JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

Joe Gunn

September 9, 2013

At the end of September, the best scientific minds in the world will release a report confirming that human activity is the largest factor causing climate change. This will be the fifth and most damning report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the face of devastating scenarios of increasing environmental damage from floods, storms and drought, how will Christians react?

You can bet that the responses of faith communities will be mixed.

Some Christians will shrug and do nothing, unwilling to see the link between care for creation and their stated commitment to love and obey their Creator. In May, the Public Religion Research Institute released polling data that showed only 50 per cent of white Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. agreed that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change.

In contrast, 69 per cent of religiously unaffiliated Americans saw the link. What is the explanation for certain religious views acting as an obstacle, rather than a clarion call, to ecological justice? (As for U.S. Catholics in this same survey, only 60 per cent made the link.)

Nonetheless, several Christian communities have shown amazing prophetic leadership in linking environmental and spiritual activities.

They often begin with developing ecological literacy on a specific concern, holding educational events and developing liturgical elements for worship services. Others develop communal gardening projects or community-supported agricultural opportunities, retrofitting Church properties or installing alternative energy sources, and twinning with partners in the Global South who are struggling to adapt to their changing climate.

ADVOCACY STRATEGIES

The most advanced among the faith communities also develop ecological advocacy strategies - engaging their elected representatives to reform the political and economic structures that contribute to ecological destruction. Some groups even try to engage leadership structures in the churches themselves in such efforts.

Where can you turn to see more of this type of leadership in your own faith community, to get successful ideas from others, and join the emerging Church movement towards ecological justice?

Citizens for Public Justice, in collaboration with Calgary's Father Mishka Lysack, has just published a new 140-page book that can serve as a most useful guide to move Canadian Christian communities forward in their vocation as advocates for change. Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis, is comprised of reflections, prayers, and workshop/action suggestions for individuals and small groups.

The first of three sections describes how Christians can re-ignite right relationships with creation, as eco-theologian and Toronto Star journalist Stephen Scharper pens it, by "falling in love with the Earth."

The second section is entitled The Biblical Case for Creation Advocacy, where authors like Anglican Aboriginal Bishop Mark MacDonald and Ursuline Sister Sheila McKinley describe the sources of Christian inspiration for economic and climate justice.

The final section, which is perhaps the most challenging, focuses on worship, community building and action strategies.

Presbyterian Rev. Charles Fensham proposes a "sacramental tree planting conspiracy;" United Church member Shaun Loney provides unemployed native people with jobs installing geothermal heat pumps at the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba; a leader of the Mennonite Church in Canada, Willard Metzger, describes how our worship must be joined to our advocacy strategies; and Carol Thiessen of the Canadian Food Grains Bank links actions in Canada to our necessary international development and advocacy responses.

WHAT WILL CHURCHES DO?

The hardest conundrum presented to the authors (or readers) of any such guide book is to answer the question: Will the response of faith communities be equal to the severity of the ecological challenges before us? Or, as one environmentalist more potently phrased it: "What are the churches actually prepared to do?"

A mere fine-tuning of our ethical and theological reflection will fall short. Personal greening or retrofitting Church properties aren't being done on a scale that challenges the structures of a market economy that treats nature (and very often human labour) as a mere commodity.

GO INTO OUR FAITH

Prescriptive calls for "stewardship" rarely go deep enough to analyze how we got into this mess, much less how to design adequate exit strategies. Living Ecological Justice asks us to go further - into our faith - and then into social, political and economic action in order to ensure the biblical promise of abundant life for all creation.

To obtain your copy of Living Ecological Justice please see: www.cpj.ca/en/new-resource-living-ecological-justice.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)