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Is repentance the starting point for eco-mission?

NOT ONLY scientists and politicians are talking about climate change.  These days it is a topic of conversation over many Uniting Church cups of coffee and a “hot” discussion on Uniting Church e-groups.

Many Uniting Church people are refining their eco-theology and looking for practical ways to respond to current climate change and other environmental issues.

Manager of the Queensland Sustainable Energy Industry Development Group and Uniting Church member Wendy Miller is increasingly seeking to make links between climate change and her Christian faith. 

“As a Christian who works professionally in the area of climate change, I have been increasingly alarmed by the extent of the social, environmental and economic challenges that face our global community as a result of climate change,” she said. 

“I have also been personally challenged to question the role that Christians could and should play in addressing both the causes of global warming and the adaptations that we will need to make in order to live with the effects of global warming.” 

Trinity Theological College Director of Old Testament Studies Rev Doug Jones has also been on a journey of discovery regarding his own personal impact on climate change and how he should respond. 

“I suggest that we need to confess that we have bowed down and worshipped the god of mammon and have adopted a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle whilst leaving the living God on the mantlepiece as our western personal household god whom we dust off when it suits,” said Mr Jones. 

Uniting Church member Mr Tim Trudgen agrees but sees a lack of motivation for care of the environment and calls for a radical approach based on repentance.

“Guilt and love should motivate the living generations to sow painfully back what we have taken from the future,” Mr Trudgen said.

“I think a large healthy amount of guilt is necessary for repentance. I am glad that I feel guilty every time I drive a car or make toast or flush the toilet for that matter.

“This helps us to change but I am afraid humanity’s collective guilt and love will not be enough to turn the tide.”

Clayfield/Hamilton Uniting Church minister Rev Peter Lockhart believes it is about recognising our place in the bigger whole.

“In the past, human dominion over the creation has been interpreted as people simply seeing the earth as a resource to support our needs and wants but I think we are realising what some other ancient and indigenous cultures understood far better. We are not above the creation but a part of it.

“The current ecological concerns for global warming, sea level rises, changed weather patterns and so on serve as a stark reminder of dominion being not about subjugation but symbiosis.”

Theological student Stephen Clark talks about “eco-mission” which is focused on a commitment to the environment as more than just material resources available for the benefit of humanity.

“It is God’s creation that has been deemed ‘good’,” he said. “Because of this, the natural environment is to be celebrated and enjoyed for its intrinsic value as part of God’s good creation and relationship to God in its own right.

“We have a particular privilege and responsibility to humanity to tend and care for the world as a participation in divine purposes.”

Ms Miller said much of our response is based on how we determine the value of creation, of our natural environment. 
“Our society says that natural environment is useful only if we can get something out of it, usually in an economic sense – for example, the presumption that we can conduct atomic testing or bury nuclear waste in Central Australia because ‘nothing lives out there’. 

“Or look at Australia’s accounting methods for resources.  Only resources that can be bought, sold, traded, or licensed such as coal, oil, gas and uranium appear on the balance sheets, whereas those resources that cannot (yet) be traded such as sunshine, rainfall, wind, fresh air are given no value; they are not even mentioned.”

Ms Miller believes the Bible says otherwise. 

“The natural world is not valuable purely for the services it provides us, for the things that humans declare useful. It was not made just for us.”

She also believes the problem is linked to the question of ownership of the land itself and of the natural resources that are on or under the land.

“Our whole economic structure is premised on the presumption that creation can be ‘owned’, that it can be traded and sold, and that the ‘owners’ therefore have a right to do whatever they want with ‘their property’.

“Even our sense of national identity, of being Australian, is reliant on this piece of land, with its physical boundaries clearly delineated, belonging to us collectively, that we can make decisions as to who can or can’t step foot on our land, who can own parts of it, and what we can or can’t do with this part of creation.” 

Convinced that this exploitation of the earth for economic and political gain is the single greatest cause of social and environmental problems globally Ms Miller believes it is not consistent with biblical truth.

“The Bible clearly states that God owns creation.”

She quotes Deuteronomy 10:14, “Look around you: everything you see is God’s – the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it.” 

Mr Jones looks to the recent discussions between the Prime Minister and several state Premiers about water trading as an example of this problem.

He hears an implicit understanding that the market will sort water resources out and that government is loath to get involved in the market.

“If, as Sir Nicholas Stern has asserted, our current predicament is the result of massive market failure, I believe that I have reasonable basis for scepticism over the capacity of the market to determine an equitable distribution of this valuable resource that is fundamental to life.

“Is it morally neutral to live a lifestyle that knowingly contributes the highest rate of green house gas emission per capita in the world and thus contributes to the potential destruction of major components of the ecosystem?”

Mr Clark calls for a network of like-minded eco-congregations which will support and encourage one another in eco-mission. 

“Enthusiastic congregational members will need to be identified and recognised as the contact people and local drivers of our missional initiative.

“Such motivation must come from within a congregation in order to more readily effect a transformation of awareness into action.”

Ms Miller is one who has taken up the challenge.

“I believe that God has called me to be actively involved in challenging and criticising our current reality, in challenging our political and economic systems that allocate the bulk of the earth’s resources to the minority of the population, and in challenging our rampant consumerism that results in the actions of the rich minority having global impacts that threaten to destroy much of God’s creation.”

People interested in networking with others who have an interest in climate change issues and a commitment to work for change should contact the Social Responsibilty Advocate Mr Andrew Johnson on 07 3377 9111 or click here to email.