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21 September, 2021

An advocate's journey

An advocate's journey

Frankly, I felt that I had failed!

For too long, I had acknowledged the call to act on climate change, yet I hadn't considered what I should do to be an effective advocate in my church. The publication of the IPCC reports this summer forced me into action. This is my story, and I share it to encourage you.

The church I attend is a busy place. There are two main leadership teams: the elders and a team of trustees, and in July 2021 their hands were full. After months of COVID restricted worship, the church was just beginning to regather in one congregation.

I was aware that anything that I might propose had to be carefully thought through. In the current situation, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to personally discuss a proposal with either of the teams. So, I rapidly concluded that a written proposal for action was necessary. It had to be brief, persuasive and lead to action.

It also needed to come from the heart. I could demonstrate this in the language that I used but I also wanted to show that my climate change concerns arose from my lived experience. Prayer helped me recall a powerful incident.

A few years ago, my daughter, then working in Asia for an international NGO, contracted dengue fever. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. In her case, the disease developed into a more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage. It appeared that she was heading into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs.

Dengue fever is transmitted by Aedes mosquitos. These mosquitoes lay eggs in clean water. However, they thrive, typically, in discarded motor vehicle tyres, plastic bags, water bottles and beer and juice cans. This modern urban pollution defaces the streets and urban waterways of the city where my daughter was living. The marked spread of dengue fever is known to be driven by ecologic disruption. When my daughter was in a hospital close to death, many in our church prayed for her recovery. Our prayers were answered at the eleventh hour.

This, I realised, established my personal connection with the climate crisis.

I was convinced that my appeal for local church action would flounder unless it cited, albeit briefly, authoritative voices from theology and the natural sciences. So, beginning with Calvin I followed the trail.

Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis 2:15, emphasised frugality and moderation in our stewardship of creation:

“The Earth was given to man with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation … and the custody of the garden was given to Adam to show that we possess the things that God has committed to our hands on the condition that being content with a frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain … Let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses."

Jurgen Moltmann, writing prophetically in God in Creation, named climate change a "deadly crisis":

"This crisis is deadly...unless there is a radical reversal in the fundamental orientation of our human societies, and unless we find an alternative way of living and dealing with other living things and with nature, this crisis is going to end in wholesale catastrophe."

I also recognised the need for support from natural scientists. I traced the research reports over time and noted the caution pervading early reports and the ways that caution changed as evidence became incontrovertible. I was inspired to find that, on the climate emergency, it was frequently leading Christian scientists that communicated early and with urgency.

Sir John Houghton, an evangelical Christian and Welsh atmospheric physicist, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) scientific assessment working group was early to conclude, in 2007: "The impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a ‘weapon of mass destruction".

Next, I became persuaded that I must also be able to cite what the various streams of church life had committed to, were doing and had already achieved. I noted that many were using The Climate Emergency Toolkit and eco-church resources from A Rocha to help guide their response.

As the evidence mounted, I recognised that it would be wise to encourage my church leaders to consider more than one action. I considered that certain initial steps might represent too much of a challenge. Instead, I chose to offer three practical responses (each compelling and doable) that could act as first steps.

If in this busy and pressured period of church life you are keen to advocate for an improved response to climate change within your setting why not consider these five questions:

1. What form of communication would best suit your appeal? (For instance a formal paper, an in-person meeting with an individual or selected group.)

2. How does climate change affect those your church may be working with at home or abroad (or perhaps in their broader movement of churches)? In the U.K. and elsewhere there is growing evidence showing that young people’s anxiety levels and life decisions are being influenced by the climate crisis. In less developed countries climate change is killing people today: it is not a theoretical problem.

3. What theological and scientific voices could you read to help inform yourself and others? Chapter seven in Martin Charlesworth & Natalie William's book A Call to Act is a great place to start, and the work of Christian atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, (e.g. ‘This is all just a part of a natural cycle, right?’) is invaluable.

4. What good examples are out there? Why not read the story of Gateway Leeds on the Jubilee+ blog, and then sign up for the #CTCC21 seminar that Chris Frost and John Davy will be delivering?

5. What three practical responses could you suggest? Don’t be discouraged if these seem small! LED lighting in the church building, reducing plastic consumption and considering the way we serve coffee are all valid first steps in the right direction.

21 September, 2021

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