For a long time I was of the view that fighting climate change was one of those ‘special areas of interest’ for Christians. You know, like in the same way that some Christians work with the homeless, run food banks or advocate for adoption etc. etc., there are were some Christians running environmental charities like A Rocha and Operation Noah.
Having now developed something of a ‘special interest’ myself, I hear a lot of comments about Christian involvement in climate change that implicitly run along the lines of ‘caring for the environment is a good thing to do, but it shouldn’t be our main focus because people coming to know Jesus is more important’. It’s sort of a primacy of evangelism vs. social action argument.
What I aim to do with the following is to take you through the journey of my own thinking on why I think fighting climate change is part of the gospel. I do not wish to condemn or to divide, but hope that it will be a good starting point for people to think about how fighting climate relates to following Jesus.
Justice: “Love Your Neighbour”
Climate change affects people. It disproportionately affects the poor and it disproportionately affects women (google ‘the feminization of poverty’). Climate change is also a root cause of conflict: it leads to food shortages, threatens people’s livelihoods, and displaces entire populations.
(I realise that many reading this blog may be surprised by the claim of the gendered impact of climate change, but women suffer more both directly – 80% of people displaced by climate change are women (source, source) – and indirectly – during and after disasters, levels of sexual and gendered violence often increase (source). As to how climate change causes conflict, it may be useful to reflect on the issue of water scarcity (see Economist, Guardian, PSI Briefing). A quick google search of Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ may also help here.)
On the most basic level fighting climate change can be understood as part of the gospel since it is embodiment of the command to ‘love your neighbour’.
Justice is the social and political expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbours.
We are called to a radical love and justice. Climate change calls us to love for our neighbours – including those overseas and those not yet born. It also calls us to pursue justice, especially for the poorest and most disadvantaged people, who have done least to cause climate change and are the least able to adapt.
If the gospel means loving our neighbour in radical ways, well then: I think fighting climate change is part of the gospel.
The Gospel is holistic
The gospel is not just good news; it is a good news that is complete.
This is best understood from an understanding that Jesus’ intent was not just for a spiritual overturning of the Roman Empire, but for a political and economic overturning too (see “the poor will always be with us“).
The primacy of evangelism vs. social action argument is a false dichotomy.
We pursue God’s kingdom on Earth to the glory of God and our joy in serving and living out something of God’s justice draws people to ask why and how: we tell them Jesus. When we tell people of Jesus, his grace and goodness and hope and people ask where and when: we show them the here and now.
It is like James says, faith and deeds go together. We tell people Jesus, because he is our life and source of what we do. We show people Jesus, because this is our testimony to the truth of what we tell.
The gospel is not just redemption from, but redemption to – it gives us a different way of looking at our relationship to the world in categories that are not mechanical but personal, relational and covenantal:
- instead of management: a story of interdependence, cooperation and fellowship
- instead of greed: a story of generosity and of self-giving restraint and service
- instead of despair: a story of compassionate love and mercy leading to hope
If the gospel is not just spiritual, but political and economic, if the gospel is not just about telling people of Jesus but living out a testimony to redemptive hope in every area of life, if the gospel is not just redemption from, but redemption to, well then: I think fighting climate change is part of the gospel.
A Church united in fighting climate change is possibly the most brilliant opportunity we have to witness Christ in this generation
If we are to be a redeemed people, we need to live out that redemption in our changed approach to the Earth, in a reflection of Jesus’ declaration in the synagogue that He has come to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4) and with the courage that comes from being able to speak true hope over the fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties about the future that will increasingly be felt in the time to come.
I am aware of course, that in this there is a tension.
There is a tension because while we need a theology that is more robust than just an optimistic wish that everything will turn out alright, such a theology may take us by way of Gethsemane and the cross before we reach Easter. We may be taken by way of grief and mourning and repentant change, before we celebrate hope.
There is a tension because when we pray that God’s kingdom would come on Earth, we must be prepared to take responsibility over the part of the world’s brokenness which is our own. To take ownership in our own attitudes to the Earth, our over-consumption and greed.
But this is not an unfamiliar tension. It is the tension of the now and not yet. Of taking up our crosses daily and yet knowing that Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.
There is so much more to say and talk about and consider. But on this, like so many other things, I think the way to go is obedience with trust in God’s faithfulness.
I think fighting climate change is part of the gospel.