Faith in Action: a religious response to the Climate Emergency (Part Three)

Continuing my reflections on the first national conference in Canberra of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) …

Dr James Whelan, lecturer, researcher and longterm environmental activist, spoke about creating a faith network to tackle the climate emergency, advocating that we need to play to our strengths, ask the clarifying questions, “What are our strengths?”, “What are we lacking?”—and advocate that we need to be strategic!

He argued that we can learn from social movements that have come before—in areas as diverse as anti-apartheid, land rights, whaling, smoking, AIDS/HIV, breast cancer, anti-uranium, public transport, urban sanitation, workers’ rights, or domestic violence.

He then invited the participants to identify the strengths of ARRCC and its people; participants identified creativity, courage, a moral voice, the use of positional authority to persuade, energy from young people, shared values across a wide diversity, existing networks that can be engaged, a clarity of commitment to change, a commitment to respectful conversations as the basis for enabling change, a thoughtful, broad-based progressive religious voice in the public arena, and the fact that ARRCC is an intergenerational and transcontinental movement.

The afternoon was spent in small group workshops ranging across a range of issues exploring how people of faith might respond to the climate emergency. One group heard strategies used to convince religious groups to divest from companies that support fossil fuels; another explored a case study in “switching to sunshine” by installing solar panels.

In one group there was a focus on strategies for developing a climate-conserving lifestyle, noting both the opportunities and the challenges involved. A fourth group heard stories of nonviolent resistance “from the frontline”, whilst another group heard stories of developing local networks across religious faiths (and beyond), sharing the triumphs and the struggles of such work.

The afternoon continued with feedback of learnings and a consideration of how these learnings might best inform the ongoing work of ARRCC, as they focus on four areas: preventing the extraction of fossil fuels (no new coal mines)—transitioning to sustainable regional economies (retraining the labour force)—increasing clean energy uptake by local faith communities—and encouraging responsible lifestyle changes (through programs such as Living the Change, Switch to Sunshine, Eat Less Meat, and Climate Action Kits).

ARRCC President, Thea Ormerod, reminded us of the practical steps that people of faith (and others, too) can take: flying less and driving more; cycling more and taking public transport; eating less meat, shopping locally, and growing your vegetables; all of these (and more) contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.

The scourge of our society is that we think that increased comfort and convenience, and abundant choice as consumers, makes us appreciate life more and feel happier and more contented. Not so, the research shows; more is not better, comfort does not always generate happiness, convenience does not help us flourish as human beings.

Quoting Prof. Mark Howden of the ANU, Thea noted that “each choice matters, each year matters, each half a degree matters”. Living the Change is a project that ARRCC now offers to educate and encourage such transitions in people’s lives. This project upholds two deep theological convictions: the Earth is a sacred gift, and each person has the responsibility to live in a way that supports and sustains our common home. You can read about this project at https://www.arrcc.org.au/living_the_change and download a climate action kit with practical strategies at https://www.arrcc.org.au/climate-action-kits

The conference continues on Sunday with further workshops on moving to a pant-based diet, making the most of one-on-one conversations, and building the climate movement in a local faith community—but I won’t be there as I will be leading worship in my local faith community and speaking about the importance of caring for creation and living sustainability.

It’s certainly been a most intense but very useful experience to have been involved in this conference.

(The photo montage shows key ARRCC people, Dr Miriam Pepper at top left, Thea Ormerod and Tejopala Rawls at bottom right, along with the large cross and the meeting place of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton.)

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-two/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-one/

and related blogs at

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/08/look-up-to-the-sky-look-down-to-your-feet-luke-20/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/09/18/supporting-the-climate-strike/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

Faith in Action: a religious response to the Climate Emergency (Part Two)

Today I am with people from a wide range of faith traditions from across the Australian continent and Aotearoa New Zealand, at the first national conference in Canberra of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC).

During the morning, a series of keynote speakers addressed the Conference: a scientist, followed by a Muslim scholar and a Christian researcher and activist.

