk; it will survive because it is full of God’s creativeness. We have a duty of care for its climate and what is on our planet. We do not have a problem with the environment; the environment has a problem with us.
Pope Francis writes of ‘our common home’. In Mark 16:15 we read Christ’s Great Commission: ‘Proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’ St Paul in Colossians says “God was pleased through Christ to reconcile to himself all things”. Christ’s life and death were not just for humans. How can I have been so blind to this, the true gospel, as I was for the first 50 years of my life? I think it was because I was asked “Are you saved?” I thought Jesus’ gospel was totally for individuals. Our gospel is too small if it is anthropocentric. As Pope John Paul II said, “We need ecological conversion”.
We should learn from the First Nations in North America. Chief Seattle said, ‘You Europeans did not weave the web of life; for you are only a single strand in it. We may be brothers after all. We shall see”. The First Nations didn’t own land; they just used it. That is why Americans said when they arrived in the continent that it was empty. It was not. Mrs Thatcher was correct when she said, ‘We do not have the freehold of the earth; we are tenants with a full repairing lease.”
In the last 60 years the animals on earth have halved in number; the number of human has doubled. We regard the earth not as our home but as our throne: we are monarchs of all we survey. We think that if we have the money we can do what we like. This reminds me of the two passengers on a cruise ship sailing through the Antarctic emitting vast amounts of black smoke; they looked over the taff-rail at two polar bears on an ice floe. They said, “Thank God we have seen them before they become extinct.” One of the great modern heresies is that money is the measure. We are educated to be consumers; consumere in Latin means ‘to destroy’; consumption means destruction. Consumption was after all the former name for tuberculosis which destroys the lungs and lives of millions. Hildegard of Bingen in about 1100 A.D. said, “All of creation God gives humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity”.
A much worse infection than COVID, which can in extremis kill the body, is affluenza, a painful, contagious and virally transmitted condition resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. Affluenza kills the soul as well as the body.
Hans Kung wrote, “The kingdom of God is creation healed.” We should be healers, not consumers.
So what exactly must we as Christians do?
Firstly, we must witness as individuals. A far better slogan than “Save the planet” is “Cut the carbon,” as Operation Noah, the effective Christian climate change organisation has on its placards for demonstrations. To cut the carbon we need to ask ourselves about every action that we take, ‘How much carbon dioxide does this emit?’ not ‘Can I afford it?’ Another slogan must be, ’Calculate the carbon”. There are many calculators online such as Climate Stewards, a Christian organisation, which help us work out what carbon dioxide we are emitting. Unless we do this, we do not know how much you need to cut.
Secondly, we must act corporately. This is more effective than individual actions. Jesus very rarely denounced individuals: he often forgave them. He inveighed against corporate sin such as that practised by the groups of some Pharisees, or of the rich. His message of justice for all, especially the poor, means that we can be inspired to be active in the Fossil-free movement, for example. The billions invested even now by the big oil companies in searching for more oil is plainly helping to destroy, not conserve, God’s creation. And it is the poor who are suffering much more than the rich from global heating. Our effectiveness as Christians is vastly multiplied if we can persuade investors, especially in pension funds, to divest from investments in fossil fuel companies. In addition, our churches act corporately for good; here in Bradford in Yorkshire, our Cathedral is an Eco-congregation. York Minster is an Eco Church. Baildon Methodist Church, Bradford, has just opened the £900 000 Fold, the first building on church premises in Britain which is constructed to standards similar to those of a Passivhaus, using very little electricity and emitting no carbon dioxide. Thus the love of creation is not confined to our actions as individuals; it overflows into loving and dynamic actions for and in our community. Moreover, the church is worldwide. My wife and I work and pray for Ethiopia where we lived for two years as volunteers. We know that our actions in this country as Christians reducing our carbon dioxide emissions diminish the desiccation destroying the livelihoods of Ethiopians. Our gospel is not just thinly individualised but deeply corporate and globe-girdling. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The external deserts of the world are growing because our internal deserts have become so great.” Our hearts and minds need to change. In other words we need repentance.
So let us pray. When I pray, I use the headings: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. The initial letters of these words make the acronym ACTS. Unless I act I have not prayed.