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Were in a climate crisis and church leaders must respond

We’re in a climate crisis – and church leaders must respond

We cannot stand idly by while God’s precious world is destroyed, writes Tearfund UK’s Ruth Valerio.

Canon Dr Ruth Valerio
Canon Dr Ruth Valerio

In the UK, the language around what is happening to our climate has changed. When I first started talking about climate over twenty-five years ago, the term was ‘global warming’. ‘Climate change’ then became the term. Now we are increasingly using terms like ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate catastrophe’. Why? Because ‘change’ is neutral and doesn’t demonstrate the terrible urgency of the situation we are in.

There is no doubt we are in a climate crisis and I don’t need to detail here the increasing wildfires, droughts, flooding, crop failure, heat waves, typhoons, hurricanes, coral devastation and species loss that we and our neighbours around the world are suffering.

But if there is no doubt about the seriousness of the situation, there is doubt about whether this is something church leaders should be engaging their congregations in. To me, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, and indeed I would say that if we are not engaging our congregations in this then we are being unbiblical and even unChristian, because these issues go right to the heart of our faith, rooted in the Trinitarian God.

Psalm 113 tells us clearly that we worship a God of Justice who cares for the poor and takes action to change their circumstances. We see this theme of a God of Justice all through the Scriptures. God expects his people, and especially the leaders, to be people of mercy and compassion who spend themselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed (Isaiah 58: 10). Jesus stood in this tradition as he met people’s physical and social needs as well as their spiritual needs, and so did the early church as they collected money when there was famine and starvation, and developed such a reputation that even the emperors mentioned it – they not only cared for their own poor, but cared for the poor from other communities as well! When the climate crisis is having such a devastating impact on people living in poverty, our God of Justice and Righteousness calls us to respond.

And we worship the Lord of all Creation. Colossians 1:15-20 tells us powerfully that we worship the Son, in whom and through whom and for whom all things were created. It is a powerful affirmation that all things are loved and are valuable to God. Yes, people, but not only people. This expands our understanding of the Gospel - the ‘good news’: Jesus’ blood shed on the cross has made peace and reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to God (v.20). All through the Scriptures this world is seen as ‘very good’ by God. We have been created and placed in this world, not separate to it, but as part of that community. And we have a job to do – to be God’s image, to mirror God’s care, love and valuing of the wider natural world by tending to it. We can’t stand idly by whilst God’s precious world is destroyed.

Were in a climate crisis and church leaders must respond

So we get engaged in the climate emergency, but we do so not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the one who moves creation towards its perfection in Christ. We look forward to the future that we glimpse in Revelation 21-22: that earthy, physical, heavenly reality of the transformed heavens and earth where God dwells in our midst, death and suffering are no more and in which the wider natural world is fully present with trees and rivers. That future promise calls us to live our lives in the light of it, working actively towards the time when, as Romans 8 says, the children of God will be revealed and the whole creation set free. The presence of the Holy Spirit is our downpayment - the guarantee that we do not work in vain.

Canon Dr Ruth Valerio is the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund UK.