Resources: Theology

The church and climate change: preach the good news to all creation

Posted in: Theology
Resource type: Talks, lectures and sermons

There is now new urgency, impetus and meaning to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “preach the good news to all creation”, says Operation Noah board member Ruth Jarman.

1. We know from the Psalms that God has made us ruler over the works of his hands, that he has put everything under our feet.  And what have we learnt this morning?  That we are trampling it all with abandon! Now we know that, what are we to do?

2. Psychologists say that when faced with a danger that is huge but not immediately life-threatening, our default human response is paralysis and denial.

a. And isn’t that what we are seeing? – in the response of the people we know, in the response of our government, and, let’s be honest, in the response of ourselves – don’t you wish Martin Hodson and Ben Niblett had met for a few too many Yorkshire bitters last night and made the whole thing up?

b. And isn’t it the easiest thing to just allow ourselves to fall into paralysing despair? The Welsh poet and activist Saunders Lewis said, “There is nothing more comforting than despair.  Then one can go on and enjoy life.”

3. But you wouldn’t be here if you thought that denial and despair were the right responses.  Plus, the solution to climate change is dead simple – we know exactly what we need to do – we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. But we’re not.  So if we are not to abuse the position God has given us, we have to do something. I’m going to mention 3 areas – as individuals, as a nation and as a church:

4. Individually, as part of our Christian discipleship we can choose not to conform to the pattern of this world. So we shun air-freighted food and tumble-dryers not out of guilt, not to “do our bit” and then feel we deserve that holiday in the sun, but, liberated from the shackles of consumerism, as part of our Christian walk, knowing we can never do enough. Thus living the low carbon life will be deeper and more fulfilling than the default all-you-can-buy way of being.

5. Nationally, until preserving life on this planet becomes higher priority than preserving the current economic system it’s going to be hard to solve the problem.  Unfortunately, the physical chemistry going on in our atmosphere will not wait patiently while we sort out the nation’s finances.  To invest in infrastructure that does not speed us on our journey towards a zero carbon Britain is not only short sighted and immoral but also great folly.  The oil will some day run out.  We have to make the switch at some point.  Why not do it now when we have the added possible benefit of saving civilization while we’re at it?

Of course governments think that being popular is more important than doing the right thing.  Our government needs to be reminded, strongly and uncompromisingly, that presiding over a switch to a zero carbon economy is the only thing that will really matter to our children and to the rest of creation.

6. Which brings us to the Church.

a. The church’s job is to be the prophetic voice the world needs.  Who best to remind our government and the business community of their responsibilities to the future? The church must give voice to the climate scientists, who are the prophets of our day, speaking uncomfortable truths to our generation.

b. The church is embedded in an economic system that is destroying what God has made.  How comfortable do we feel about that?

c. In the past, the Church has spoken out against systems in which it was entrenched. In 1930s Germany Karl Barth and others wrote the Barman Declaration which rejected the influence of Nazism on Christianity. It was a Confession – a courageous statement of dissent on an issue which touched the very heart of faith.

d. Operation Noah believes climate change to be such a confessional issue.  We launched the Ash Wednesday Declaration calling on the church to repent and act on climate change.  The declaration was signed by leaders of all denominations including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and endorsed by many organizations including Christian Aid and Tearfund.  Please read and reflect on it.

I’m going to end with a call to conversion. The transformation that needs to happen to society requires nothing less than a transformation of desire brought about through repentance. But repentance is not something that we can decide to do. It is something that happens to us when, in true humility, we open ourselves to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Only then will we, and the world, be saved.

So the church has a whole new field of mission. There is now new urgency, impetus and meaning to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “preach the good news to all creation.”

This talk was given by Operation Noah board member Ruth Jarman at York Minster on 21st April 2012.

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