The climate emergency and us
In February this year Tearfund reported research that found that 9 out of 10 Christian teenagers surveyed are concerned about climate change, but just one in 10 believe their church is doing enough to respond to the climate crisis.
Pete Greig, the founder of 24-7 Prayer is also one of Tearfund’s ambassadors. He says this, “The climate crisis is killing more and more people. It’s undermining national economies, breaking delicate ecosystems and destroying homes. Many species are on the verge of extinction. We can no longer stay silent about its cause and effect.”
But silent many of us have been. As long ago as 1970 the acclaimed evangelical thinker, Francis Schaeffer published Pollution and the Death of Man. Somewhat presciently it included this sentence which resonates today, "...the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture and the church should have been fighting it too."
The seeming absence of concern by evangelicals – and often scepticism or suspicion because ‘green issues’ have been pursued by others with different motives or interests - is strange given a number of aspects. First, the issue is ours because it is God’s creation being damaged by those made in his image and we have clearly been entrusted as stewards of His good creation - in Schaeffer’s terms there is intrinsic value in creation because God made it. Secondly, here is a matter of biblical justice, because climate change affects the poorest and most marginalised people of the world, who suffer disproportionately and often disastrously through deforestation, desertification, flooding and rising sea levels. And finally, the absence of concern seems out of step because in this cultural moment we are being offered a missional opportunity to connect and engage with unchurched people, especially the young.
The Climate Emergency Toolkit
Last year, a coalition of Christian groups published the Climate Emergency Toolkit. One of the churches that has risen to the challenges posed is Gateway Church in Leeds. The climate change issue has always been on the heart of a number of people in the church, including lead elder Chris Frost who mentioned to me his family’s previous involvement. More recently, provoked by a conference seminar, staff member John Davy produced a paper for the Elders at Gateway, who were firmly of the view that Christians must speak out and for the church inaction was not an option.
In summary the Toolkit has three strands; prepare, declare and impact. Because of the urgency of the situation, the Gateway elders agreed that it was important to ‘declare’ as a first step.
Gateway Church has publicly declared its position: “We are facing a global crisis because of climate change and the degraded state of our environment. In response to this, at our Creation Sunday event on November 15, 2020, we formally recognised a Climate and Ecological Emergency, committing ourselves to responding to it as a church. This will initially be worked out by our participation in A Rocha’s Eco-church program.”
Like others, Gateway Church is going on a journey to understand that responding to climate change is part of a broader commitment to social justice and discipleship. The church has provided the space and time to learn and to share about the wider issues relating to climate change: looking at their own building and its grounds, starting to consider lifestyle changes and thinking about practical ideas, like a shop where people bring their own containers for re-filling. In its biblical context the issue has been brought into the children’s work and been a focus in Sunday gatherings. Actions are needed but nothing happens without also understanding the power of prayer.
The heart of Gateway Church is to engage well on the issues. Addressing climate change needs to happen at many different levels, but the church family can have significant ripple effects in its community. One aim of the Toolkit is to support and empower everyone to have an effect wherever they already are. Corporately too, the church can pray and act to have influence on schools, businesses, charities and neighbourhoods. In doing this it will partner with others. Gateway engages with their community, including City Councillors and their MP. This big issue is not without its conflicts. For Gateway there is a very local debate about the future of Leeds-Bradford airport and the whole issue of employment, the level of future air travel and pollution.
In the whole issue of climate change Gateway Church has recognised that many strands are woven together: that we have a commission and responsibility to steward God’s creation well and that when we don’t the consequences, especially to the weakest and most disadvantaged can be catastrophic. At the same time this is a moment of opportunity to engage with our neighbours, be missional and for the church to point to the ultimate hope in Jesus.
The Climate Emergency Toolkit provided Gateway Church with an opportunity to take practical action, and at the Jubilee+ conference in November Chris will share more on this topic alongside John Davy in a seminar dedicated to the issue of climate justice.
Written by Richard Wilson