Prof. Lesley Hughes of the Climate Council and Macquarie University (top right in the photo montage) gave an overview of the impacts that are being felt right around the world in this climate emergency. Significant changes in the climate are clearly documented; the rate of change is alarming and disturbing in so many areas: temperatures are rising, heatwaves are growing, snow coverage is declining, water levels are rising.

Emissions in 18 countries have been declining in recent years; Australia is not one of those countries. Globally, there is less use of coal and more dependence on renewable sources of energy. However, Australia remains the largest exporter of coal in the world, and we have the 12th highest emissions per capita. Figures demonstrate that the introduction of a Carbon Price under Gillard had a clear impact, but there has been a strong reversal since the time of Abbott.

A number of articles by Prof. Hughes setting out the details of these factors can be read on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823/articles, whilst the Climate Council has recently published a landmark report, This is what climate change looks like. It offers sobering reading. You can download and read the report from https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/This-is-What-Climate-Change-Looks-Like.pdf

Prof. Hughes concluded by quoting the inspiring slogan, We are the ones we have been waiting for!

Prof. Mehmet Ozalp, of Charles Sturt University (bottom right in the photo montage) spoke about an Islamic response to the climate emergency, arguing that within Islamic theology there is a clear ethical obligation to respond in practical ways. On the scale of assessment regarding ethical matters (allowed, recommended, neutral, not recommended, prohibited), this clearly sits within the realm of allowed (halal). He bases this on the premise that, where harm and benefit co-exist, alleviation of harm is the priority.

In 2015, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change was issued. It sets out the theological and ethical imperatives, but is not strong on offering practical strategies. See https://unfccc.int/news/islamic-declaration-on-climate-change

What motivates change? Prof. Ozalp outlined four factors: awareness through education, activism and media reports; relationships with friends, acquaintances and organisations; religious teachings in worship; and individual consciences which generate a concern for the earth and its creatures.

Prof. Ozalp referred to a range of initiatives: questions relating to the hajj and the use of plastic bottles for water; green makeovers of 600 mosques in Morocco and 2000 mosques in Jordan; the Greening the Desert project in Jordan is one of many projects in the Middle East; and the partnership of Greenpeace and the Indonesian Government to avoid plastic during Ramadan.

Trees for Change in Tanzania is one of a number of African tree planting projects; a proposed gold mine in the Kaz Mountains near Gallipoli in Turkey has been stopped by mass protest; an Eco Mosque is being built in Cambridge, UK; and a strong Green Muslim movement has emerged in the USA.

In Australia, Monash University held a Greener Iftar whilst a recently-opened Eco Mosque in Punchbowl has won an architectural award. Australian Muslim leaders have supported the Stop Adani campaign and signed the letter prepared by ARRCC. ISRA has been active in holding public education events in the Muslim community, including the 2019 Living the Change Workshop.

Dr Miriam Pepper, from the Uniting Church (bottom left in the photo montage), then spoke about Engagement and mobilisation on climate change in Christian churches, both to outline the responses and help participants to discern opportunities for future mobilisation.

In Australia, 1.6 million people attend Christian worship on any given Sunday, providing a significant opportunity for networking, influencing, and acting. However, church participants are generally socially and politically conservative, and takeup of climate activism, despite the clear evidence about the climate emergency, has been low and slow across all Christian denominations. (Some have been more active than others.)

Attitudes towards the climate emergency and activities taken in response to it can be schematised as citizen, reformer, rebel, or change agent. Each has a place in the overall movement. Dr Pepper spoke of a range of actions undertaken in Australian Christian churches. Community gardens, solar panels and climate signs outside churches are increasingly found associated with churches. Christian participation in marches, rallies and strikes remains consistent—especially from Uniting Church members, but spread across many denominations.

Divestment from companies supporting fossil fuels is a strategy employed by a growing number of religious organisations. Some Christians have participated in nonviolent direct actions—following the example of Jesus himself! Organisationally, churches work through Congregations and Parishes, denominational agencies focussed on environmental issues, influential positional leaders (most notably, Pope Francis), national and regional church bodies, church schools, university student groups, theological and bible colleges, religious orders, as well as in partnership with parachurch organisations and ecumenical networks.

