Climate change and failing to preach Christ crucified

Posted in: Blog

The Revd Dr Darrell D Hannah, Rector of All Saints Church, Ascot, and Chair of Operation Noah’s Board of Trustees, urges The Tron Church in Glasgow to re-consider its opposition to preaching ‘climate change’.

Into my email inbox this afternoon arrived the daily news summary, from a Christian perspective, collected and edited by the good people at Premier Christian Radio. I often glance at the headlines without taking time to read any of them, but today one headline caught my eye and my immediate concern: “Putting the gospel before climate change.”

Scrolling down I found the article, an opinion piece entitled, “The Church must preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not climate change”. The Tron Church in Glasgow had hung a banner outside its building which read, “The world’s most urgent need is churches preaching Christ crucified, not climate change.” The opinion piece, authored by the Tron Church’s senior pastor, Revd Dr William Philip, was apparently written to defend the banner.

The article assumes that preaching Christ crucified and “preaching climate change” are two different things. As a preacher who seeks, Sunday by Sunday, to preach “Christ and him crucified”, and who is convinced that climate change is causing the crisis of our age, I was struck by the unnecessary and illogical polarity of this assumption.

I am sure Dr Philip would agree with me that Christ died for our sins, that Christ went to the cross because of human selfishness and greed and because of the human tendency to choose love of self over love of God and love of others. I would hope that after a moment’s reflection, he might also recognise that it is just these things, selfishness, greed and love of self, that also drive the consumerism and the reckless exploitation of the world’s resources and threaten the very survival of future generations.

At one point, Dr Philip asserts (in all caps), “THE MOST URGENT NEED IS FOR THE WORLD TO REALISE THAT ITS PRIORITIES ARE ALL WRONG.” I cannot imagine that many climate activists would disagree. In fact, many would respond with a hearty “Amen!” It is just those misplaced priorities which impedes governments, corporations and individuals from changing direction, even when they admit that our current direction will lead to disaster. And it is just those immoral and sinful priorities which led Jesus to Golgotha.

Later in the article, Dr Philip conjectures that if Jesus were to produce a banner for COP 26, it might display his saying recorded in Luke 12:56: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

While he does not fully spell out his reasoning, it is difficult not to suspect that Dr Philip here alludes to his belief that we are living in the last days; the climate crisis would then be one of the “birth-pangs” of the Age to Come mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels (Mark 13.8; Matt. 24.8). If climate science is correct, Dr Philip may well be proven right. If humans do not change direction, we will succeed in making the world uninhabitable for humans, as well as for many species of the animal and plant kingdoms.

If this were to happen, I cannot see how the promises of Jesus and the apostles could remain true if the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the Final Judgement did not immediately follow such an ecological disaster. While we are encouraged in Scripture to “hasten that Day” (2 Peter 3.12), I cannot believe the Apostle Peter meant that we should do so by continuing to treat God’s world as if it is ours to pollute and exploit and consume at will.

When the day of judgement comes, we will be answerable to God for how we have used, and misused, His world, and for the consequences of our actions on our neighbours—regardless of whether that day is near or far off. But if it is near, we dare not put off addressing how we as humanity and as Christians contribute, and continue to contribute, to the climate crisis by our unchristian life styles.

In short, to preach Christ crucified in this day and at this hour necessitates that we call attention to the climate crisis and our part in creating it. And to fail to “preach climate change” is to fail to preach Christ crucified.

Revd Dr Darrell D Hannah is the Rector of All Saints, Ascot, and the Chair of Operation Noah. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge in Christian Origins and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry in 2008 after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford. When time allows, Darrell continues to write and publish in the areas of Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament and early Christianity.

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