As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
The recent report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has many people reeling with fears about the future. Psychologists now recognize climate change anxiety as a real and poignant source of stress and worry among their patients, particularly young people. Since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased 42%. Deforestation and fossil fuels are contributing to the global temperature increasing at higher rates than ever before, and even a half degree Celsius increase means huge devastation, including rising sea levels, species extinctions, decrease in arable land, and an increase in uninhabitable regions across the globe. In light of such a sobering and urgent diagnosis about our earthly home, the church has the opportunity to be a place of hope for people struggling to find peace about the future, but only if Christians are willing to take seriously the call to bring healing to this world.
Upon hearing grave reports of human destruction to our planet, I’ve heard Christians respond with statements like, “Jesus is coming soon. This earth is coming to an end. The future of this world is in God’s hands and isn’t for us to worry about.” While these sentiments contain truth, they avoid human responsibility by sweeping over many important points. God has entrusted the world into our hands, in the very first chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:28-30). And in so doing, God made it ours to be concerned about.
Jesus’s return is not a reason to do nothing about the climate crisis. In fact, the opposite is true: God will call us to give an account of what we did here in this life, in this God-unforsaken world.
The Church in Action
Some churches and leaders in the CRC are taking on the mantle of creation care in word and deed. From its building’s beginning in 2004, the congregation of Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, Ont., asked what it means for their church building to embody the Creational Mandate. After establishing a Creational Stewardship Committee headed by Henry Brouwer, Ph.D., they invested in geothermal heating, occupancy sensor lighting in bathrooms and classrooms, low-flush toilets, additional insulation, LED lighting, and other measures to reduce electrical usage. Another Christian Reformed Church, Jubilee CRC in St. Catharines, Ont., has installed solar panels on its roof and is reducing its use of disposable cutlery at meals.
While making practical changes to our facilities is essential to living out the call to care for this earth, churches also need to reflect on what it means in our day-to-day lives: how we eat, travel, manage our homes, operate our businesses, spend our money, and advocate for government policies. Many churches have been preaching or hosting information sessions about what Christ’s redemption of this earth looks like practically.
Two years ago, Brouwer, a retired professor of chemistry and environmental science at Redeemer University, led a 6-part series on climate change and environmental stewardship at Meadowlands CRC. The congregation invited area churches to participate, and about a dozen congregations were represented at the Sunday evening presentations and discussions. (You can watch these lectures here.)
"As Reformed Christians we confess that we are stewards of the world, and yet we hear so little of it from the pulpit,” Brouwer said. “I really encourage pastors to take the lead there. We talk about creation, fall and redemption; we spend a lot of time on the fall and redemption, but very little on creation. ... Science can tell us how creation functions ... but it doesn’t tell us who we are, that we are created in God’s image. The Bible gives us the reasons why we should care for the creation.”
One person who is passionate about preaching climate change from the pulpit is Ben Wimmers, a CRC pastoral intern who is completing his master’s at McMaster Divinity School. His sense of a call to ministry is intertwined with his passion for creational justice. While he was studying environmental science and ecology during his undergraduate degree, he felt the Holy Spirit calling him to encourage people to respond to the climate crisis while simultaneously calling him to pastorship.
“The gospel brings a wholesale transformation to people’s lives,” he said, and part of that total transformation means a change in how we care for the environment. Regarding the ICPP reports he said, “If we as an institution, as a community, can stand together and look the latest assessment (of climate change) in the face and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty dire, but we’re not quitting. We’re going to start working harder,’ that ... is inspiring.”
Considering the Least of These
If it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, those of us who are comparatively rich in the world need to take seriously our role in caring for this earth. While we will see progressively severe effects of the world’s rising temperatures—flooding, drought, famine, forced mass relocation of communities, forest fires, and other forms of devastation—those of us who have money and resources will be able to cope. It is those who are financially and socially vulnerable who will suffer the greatest. As Christ’s followers we must ask, what does it mean to care for those in need, to defend the poor, to stand against injustice, in the face of climate change? What does it mean to give up our own comfort and convenience in order to bring healing to creation, and, by extension, God’s children living around this world?
Ben Wimmers explains, “I look at Jesus’s ministry and how he has a preferential treatment for the poor. Climate change is something that threatens the poor disproportionately, and if we as Christians are truly convicted and convinced that we are to care for the poor and the oppressed and the marginalized, we can throw all the money we want at aid programs and subsidy programs, but if we’re not addressing the climactic changes that are a barrier to well-being, then we’ve really missed the mark of the gospel.”
When we learn about the ways the carbon dioxide we pump into the air is creating systemic barriers and encroaching on the well-being of vulnerable people, “the gospel convicts us of the harm we are doing and then asks us to change. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and (reducing our carbon dioxide emissions) is one of the ways we live out that call.”
Humility, Repentance, and Hope
We are all affected by the fall, and one of the ways we see this fallenness is through our selfish consumption of our God-given home. We have treated it as disposable instead of stewarding its resources. We have prioritized profit over fruitfulness. We have stolen the earth we were instructed to cultivate and care for. But the church can be a leading force in bringing humble restoration to a creation that, despite our abuses, continues to sing God’s praises.
Our hope in Christ is not just a hope for a happier hereafter. It is a hope that leads to repentance, a true turning from the ways of this world, a world marked by destruction, selfishness, and greed. It is a hope that turns toward new life, a life of growth, healing, and restoration. It is an active hope, a hope that leads to change. It is an invitational hope, a hope that welcomes each one of us to take part in bringing Christ’s renewal of all things, here and now. It is a hope given to us by a God who came into this broken world, died and was buried in it, and then rose within it, bringing that resurrection hope to the entire cosmos.
Let us approach this report with humility and repentance. Let’s listen to the scientists who are using their God-given gifts to study creation and to learn from it, rather than taking our cues from politicians and corporations who have agendas beyond stewarding this earth. Churches can begin to witness in this way through joining the Climate Witness Project.
If the church refuses to be active in significant creation care, we will fail to bring the gospel of Christ’s redemption of this created world. We cannot claim to care about human life if we are unwilling to stop harming the place where humanity lives. We cannot share a message of hope when a world despairing about its future sees that we are unconcerned with the earth’s well-being. Our witness depends on our willingness to change and to advocate for large-scale change, to bring justice to every square inch of God’s good creation.