Mark Powley explains why recognising the climate emergency is core to the Church's mission.
Graphic showing how global temperatures have changed from 1976 to 2022. Image credit: NASA / BBC
We are busy and tired. There’s war in Europe. We need to focus on our core mission. So why should churches formally recognise the climate emergency? In fact, why should every church do this? Well, for at least three reasons: truth, love and because it’s actually core to our mission - and that’s why this website is dedicated to helping your church recognise this emergency.
First, tell the truth
When Paul writes to the Ephesians about ‘speaking the truth in love’ and speaking ‘truth to our neighbours’ (Eph 4:15 & 25), this responsibility doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the church. There is a Christian calling to tell the truth, and even more when it relates to the world God made with such care and loves so deeply. If there is a truth about loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the catastrophic effects of unjust carbon usage – if there is a truth about all this, then Christians should tell it.
The parallels with the prophets, especially Jeremiah, are telling. While some cried ‘Peace, peace', Jeremiah had the courage to call out the disaster that was heading Israel’s way (Jer 6:13-15). This is our calling. And Jeremiah does something else: in the heat of disaster, when everyone else is giving up hope, he buys land for the future (Jer 32:6-15). Christians need to speak into the climate crisis with honesty and contrition, but also with deep confidence in God. Others may not know if humanity will make it, or if change is worth it; but we have a hope and a reason. The gospel is a ‘word of truth’ that sets us free (Eph 1:13): free to recognise things as they are, including the crisis we are facing, and free to speak the truth. So, will your church exercise this freedom to speak up about the climate emergency?
The gospel is a ‘word of truth’ that sets us free: free to recognise things as they are, including the crisis we are facing, and free to speak the truth.
How can the love of God be in us?
It’s not comfortable to realise that rich, predominantly white, nations have been burning carbon to excess for centuries, while the consequences now increasingly fall on other nations and people groups. It’s not comfortable, but there’s no avoiding the question of what love should do in this situation.
Love ‘does no harm to a neighbour’ (Rom 13:10). It comes alongside and is willing to sacrifice for others. Love exercises self control and doesn’t destroy a brother or sister by what we eat (Rom 14:15). And if all this sounds a bit ‘right on’ and worldly, we should remember that the best models of love may well be among those not normally recognised as people of God – this is the clear implication of the Good Samaritan, and I can’t read it today without thinking of Greta Thunberg! So if your church is about love, have you recognised the emergency and begun to take practical steps towards net zero?
Tackling climate change is mission
If God saves ‘both human and animal alike’ (Ps 36:6) and has ‘compassion on all he has made’ (Ps 145:9), surely tackling climate change is not a distraction from mission, but part of it. After all, what would be the point in offering someone a spiritual blessing but doing nothing for their practical needs (James 2:16)?
At our college, St Hild, we are committed to the five marks of mission. We have a Centre for Church Planting and we’re passionate about people finding faith in Jesus Christ, but we are also responding to climate change. To find an example of this in the New Testament we need look no further than the Apostle Paul. Committed as he was to planting and establishing churches, he also devoted a significant amount of time and energy to responding to a climate disaster, in his case a famine (Acts 11:27-30). Interestingly, this involved foresight (here through prophecy) as well as careful planned action and sacrificial generosity (the kind we can see in the hardship collections of 1 Cor 16:1-4 and 2 Cor 8-9).
I know a lot of churches involved in fantastic charitable work. And church leaders know that each individual in a church will respond differently to different kinds of project. But I’m going to put it out there and say that climate change affects everyone and everything. It is directly caused by what we do every day; its scope could not be more global; the potential effects, if not mitigated, could not be more serious. To compare it with other charitable initiatives is simply to miss the point. More than any other humanitarian cause, climate change deserves attention from all of us, even if we respond to it uniquely. So if your Church is committed to mission, when are you going to recognise the climate emergency?
Climate change is directly caused by what we do every day; its scope could not be more global; the potential effects, if not mitigated, could not be more serious.
As mentioned above, there is a resource to do this here. Any church, school or Christian organisation can take three straightforward steps: prepare, through conversations and planning; declare, by formally recognising the emergency and committing to make a road map towards net zero; and impact others by spreading the word.
I was privileged to be part of the team that pulled this resource together, and though we ended up releasing it in the height of Covid uncertainty, it is still been amazing to see churches take a step and formally recognise the emergency. Please do look, pray, think, and forward a link to your church leadership team.
This blog was first published on MarkPowley.com.