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Sustaining Creation

Eco-justice in body, mind and spirit

The call for Christians to be stewards of creation is an ancient one. Synod Green Church advocate, Rev Dr Clive Ayre, said the need to care for creation plugs into some of the key doctrines of the church.

“For example a doctrine of grace, the whole idea of covenant is all involved,” he said. “James Nash [eco-theologian and author] said grace is not only the forgiveness of sins but givenness of life through redemption and creation.

“The whole of nature, the bio-physical universe, is not grace but rather an expression of grace and that understanding ultimately comes from the influence of Joseph Sittler some decades ago.”

A Lutheran theologian, Mr Sittler wrote several books and essays on the church’s ecologic responsibility including The Ecology of Faith (1961). His writings remain relevant today. As scientists and governments all over the world debate climate change, Christian groups suggest it is a moral issue. In The Ecumenical Review (“Churches Caring for Creation and Climate Justice”, July 2010) World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, said eco-justice and climate change are bringing Christian groups together.

“In a very disturbing way, the climate crisis brings us together as one humanity. Therefore, it also brings us together as one fellowship of believers, as one church,” he said. “We cannot say that life on the planet is only for some of us. It is a matter for all of us: when this planet is threatened, it is threatening for all of us.”

Rev Martin Robra, director of the WCC program on ecumenism in the 21st century, noted that the WCC helped place the term “sustainable society” into the public domain three decades ago.

“Churches are well-equipped to point to long-term needs of the planet. Politics often gets stuck in short-term issues,” he said.

The church in a global conversation

Now, there are global conferences with top eco-theologians on the topic of faith and the environment. One such conference is the Symposium on Christian Faith and the Earth, to be held in Cape Town in August 2012. The brain-child of Ernst Conradie, professor in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, the conference is the culmination of an international, collaborative research project on ecology and Christian doctrine launched in 2007. Dr Ayre will be one of the Uniting Church members attending and is the editor of one of 12 working groups’ papers.

“The purpose of this project is to consolidate and assess the insights gained thus far and determine a sense of direction for this on-going task,” said Dr Ayre. “The focus of the project is not on environmental ethics or on praxis but on the content of the Christian faith.”

The National Council of Churches in Australia has formed an eco-mission project to gain national ecumenical cohesion on the issue and this year, for the first time, the National Church Life Survey will include questions on sustainability and the environment.

A moral issue

In February multi-faith group the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) launched its blueprint to curb climate change. Developed through consultation with local faith communities President, Thea Ormerod, said the paper presents ARRCC’s positions on the Government’s climate change policies.

“ARRCC has drawn on the values held dear by many people of faith, from a range of traditions, including compassion for the poor, living simply, truth-telling and respect for life,” he said. The report says that climate change is a “profoundly moral issue”.

“We have a responsibility to care for the ecosystems on which life depends, particularly for (a) people in developing countries who are bearing the negative impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, (b) future generations, and (c) other species with which we share the Earth,” it states. “Economies need to be redirected away from the pursuit of unlimited economic ‘growth’ and towards new understandings of prosperity.”

Lifeline Community Care Queensland suggested one way to do that is by cutting down on purchasing new products. In their Throw the Environment a Lifeline fact sheet they quote the Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) Conservation Atlas saying that by making more informed choices about what we consume we can dramatically lower our environmental impact.

“By choosing products that demand the least resources, package and transport, your impact is felt in the reduction of greenhouse pollution,” it states.

Dr Ayre said, “Even if you feel conscience bound to deny climate change it is difficult to deny the theological imperative to care for creation.

“We need to engage the political processes. Not just in a partisan way but as advocates in the same way the Church needs to speak for those who don’t have a voice otherwise.”