From creation care to climate justice

I am puzzled. I thought calls to action on climate change would resonate within the Reformed branch of the Christian church and lead to a strong public witness. In reality, political leaders say they hear about other issues but not much about this one from our community. Numbers remain low for educational events, marches and letter-writing campaigns, leaving sponsors to wonder why. Perhaps unpacking possible reasons for the low response will help us think about this issue more clearly.

Groaning for redemption
Creation is a strong pillar in Reformed theology. Creation care is in our DNA through a heritage of farming, gardening and careful use of resources. Our roots are earthy. And we accept that our faith relates to all of life. I wonder, however, if the increased emphasis on salvation of souls for eternal life has shifted our focus to the sin and salvation themes in Scripture without the larger arc of creation to re-creation. When we say Jesus died for the whole world, do we think persons or also include other created beings and the very rocks groaning for redemption, as pictured in the Bible?
In recent years, faith-based groups working on creation care, such as Citizens for Public Justice, have highlighted Scriptural reflections and prayers that ground action in Christian belief and practices. This counters a culture that associates some issues, such as abortion, with the sacred and other issues, such as air pollution, with the secular.

Rejection of doomsday scenarios
I understand rejection of the doomsday warnings of some environmental activists because it offends our confidence that God is in control. But I thought the Reformed focus on stewardship as our part in the covenant between God and humans would lead to support for hopeful campaigns that call for change as part of our human responsibility. Or are we so confident that God will not allow us to reap the results of our disregard of creation that we think we can ignore taking action now?

Suspicion of science
Is suspicion of science the reason for dismissing climate change as a priority? That was understandable a few years ago, but the weight of evidence is now so strong that even the strongest skeptics have been silenced.

Distrust of governments
Is distrust of governments the reason for reluctance to join calls for action? I recall stronger support for initiatives to reduce waste through recycling and other personal actions. But those issues also required public policy change. Effective action almost always requires both, as it does for climate change. There is strong evidence that public policies can make a positive difference. We call for public policies to address other issues with less likelihood of effectiveness, for example, pornography. Why not for climate change?

Left/ right
Could the reluctance reflect a perception that climate change is too “left” for those who lean conservative? Yet the very word “Conservative” includes “conserve,” so preserving creation should be a conservative issue. In Canada I hoped that a deliberate 180-degree shift by former MP Preston Manning, a leader in conservative circles, to support action on climate change, might help bring more evangelical support. Addressing climate change should cross other political divides.

Us/them
Could it be that it is easier to call for action on issues that we associate with “others,” such as persons involved in behaviours we consider wrong, than on issues such as climate change that will affect my wallet or my choices?
In recent years analysis has been done to show that we can have a thriving economy and a good life with reduced negative impact on our environment. Maybe it is not convincing. There is no doubt that the transition will require changes by everyone.
Groups such as World Renew have highlighted the much greater impact of climate change for persons with few resources in poorer countries. It was hoped that the link between a more wide-spread concern about global poverty in faith-based communities and creation care would enhance both causes.

Awareness
In recent years faith-based actors, including the Christian Reformed Church, have allocated more resources to public education. The recent “Climate Witness Project” by the CRCNA, for example, engaged local church leaders to get the message into local congregations. While there is some growth in support, much more is needed to be effective. Public leaders who are willing to take action need strong support from the public to resist pressure from powerful interests that will have to make adjustments.
Perhaps I am missing other important factors. Finding the key to mobilize public support is important for the next few years. It will take action by all of us on all levels to move from the current rhetoric about taking action to effective implementation of a national strategy to reduce the human causes of climate change.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for an interview with Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe in an upcoming issue of Christian Courier.

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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