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Anglican environmental chair warns against climate denial

22 September 2023

Former Primate describes how change is hampered


Geothermal land next to a Maori village, New Zealand, last month

Geothermal land next to a Maori village, New Zealand, last month

MOST Churches in the Anglican Communion are tackling the realities of the climate crisis every day, a global audience has heard. But the overwhelming nature of the crisis, and the attendant denial and cynicism, have hugely undermined efforts to act for change, the chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, the Rt Revd Julio Murray Thompson, has said.

Bishop Thompson, a former Primate of Central America, was addressing participants from around the world in webinars on the Lambeth Call on the Environment and Sustainable Development (News, 11 August): part of a structured series on how each of the calls — specific requests determined at last year’s Lambeth Conference — is progressing.

A key part of the Lambeth Declaration was the acknowledgement: “We contribute to the problem. We contribute to the solution. We are both local and global. We connect with one another, share our experiences, and can leverage our networks and Anglican identity to mobilise for action. We do not speak from just one position but from many. We do not only speak to others; we speak also to ourselves.”

The calls for action are directed to all the bishops and people on the one hand, and to world leaders on the other. The latter are called to “challenge wealthier nations and those with greatest responsibility for climate change to take the lead on climate action and just financing for other countries to reduce emissions”.

The call sought to help the Communion act globally and “tune in to the principles of attitude, action, and advocacy,” Bishop Thompson said. The Revd Jacynthia Murray, from New Zealand, representing the Anglican Indigenous Network and reflecting on attitude, said: “Indigenous philosophy offers a window into the personal connection we each have with Mother Earth. Indigenous wisdom considers that all things are living and are not inanimate objects.

“In the Maori language, we have the word ‘Ha’, meaning essence for the breath of life. . . The Ha is already familiar to us. We know it from scripture — the wind from God swept over the face of the waters; God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the Ha of life; and Jesus breathed on them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Humanity’s existence relied on this critical connection with Mother Earth, she suggested. “Once we are fully accountable to God and creation, not just to ourselves alone, we take giant leaps in realising how big a problem we are for the planet.”

Bishop Thompson emphasised the need to understand that “caring for creation is not a distraction from sharing the gospel but is an integral part of our Christian mission. The way in which we treat the environment impacts the lives of people, and loving our neighbour means taking care of the neighbourhood, too.”

Paulo Ueti, a theological educator from the Anglican Communion Office and the Anglican Alliance, said that the Lambeth Call had excited him because it was done collectively and because it “calls on our spirituality, the way we express our faith and the way we talk about our faith, which is the theology, the discourse of God.

“It leads us to be an active agent, an active contributor to this relationship on equity, justice, love, and solidarity. It’s also a call to help us join civil society organisations and also to get governments accountable, to help them make sure that the world we live in is safe, protected, and will last.

“It’s an opportunity to unlearn certain theologies that make us think in an extractive way or a consumerist way. The environment is not something for us to consume, for us to take and use. It’s not a resource. It is a source of life, and, because it comes from God, it comes from his breath, his inspiration, just like humanity. . . So, it calls us to shift to promoting theologies for life-giving, for transformations — theologies that go to the Kingdom of God. . .

“We do community engagement; so we don’t do this by ourselves and by only speaking. We do it by doing together actions that express this spirituality of connection and togetherness. . . And, of course, it moves all of our conversations into active hope, which is the theological word for advocacy. We should be more and more echoing the voices of those who are silent.”

On the principle of action, Nicholas Pande, from the Anglican Alliance, spoke of the Communion Forest initiative, which urges members to “protect and restore forests and other ecosystems across our planet, and commit to promoting tree growing at the time of confirmation, and other key life and faith moments, as a symbol of spiritual growth” (News, 5 August 2022).

He reflected that the geographical and ecological diversity of Anglican actions such as this had “made visible the many Christian care activities that were already happening around the Anglican Communion”, from grassland restoration in Kansas to environmental education in India.

But the initiative had also inspired new action, such as the dedication of 105 hectares of church land in Central Zimbabwe to forestation, “as an act of hope that the Church is involved, and would want to be involved, in caring for creation”. The Korean Church had launched a Communion Forest initiative as early as August last year: indicative of the warm reception and support that the initiative had received across the Communion.

There had been some mistaken perception of the Communion Forest as “one forest somewhere that people probably could do pilgrimages to”, Mr Pande said, but the focus as “something you can do in our own backyard . . . the practical action of ecosystem conservation or protection or restoration” had been well supported.

Advocacy had led to a campaign against the logging of forests, by the Franciscan Brothers in the Solomon Islands: an example the Communion needed to take into other spaces, such as Anglican representation at the UN Convention. “It’s providing the evidence that we are taking to this business . . . telling people, look, this is what we’re doing and what we’re inviting all of you to do.”

Amal Sarah co-chairs the advocacy committee of the Anglican Communion Youth Network (ACYN), which sought, she said, “to raise a voice on issues that have seriously oppressed the communities around the world, and of course now our planet as well”.

She spoke of her attendance last year at COP27: “As a young Anglican, I was given platforms to raise my voice on issues of climate justice. As a panellist at a side event, I raised the notion of stewardship as our utmost response to climate crisis.

“Because, when we start to understand that the earth is the Lord’s and that we have been created to cultivate and care for it, then we know that we are not the masters. If we just fulfil our shared responsibility, the day is not far off that we can all make this world liveable for us and for generations to come.”

On her return from COP27, she initiated, through ACYN, a campaign inviting people from all religious and social backgrounds to participate in advocacy towards climate justice. “I believe and hope to continue my efforts on a broader scale in the days to come,” she said.

When Pakistan suffered devastating floods (News, 2 September 2022), she was sought after for interviews about the calamity, in which Anglican congregations were caught up along with everyone else. “These [situations] are the connecting bridges which can help young people, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable groups to raise their concerns and requirements about the challenges of climate migration, scarcity of resources, displacement, loss of livelihood, disease, psychological traumas, and much more.”

She concluded: “I sincerely encourage the Anglican community in their efforts towards lobbying governments to become serious to eradicate the triple environmental crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

“I firmly believe that change is gradual. . . But our voices should never be lowered, even when at times we feel that our voices do not matter, or we are not being heard.”

A questioner asked how to challenge the individuals, communities, and nations that were denying the climate crisis. “The science is compelling, because there’s so much evidence out there,“ Mr Pande said, “but, from a spiritual perspective, I think we need to talk about care as an aspect of our spirituality. We’re doing this not because the UN has declared an environmental crisis, but because we have been called to steward creation.”

The Bishop for Episcopal Ministry in the Anglican Communion, Dr Jo Bailey Wells, who facilitated the question time, reported ”a phenomenal array” of participants on the webinar, including those from Japan, Korea, South Africa, Canada, Portugal, Philippines, Argentina, S. Helena, Jordan, Indonesia, Ghana, the United States, and India.

Resources are available on the Lambeth Conference website after each webinar. Next to come is the webinar on Anglican Identity, in the first quarter of 2024.

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