Drawing on data from the NCLS, Dr Pepper reported that the majority of church people do accept that climate change is happening, but taking action on environmental issues does not rate high on the list of social and religious issues that churchgoers believe should be prioritised by their churches. That places a challenge before all ministers and leaders in the churches to press the point concerning this vital set of issues. See a series of NCLS papers on the environment at http://www.ncls.org.au/topic/environment

In summary, she noted that congregational engagement remains low; however, a sign of hope is provided through an increasing Roman Catholic commitment to caring for the earth, which has grown since the release of the encyclical Laudato si’.

The three presentations we followed by a lively panel discussion, responding to a range of questions and comments form conference participants. A clear role was seen for church communities to press for changes in lifestyle as well as the policy framework of society—through individual and communal actions, through public education and activism, and through political lobbying.

The importance of naming environmental issues in worship, inviting lament and grieving in prayers, offering practical strategies in sermons and study groups, and pointing to a hope for the future through specific actions, was also noted. The scientist on the panel, Prof. Hughes, made a strong statement about the importance of hope amongst everyone involved in responding to the climate emergency—both people of faith and people of no faith working together to a shared and hoped-for outcome.

Prof. Hughes also spoke about the interrelationship between environment, society, lifestyle and civilisation itself. We need to stop talking about “the environment” as an isolated entity, and frame it, rather, in terms of what impact the changes in climate will have on our way of living and our very existence as the human race. That is the extent of the challenge we face!

See related blogs at

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/09/faith-in-action-a-religious-response-to-the-climate-emergency-part-one/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/08/look-up-to-the-sky-look-down-to-your-feet-luke-20/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/09/18/supporting-the-climate-strike/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/25/873/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani-k/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

Human sexuality and the Bible

The recent Israel Folau controversy has highlighted various issues: freedom of expression in modern society, the place of religion in Australian society, the ethics of professionalism … and questions of biblical interpretation.

For people within the Uniting Church, the Basis of Union provides a foundation for careful and prayerful thinking about scripture. The Basis affirms that the witness of scripture is to be understood through the work undertaken by scholarly interpreters, by insights that have arisen in scientific and medical investigation, by understandings that have developed in society, as we better understand how human beings operate and how they function. All of these are important matters to consider when we think about human sexuality.

A number of passages are regularly cited in relation to matters of human sexuality, and particularly homosexuality. We need to think about those sections of scripture in the light of this way of approaching the biblical texts.

Elizabeth and I have written a brief discussion of the texts most often cited when “homosexuality” is debated by Christian people–especially conservative Christian people. It is an expansion of our earlier blog post (noted below).

A longer discussion of these issues is now posted on the Uniting Network website (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf) as part of a collection of resources for Open and Affirming Churches (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/open-and-affirming-project/)

LGBTIQ+ people often refer to these passages as the “clobber passages”, since they are regularly (mis)used to “clobber” people who identify as LGBTIQ or other related designations.

These texts were originally written either in Hebrew or in Greek, so there are questions about how particular words should be translated, whether there are exact equivalences in English, and so on. Many translations use the word “homosexual” where the original language actually requires more nuance in translation.

A second factor is that we need to reflect on the cultural customs of the societies within which the Bible came to be written. It is important to consider how these cultural customs have shaped the way in which the words were written. “Homosexuality” is a modern concept, which was not known to the writers of the biblical texts in the way that we understand it.

Scripture does not include anything relating to the loving, committed, lifelong relationship of two people of the same gender. So we need to take care when we use these “clobber passages” in our discussions. None of them should actually be used to criticise LGBTIQ+ people.

Alongside these passages, there are many sections of scripture which provide a more positive outlook on human sexuality. So we have offered a short reflection on a number of the key affirming and inclusive verses.

Our discussion of these passages can be read at

http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf

Geoff Thompson has a careful consideration of the cluster of issues in the Israel Folau scenario at https://theconversation.com/amp/why-christians-disagree-over-the-israel-folau-saga-118773

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/13/affirmations-we-can-make-together/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/26/once-again-affirming-our-diversity-celebrating-joyous-marriages/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/15/when-you-suffer-the-whole-body-of-christ-suffers/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/abundant-grace-liberating-hope/

Friendship in the presence of difference: a Gospel call in a world of intolerance and hatred

 

In recent weeks, we have seen Muslims murdered as they gather for Friday prayers; Jews murdered as they meet for Sabbath prayers; and Christians murdered as they congregate for Easter worship. These tragic events point to the intolerance, even hatred, held by individuals who identify with a faith “other” than the one where people have been killed. They indicate that, even in this contemporary world where we recognise that there are people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, this intolerance and hatred remains strong and incessant.

