This article was first published as a letter in Jan/Feb’s issue of Idea, EA’s magazine. Its author, David Golding, says: “It is greatly to the credit of EA and its editor, and showed remarkable integrity and generosity, that it carried, my letter (see below), in full and without change.”
When I opened November/December’s issue of IDEA and found that the subject of climate change was not even mentioned, I was astounded! Is not this the greatest moral, humanitarian and political challenge facing the human race? And is not the international climate conference in Paris in December probably our last, best chance to prevent a slide into climate chaos? It is, on both counts. I recall that Richard Woodall, in his feature article in July/August 2014’s IDEA, stated that “the topic… is rarely on the radar of the church”. All too rarely, it seems!
In a letter published in The Guardian in March, I recalled that “Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Josephine Butler led veritable armies of believers into battle against the social evils of their day. More recently, black churches overcame legalised racism in the US and, as Madeleine Bunting noted: ‘The secret of Jubilee 2000’s success [on poor country debt] is simple but unfashionable – it is the Christian churches.’”
Furthermore, many believers, both individually and corporately, make very real sacrifices of their time and money for the good of others – indeed, I sometimes wonder whether the country wouldn’t collapse were it not for these ministries! How passing strange then, that we should “have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness”(Matthew 23.23) when it comes to climate change, given the surpassing urgency and gravity of the issue! Yet does it get so much of a mention in most churches, from the pulpit or in intercessions, from one year’s end to another? Do most believers ever spare a thought for the environmental impacts of their lifestyles? In both cases, I doubt it.
Yet we’re the people whose Bible commands us “care for the earth” (Genesis 2.15), and warns us that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11.18). We’re disciples of the one who brought “good news to the poor” – whose protection is among our foremost responsibilities and who are already suffering from climate change and who will be hit the hardest in the future by what is surely, potentially, a crime against humanity surpassing all others.
Could it be that we’re good at ‘charity’ and enjoy the (legitimate) gratification which comes from giving, but lack commitment to ‘justice’ and are unwilling to face up to the fact that, on account of our lifestyles, we have become oppressors of the poor? Could it be that we’ve become like the people of Isaiah’s time, whose determination not to be disturbed led them to “say to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Instead, tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions!’” (Isaiah 30.10)? Worst of all, could it be that our attachment to comfort and convenience now amounts to idolatry?
David W. Golding CBE PhD DSc DCL
Institute for Sustainability, Newcastle University
Author’s Note: It would be understandable if objection should be taken to the above statement on the grounds that it is entirely negative – indeed, censorious – in content and tone, but due consideration should be given to the context (note my astonishment and distress as mentioned in the first sentence). A more representative expression of my thinking on this subject is to be found in the text of my sermon in the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 15th November, entitled “Christian faith, hope and love in an age of climate change”, which is available on request – contact email@example.com.