Climate change seems to polarize Christians. As the world gathers in Paris for the COP21 climate talks, many, including from A Rocha, have taken part in marches and pilgrimages around the world. The Pope’s environment advisor, Cardinal Turkson has urged Catholics to pray and march too. Some have taken direct action: several British Christians were arrested for whitewashing the outside of the government ministry responsible for climate change. In a significant step, the US National Association of Evangelicals recently issued a strong and positive statement: ‘A changing climate threatens the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest citizens.’ In Paris, A Rocha is working in partnership with other Christian bodies to organize prayer and several important events.
In contrast, the US-based International Prayer Council has spoken of its fears of a ‘global control agenda’ and quotes approvingly those who believe that ‘this is not about climatic developments, the evidence for which numerous scientists have challenged.’ Rather, they allege, ‘it is an effort by global elitists with Marxist and occultist connections who want to establish a new form of global tyranny.’
So, why does climate change action divide Christians? Why do some believe it is a satanic plot whilst others see it as a crucial moral issue? Why do so many more simply ignore it as irrelevant to their faith and daily lives?
In the end it’s about theology. Is Christianity a purely spiritual battle or does it impact how we treat the earth and the poorest? Which matters more to God, economic and individual libertarianism or justice and the integrity of God’s creation? What biblical themes and passages have relevance to an issue that simply wasn’t in the thinking of people in biblical times? In the rest of this brief blog I want to look at a few questions often raised by Christians who oppose involvement in climate action.
Isn’t it a sign of humanist arrogance to think humans could have changed the climate?
Ironically, the opposite is true! In biblical times people saw a clear and direct link between human sin and environmental chaos. Hosea 4:1–3 is one of several passages that speak of climatic change leading to collapsing harvests and wildlife extinctions due to God’s people’s failure to keep God’s laws. It was only the secular thinking of Bacon, Descartes and the Enlightenment that separated the spheres of nature and culture and assumed humanity could see itself as separate from and act independently of nature. Today we need to recover the biblical worldview that humanity and the earth’s systems are deeply interconnected and interdependent.
Can we trust science?
There’s a strong correlation between Christian scepticism of climate science and rejection of other ‘mainstream’ science, such as on evolution. Yet, committed bible-believing Christians including Sir John Houghton and Dr Katharine Hayhoe are leading climate scientists. Science, when done honestly, carefully, and with peer review is a friend, not an enemy, of biblical faith. It is simply thinking God’s thoughts after him, as Johannes Kepler observed. The first scientist was Adam, who in naming the creatures exercised the curiosity, discernment and careful classification that are essential to the scientific method. Every single national scientific academy and all but a few contrary individuals (most of them with no background in climate science) accept the global consensus that burning fossil fuels is adversely affecting the global climate.
Isn’t the climate God’s problem, not ours?
Some argue that since Jesus – not the disciples – calmed the storm (Mark 4:35–41) all our climate action is pointless: We should pray and leave it to God! It’s true that human action alone won’t save the planet, but God chooses to work through people. God’s saving plans in the climate catastrophe of Noah’s flood involved human action. As those called to reflect God’s image we’re called to reflect God’s character in servant leadership (‘dominion’) over the earth and its creatures. Romans 8:19 reminds us that creation is waiting for God’s children to be revealed – in other words for the Church to stand up and take action. Both climate scepticism and the more widespread apathy and inaction in many churches, are denials of our biblical call to serve and preserve the goodness of God’s world (Genesis 2:15).
Is the UN climate process part of an anti-Christian conspiracy?
Some have alleged a left-wing, occult elite is behind the UN and its climate process. They are right that climate change is a spiritual, not just political, battle but they are wrong about the enemy. As the many Christians involved in COP21 will affirm, there is no secret elite or agenda. Those at COP21 cover a spectrum from political left to right, have widely different agendas, and include a range of religious and non-religious views, including committed Christians from many nations. Jesus warned frequently about the dangers of addiction to greed and wealth. The spiritual forces we need to pray and work against are those who spread lies to protect powerful vested interests in fossil fuels and polluting industry, and who worship the idols of consumerism, individualism and unbridled economic growth without concern for poverty or environment. Those so critical of the world leaders gathering in Paris would do well to remember Romans 13:1 and 1 Timothy 2:1–3. The UN and national leaders need our prayers for God’s Spirit to break through the deadlock and for a deal that will reduce rising temperature, address climate injustice, and serve and preserve the creatures God declared ‘very good’.