Earth Day 2012 is the global event promoting environmental research, education and action at all levels of society worldwide. But is it really necessary - even appropriate, for Christians, The Church and church communities to be involved?
Sunday 22 April is Earth Day and faith communities around the world are giving it a high profile. Across the denominational divides, churches are uniting to launch ‘creation care’ initiatives to save the planet.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world..."
What has saving the planet to do with church?
The Church in the business of preaching repentance, saving souls and preparing people for heaven, isn't it? Surely anything to do with this world is the responsibility of the powers of the world not the Church. Anyway, isn’t this earth destined to be replaced by a 'New Earth and New Heaven'? If this is what the Church believes then any resources it invests in patching up and prolonging the demise of a doomed order must be an attempt to undermine the will of God.
Depending on your point of view, the only perfect version of creation was either lost in The Fall – in which case it’s lost, or it was given to Adam to do with as he would – and he did. So that’s where we are, and it's all OK. Anyway, if God’s promises to Noah are worth anything beyond the literal, surely we can trust God to save mankind from ultimate environmental calamity.
Even in the face of undeniable climate change, there are non-theological arguments for doing nothing more than carrying on as normal. One is that whatever is happening to the Earth and its climate isn’t our fault; it’s some natural process out of out control. So trying to control it is a waste of effort. Another argument is that even if all this environmental damage is our fault, it’s too late to do anything about it – and there’s a strong scientific indication that this may in fact be true.
No biblical excuse for doing nothing at all
Accepting the fact that the environmental damage is done, doesn’t let us escape the question of what we’re going to do about it now. If there’s something to be done that lessens the impact or at least stops things getting worse, then there’s a choice to make. If nothing else, there’s an issue about learning to live with the consequences of the damage in a new and less hospitable world.
Whether or not theology demands that churches involve themselves for the sake of the planet, the teachings of Jesus certainly demand that we intervene to look after the poor. It’s the poor that have the least - and the most to loose. The world’s poor live in those parts of the world most susceptible to environmental destruction. The poor are least able to adapt to, or escape from, the consequences of climate change.
Creation care is about human community
It’s because all people of the Earth - rather obviously, depend on the well being of the Earth that the Church, churches and Christians are obliged to rally to its defence. In fact we probably should have been doing that from the beginning just as God commissioned Adam in the first place. But we didn’t. Instead, we bought into a lifestyle, an economy and a world order that only held together while we wanted, demanded - and generally obtained, more and more. Now, only those with a vested interest in that increasingly unrealistic model continue to insist that nothing is wrong and nothing needs to change.
So how to change, and how to make that change count and not just hurt. It seems likely that things are now so bad that hurt has to come first. It probably seems unlikely that changing all your light-bulbs for low energy alternatives, giving up driving to the shops, going paperless, recycling your wine bottles and collecting the rain off the shed roof is going to make a big enough difference. True, it might save you a bit of cash, but villages in Bangladesh will still flood and farms south of the Sahara will still scorch.
Can the Church do anything effective?
But is that a good enough reason to nothing? Possibly, but it might be an even better reason to do more. Going back to the quote: "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world..." the Church and Christians must play their part in protecting the planet. And by and large we do. In the aspect of Earth Day 2012 directly concerned with community, the Church is ahead of the game and has been since the early first century AD.
Two thousand years later, the Church continues its mission to the poor and poor communities using the resources and technology of our age. Bigger, richer and more organised than at any time its history, what the Church actually does is still entirely dependent on what its individual members actually do… or don’t. Church councils, forums, lobbies and interest groups bring creation care to the highest levels of corporate and government attention. But it's at the ground level where words become actions.
Faith, action, climate change and A Rocha
One of the most effective of ground level, climate care initiatives is 'A Rocha' and its associated faith motivated communities. Taking its name from the Portuguese words for 'the rock', A Rocha is a worldwide Christian environmental and nature conservation movement. A Rocha’s first initiative was to set up a field study centre in Portugal and now drives cross-cultural projects with a strong community focus.
Working in partnership with The Bible Society, BMS World Mission, The Church Mission Society, Lee Abbey and Tearfund, A Rocha’s charitable mission supports scientific research, practical conservation and environmental education at the international, national and local levels. As hub for community focused action, A Rocha’s projects ensure that its wildlife conservation, habitat protection and environmental projects involve and benefit local people in with a sustainable, non-destructive lifestyle.
Living Lightly: encouraging lifestyle change
Living Lightly is an A Rocha, faith based initiative. Acknowledging that consumer lifestyles not only damage the environment but cause stress and break-up in human relationships, Living Lightly encourages day to day practical change at home, in the community and at a national level.
Eco-Congregation: an ecumenical programme
Helping churches link environmental issues and Christian faith, A Rocha's cross-faith initiative encourages different denominations to respond with practical, effective action individually, locally and globally.
Going Deeper: responding to a biblical call
Caring for creation needs to be more than an add-on activity. A Rocha's Going Deeper resources promote the intgration of environmental care into a healthy, living prayer-life and into the Church's worship, discipleship and mission.
Help and guidance to green-up your church
Books and resources to help your church make a positive contribution to creation care are conveniently gathered together into Eden.co.uk’s Green Issues Collection. Under Green Issues you’ll find books by Ruth Valerio, a leading Christian author, Living Lightly activist and a practitioner in faith driven creation care.
Ruth’s books include the recently reissued L Is For Lifestyle: a call to Christian living that doesn’t cost the Earth. This readable book offers an A to Z of lifestyle issues that highlight the main threats to our planet and the people who live on it. Offering a range of small, everyday changes, Ruth guides you toward a life that is both fair and simple.
Ruth Valerio draws directly on the Bible for the authority and inspiration behind her thoughts, ideas and call to action. Her book, Environment, is a Bible study for small group or personal use combining the biblical and the practical.
If you need reassurance that your church’s contribution to the human problems of climate care can be revolutionary, and if the effect on the world of twelve men and with faith in their leader isn’t enough, then here’s the complete opening quote for this article. It was given by Margaret Mead – who drafted the American 1979 Episcopal Book of Modern Prayer:
"Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
April 22nd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison