Views & Reviews
Are Our Churches Environmentally Conscious Enough?
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”, twitted His Holiness Pope Francis, on 18th June 2015, on his official Twitter page. This bold statement says it all, and that too coming from the Christian spiritual head, is a signal that Churches too, must and will have to go in line with the changing times and needs.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Then God commanded, “Let the earth produce all kinds of plants, those that yield grain and those that yield fruit,” and it was done. So the earth produced all kinds of plants, and God was pleased. Genesis 1:1, 11-12
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse devours the earth and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore, the inhabitants of the earth
Are scorched, and few are left. Isaiah 24:5-6
These two passages of the scripture present a stark contrast. We have poisoned the earth which God has given us. It is no longer the beautiful garden that Genesis portrays as the home of Adam and Eve. Instead, it is polluted by nearby landfills, garbage piles, polluted air , water and land. The images of the prophet are visible in many places around us today. Our irresponsibility as creatures is destroying the creation.
One does not need to be a theologian or an expert to know the context of the above biblical references. Anyone with a good Christian grounding will understand its meaning. Simply put, we must respect and protect God’s creation or we will face dire consequences. As it turns out, the Bible includes a number of verses that speak of God’s views on his creation as well as on the importance of treating the Earth well. Some of these are found in Genesis 2:15, Genesis 1:26, Proverbs 12:10 Ephesians 1:8-10, Psalm 95:5 , Psalm 24:1, Psalm 89:11, Revelation 4:11 etc. These verses show that God cares for his creation — and expects us, as Christians, to do the same.
The above teachings of the Bible has been brilliantly elucidated by one of the most progressive and perhaps even controversial Pope. Pope Francis described man’s destruction of the environment as a “sin” and accused mankind of turning the planet into a “polluted wasteland full of debris, desolation and filth”. The pope asked people to reflect on a society that lacked concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature. He called for consumers to modify their modern lifestyle by reducing waste, planting trees, taking care of their own garbage/ rubbish etc.
We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of His creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan; it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored. A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and of the poor. “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love of our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of the society”. (Pope Francis, On Care for our Common Home)
Being a Christian state the role of our Churches should not be confined to spirituality and morality, sometimes perhaps even being overtly hypercritical. However, it is pertinent that the church also address the emerging challenges of the modern world, one of the biggest being the deterioration of our home – our planet. Churches, having, the largest outreach network must take this opportunity to spread the messages of environmental care and protection, particularly to the remotest and to the lesser educated sections of the parishioners. The Christian church is not just a building, but must be viewed as a body of believers united in Christ. Its role is to worship God, and to nurture, edify and reach out to a suffering world with the saving message of the gospel as well as the practical compassion and mercy exemplified in Christ. To this end ecclesiology is not some ivory tower, academic discipline removed from the reality of daily life. Instead learning from the church must help us make a real difference in the world not just temporarily, but for the future as well. The notion of common good also extends to future generations. We can no longer speak of sustainable development minus the future generation. Thinking for the NexGen, is not an option but rather a basic question of justice and right, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.
There are signs that our state too, is waking up to the dangers posed by climate change, and environmental pollution and that there is a need for real action to confront the threat posed. Nascent beginnings are being made by the government and the public to curb plastic pollution, which is now considered as second to the problem of climate change amongst the most serious crisis facing mankind today. We are seeing these efforts in different parts of the state. It’s a small step forward, which hopefully will gather momentum as the reality and dangers are better understood. A concerted effort is required by all concern to take action on environmental care and protection.
Unfortunately, as of date, our Churches have remained deafeningly silent. Efforts have been made to include them in this movement but the standard response received is that they are busy with prior engagements or that their programs have been finalized and no slots are available or that they would consider it (but for how long?). One church even suggested taking up this issue in a women’s service. Sorry, environment care is not a matter of gender exclusive and must be seen as a collective responsibility.
In the recent decade, theologians from across the spectrum may have recognized that our God-given job description is to care for the earth with responsibility and compassion, to protect the planet’s capacity to support life. There is no serious theological debate about this fact. So, what is the challenge now, to put this belief into action? Positive change can make a huge difference when multiplied by members of the entire church and with our church leaders leading the way.
As we see our polluted rivers, exponentially growing landfills, random littering, shrinking forest ecosystems and wildlife, we must question – Is this the way God intended for us to treat the earth? Did he really want us to co-exist with his creations in this manner? The way we live today is definitely not how God wanted us to live when he gave that important message to Adam and Eve. God was not giving humanity a command to use his creation in a selfish way, with no thoughts of the future consequences. He was issuing to us a challenge, of taking responsibility over his incredible and vast creation, and using it wisely, carefully, and lovingly. God wanted to give us an opportunity to show him that we could rule over his creation as He rules over us: patiently and tenderly. He was giving us something indescribably beautiful and useful, to see if we could worship God and His grace in every way that we used His gift. We have failed in the face of this challenge. The state of our environment today is not the state we as God’s servants should allow his gift to be in.
The World Environment Day is just round the corner. It is to be seen how meaningfully our Churches will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity and the world on this Day. Its time our Churches lead the way by giving us guidance and making this universally indispensable cause a part of their mission.
Thoughts for reflection
How green is our church? A check-list to assess our church’s starting point around engagement with environmental issues.
• How often, in worship services at our church, is the environment or care for creation mentioned?
• Do you have prayers that feature environmental concerns?
• Do you have sermons that speak about the call to exercise responsible stewardship of creation?
• Are film clips about the environment or climate change shown as part of the service in our church?
• Does our church have display boards or posters about key environmental issues such as climate change, plastic pollution etc. and what action people can take,.
• Does our church hold events about key environmental issues – for example, inviting a guest speaker or showing a film?
• Do our church magazines, newsletters, etc. feature environmental concerns? Do they include green lifestyle tips and campaign actions and events?
• Does our church offer study courses or Bible studies exploring environmental concerns, such as ‘Climate Change and the purposes of God’?
• Do the children’s or youth programmes at our church include activities that focus on the environment?
• Do members of the church understand the importance of addressing climate change or plastic pollution as part of their Christian discipleship?
• Has our church shared information about the role of the church in responding to environmental concerns ?
• Do our church disseminate information about environmental and climate change campaigns from environmental and faith NGOs?
• Is our church aware of the ‘Pray and Fast for the Climate ’ movement? Has it participated?
• Have members of our church or eco/youth groups contacted senior church leaders, to discuss environmental concerns and the role of the church?
• Has our church committee (or other governing body) ever written collectively to key decision-makers to express their concern about an environmental issue?
• Has our church installed energy-saving measures in its buildings, for example low-energy lighting, or an efficient solar PV panels or even rain water harvesting
• Is our church active on recycling, including composting?
• Do our church actively minimize waste wherever possible, for example by not using disposable items for events?
LH Thangi Mannen