SEVERAL CHURCHES in Argentina explored the subject "Christian faith and ecology: towards an eco-ecumenical theology" in a conference held 28-29 March at Instituto Universitario (ISEDET), a Protestant theological school.
The event was sponsored by ISEDET, the Argentina-based Rural Reflection Group and the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) Latin America and Caribbean region and was supported by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the United Church of Canada.
"Climate changes occur very rapidly and have astonishing consequences," said Dr. Alfredo Salibian, an Argentinian biologist, in an address. "We are witnessing changes in our own lives, not only in relation to the context in which our parents or grandparents lived, but in relation to twenty, ten or five years ago."
Salibian proposed the addition of the prefix "eco" to theology, reflecting an imperative, urgent concern for nature. "We have to recall that the redemption offered by Jesus Christ is bidirectional," he said. "On one side, it is vertical because it allows for the restoration of relations of human beings with the Creator. But we tend to neglect the other part of this relationship, which is horizontal, which aims to heal the damaged relations between human beings and the rest of God’s creation."
But it goes even further than that, said lawyer and diplomat Raul Estrada Oyuela, who spoke on the international diplomatic framework linked to the theme of climate change. He warned that the lack of mutual understanding between theology and politics could be damaging. "If we do not understand what happens in politics, it will be very difficult to interfere in the construction of policies," he said.
Oyuela chaired the group created by the First Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to negotiate a legally binding instrument on climate change, now known as the Kyoto Protocol.
"There are many people from the member churches of the World Council of Churches in international diplomatic circles that deal with environmental issues," he said, pressing the issue that the church can influence power. "If theologically, the WCC proposes ethical reference points, why not strengthen the process of awareness raising and advocacy among these actors, so that the agenda has a more significant impact on the final results of the negotiations?"
Reinforcing the need for a review of Latin American theology, the WCC programme executive on climate change, Dr. Guillermo Kerber, from Uruguay, added that one of the main impacts of climate change on theology is the need to reform the theological understanding of creation.
"What is the place of the human being in creation and in relation to it? We need an epistemological change of our theology in relation to ecology," Kerber said.
One of the efforts made during the event was an attempt to explain links between violence, peace-building and care for creation.
Emerging from the seminar in Argentina was a holistic view trying to build on the acknowledgement that the environmental crisis resulting from climate change has economic, political and spiritual components. The impact of climate change, particularly on migration, is leading to an ethically-based debate on the issue of justice involving the testimony of the most vulnerable groups such as women, impoverished and indigenous people.
"We must recognize that justice is a central theme in the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God of justice who does justice. Therefore, we include in our theology the issue of ‘eco-justice,’" said Kerber.
— Dr. Marcelo Schneider has been working as assistant to the WCC Central Committee moderator since 2006. He lives in Porto Alegre, Brazil and writes for several Latin American ecumenical and church-related news agencies.