In our culture we know every bad thing that happens in the world, because we watch the news. In Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman shows the trouble with this is that we gain “a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others.”[i] He calls the news ‘a mental health hazard’. These difficult feelings make us want to escape – and any number of streaming services are ready to help.
In our culture we‘ve become individualistic rather than community-minded, numbed into apathy rather than committed to the Greater Good. Is it any coincidence then, that in our culture we also have increased levels of loneliness and escapism, depression and consumerism?
Perhaps the church is stuck in a model that encourages us to get people to ‘come to church’ and then they might ‘get discipled’. Another model would be for the Church to show what the Kingdom of God looks like – to attract, include and encourage those who care about Kingdom things.
Into this context, the Church could be bringing hope. The Kingdom of God is about relationships and inclusion and reconciliation and renewal. It brings life and spirit and purpose. But how does it speak to climate change?
I prefer the term ‘Climate Justice’ because the people most likely to be causing it are not the people most likely to suffer from it. The Kingdom of God has a lot to say about justice. God created the world and asked us to look after it justly. Why then, does Tearfund’s new research show that younger Christians can’t find this relevance?
A young man I’d known his whole life left the church he’d grown up in. So I invited him to come to ‘Voices For Justice’ at Parliament House with me. He asked whether that would be alright, as he no longer identified as Christian. I said of course! And he loved it. He remembered Christians care about the issues he cares about.
Perhaps the church is stuck in a model that encourages us to get people to ‘come to church’ and then they might ‘get discipled’. Another model would be for the Church to show what the Kingdom of God looks like – to attract, include and encourage those who care about Kingdom things. To help them become part of actions bigger than themselves.
Tearfund’s research is a preventative step ahead of the 2019 study The Connected Generation, which interviewed 15,000 young adults about why they’d left the church. These young people were lonely but spiritually open. They were longing to make a significant difference to the world, they wanted to fight injustice, and to see evidence of adults ‘practising what they preach.’[ii]
These young people were lonely but spiritually open. They were longing to make a significant difference to the world, they wanted to fight injustice, and to see evidence of adults ‘practising what they preach.’
My son hasn’t had a hot shower in years. Ask him why and he’ll say: “I want to be able to tell my grandchildren I did everything I could to prevent climate change.” Imagine if all congregants were this dedicated to the Kingdom of God?
What can we do in response to this data today? The best tool we have is communication. Humans are great at it, unless it becomes conflict - then we’re terrible. Authentic, empathetic conversations are needed now – exactly as requested in the research!
I wrote a conversation template called ‘Climate Justice’ in my book Raising Kids Who Care. One family spent hours talking, then decided together to buy an electric car. Ask your young Christians what they care about now, before they go elsewhere to find the people who do care. Help them find ways to contribute to the work of the Kingdom, before they walk away in despair. Then we can turn this research around, grow the Kingdom, and help Creation - all at the same time!
[i] Bregman, R. (2020) Humankind: A Hopeful History. Bloomsbury, London. Page 12. He’s quoting Jodie Jackson ‘Publishing the Positive’ from constructivejournalism.org (Fall 2106).
[ii] The Connected Generation. (2019). The Connected Generation – A Barna Project in Partnership with World Vision. Retrieved from: https://theconnectedgeneration.com