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Operation Noah Trustee Shilpita Mathews Reflects on ‘Daily Climate Stewardship’

Operation Noah Trustee Shilpita Mathews wrote this blog post following the Work+Go conference in November 2023, organised by OMF, LICC and other partners. Operation Noah was invited to facilitate the Isaiah stream for the non-profit sector, where the LICC’s 6 “M’s” framework was used to encourage reflections. Shilpita is an environmental economist who holds degrees from Cambridge University and the London School of Economics.

What difference does it make to be a Christian in the environmental sector? Many Christians are working to address the climate and biodiversity crises, yet Christian environmental professionals often struggle to connect their faith with work. My journey straddling the sacred-secular divide has been two-fold, understanding how faith is compatible with climate action while grappling with what this practically means for my work. 

LICC’s 6 “M’s” framework has been helpful in understanding how faith can be a powerful force in driving climate action. The framework – which uses six categories that begin with the letter ‘M’ – is designed to help Christians reflect on fruitfulness on their ‘frontline’, which is defined as a ‘place or activity where you regularly connect with people who are not Christians‘. 

This includes paid work, volunteering, hobbies, as well as family and friendships. Given the sometimes fraught debate surrounding climate action within the Church, I extend this definition to cover activities and places with Christians.

For example, a 2022 survey by Pew found that among the most ‘devout’ Americans (people who pray daily, attend religious services at least weekly, and say religion is very important), 61% are climate sceptics compared to just 29% of the ‘least devout’ population, with climate denial being the highest amongst US evangelical Christians. This highlights the need for environmental awareness and action amongst Christian communities.

With best-selling books such as Ikigai, which has inspired conversations around purpose, young professionals are increasingly asking, ‘How can I combine my profession, mission, vocation and passion?’ More importantly for Christians, ‘How can I view my work as more than a job, but as the ‘avodah’ (Gen 2:15), or act of worship and service, it is intended to be?’

A short description of LICC’s “M’s” is provided below, followed by my reflection on the relevance of each of the “M’s” to environmental roles. 

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Source: Fruitfulness on the Frontline, LICC (2023)

  1. Modelling godly character: As Christians we are called to model godly character, reflecting the Fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self- control (Galatians 5: 22-23). As someone who has been employed in secular organisations, I have found these ‘frontlines’ to be incredible opportunities for Christian witness. Equally, with 48% of people in the UK belonging to some faith community, interfaith environmental action can be a powerful form of collaboration and witness, especially in a culture of increasing religious discrimination and hate.
  2. Making good work: I have been blessed by Christian mentors who have helped me understand how I can make good work using my education in environmental economics on my ‘frontlines’. Christians can use their gifts and skills to respond to the climate and nature crises. Whether it be the engineer working on climate technologies, a healthcare worker treating the rise of vector-borne diseases, or a theologian strengthening arguments in eco-theology, Christians can make good work based on biblical convictions. This is particularly true for neglected areas such as climate adaptation or biodiversity conservation, as we are well positioned to champion these causes given Christ’s teaching on seeking justice for the poor (Matthew 25:31-40) who are disproportionately impacted by climate impacts, or the biblical call to be good stewards of creation (Genesis 2:15).
  3. Ministering grace and love: In an age of divisive political discourse surrounding climate action, Christians can be salt and light in these conversations. For example, a 2022 survey showed that nearly half of young people in the US said they would not share a dorm room with  someone who had voted for the opposing presidential candidate in the 2020 election. Building bridges includes ministering grace and love to those who disagree with us. This includes striving for unity in Christ (Ephesians 4:3), even and especially when climate denial or delay can come from Christian brothers and sisters.
  4. Moulding culture:  Increasing climate impacts today alongside the expected damage in decades to come is causing a mental health crisis, with three-quarters of adults in Great Britain saying they were worried about the impact of climate change, as per the ONS in 2021. This is especially true for young people, with more than 45% of 16-25 year olds surveyed across the world saying that their feelings about climate change negatively impact their daily life and functioning, as reported in a 2021 survey of 10,000 young people that appeared in The Lancet. However, with the rise of eco-anxiety, Christians can point to the hope, security and transformation found in the gospel. 
  5. Being a mouthpiece for truth and justice: I have the privilege of being a trustee at Operation Noah, which aims to be a prophetic voice, inspiring the Church to take action on the climate and nature crises. Being a mouthpiece for truth and justice starts at home. This includes reviewing our own environmental policies within the Church. How are we using our collective resources, voice and money? At Operation Noah, we campaign for faith-based divestment from fossil fuels, and this summer, we celebrated the decision by the National Investing Bodies of the Church of England to divest. We are also holding national leaders accountable for climate action by partnering with churches and other Christian charities to speak out. Regardless of which ‘frontline’ we find ourselves in, the prophet is needed to reimagine a more sustainable and equitable world for all. 
  6. Being a messenger of the gospel: Climate denial amongst Christian communities results in low civic engagement with only 21% of US Christians volunteering, donating, protesting or contacting an elected representative on this issue, compared with 41% of other US religious groups (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu populations). While these numbers may be different amongst Christians in the UK, being a messenger of the gospel includes sharing how climate justice is central to loving God and the world He has made, and loving our neighbours, especially those in developing countries who are disproportionately impacted by a warming planet. There is also an urgent need to address eschatological misconceptions within the Church, highlighting the restoration and renewal of our planet and how we are invited into Christ’s ministry of reconciliation (Romans 8:18-23, Colossians 1: 18-20). 

While these reflections on the 6 “M’s” are not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive, I hope they spark conversation on how Christians can be distinctive on environmental frontlines. Whether it be in academia, science and technology, non-profits, the arts, government or business, I hope you can be a blessing on your frontlines as stewards of His creation!

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