The Uniting Church has been advocating for some decades, now, that as we live in a multicultural society, we need to recognise and engage constructively with people of other faiths. There are some keynote resources that deserve our attention and ongoing reflection.

The Ninth Assembly (2000) adopted a statement prepared by the Doctrine Working Group, entitled Living with the Neighbour who is Different: Christian Vocation in Multi-faith Australia.

It set out the following theological affirmations as the basis for the way that we are to relate to people of other faiths:

God is calling us to engage in conversation with people of other faiths. The development of hospitable and respectful relationships with those of other faiths is a proper response to Christ” who “calls us to live in harmony with all other people and so contribute to a world of peace, justice and hospitality.

Christians are called to love the neighbour who is different. The movement from exclusion to the embrace of neighbours who are different is of the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians discover the will and power to enact this gracious embrace of the neighbour as they become more deeply immersed in the indiscriminate love of God.

God has placed the contemporary church in an ideal situation to engage in genuine dialogue with those of other faiths. We no longer relate to those of other faiths from a position of assumed political and social superiority. From nearer to the margin of society we are free to relate to other people as servants of the unifying, reconciling purposes of God revealed and embodied in Jesus.

God delights in diversity and seeks unity. Diversity, woven into the heart of creation, is a gift of God. The unity God intends for humanity does not destroy difference but weaves difference into a single human mat.

The Spirit is present in all of life. No part of life, no person is without the influence of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit is present through the whole fabric of the world, yet is uniquely present in Christ and in the fellowship of Jesus’ disciples. It does not follow, however, that the life and work of Jesus exhaust the work of the Spirit or exclude the presence of the Spirit in other faiths.

The Centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian believing is not to be compromised when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Christ is the foundation of Christian believing and living. We live “in Christ” and our way of being with others should be consistent with the way pioneered by Jesus.

In 2010 the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group commissioned Keith Rowe to write an updated statement. The title of this statement, Friendship in the presence of difference, is carefully chosen. Real differences do exist in humanity. The gospel imperative calls us to live in friendship.

Individual and corporate friendship robs difference of its power to divide, to foster distrust or to sanction violence. Friendship in the presence of difference is a gift greatly needed both in the Christian community and within the human family as a whole.

The word ‘friendship’ is chosen because it includes a sense of growing relationship, empathy, warmth and care for others. While we may rejoice in similarities among the affirmations and wisdom of the various religions we do not want to deny the existence of very real and important differences. World religions differ in their understanding of the Divine dimension within life, the purpose of our living, the nature of human fulfilment and what it means to live together in a world of many faiths.

Our Christian uneasiness in the presence of difference is something we need to recognise and address. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it well: “In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference”. (The Dignity of Difference, Continuum, 2003, p. vii). The possibility of the religions and people of religion being able to contribute to peace rather than conflict in our world depends on the capacity to relinquish the desire for uniformity based on what serves our comfort or power.

The Thirteenth Assembly (2012) adopted a statement prepared by the Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths, entitled Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multifaith Australia.

In introducing this theme, the statement said:

Friendship in the presence of difference is regarded as being a central Christian attitude and value. Engagement with those of other faiths is welcomed as a pathway on which we may rediscover the heart of the Christian way while also being enriched by wisdom others have to share. Distortions that have crept into Christian living and believing often become apparent in informed conversation with those who believe differently. Friendship in the presence of difference can be a significant doorway into the renewal of Christian discipleship and theology.

It offered the following Conclusion:

As a church we are grateful for our developing friendship with those of other faiths. Christians have deepened their understanding of God and of the tasks we face together in our divided world in friendship and conversation with people of other faiths. We look forward to developing deeper friendships and discovering ways we can live together generously and work together for the common good.

We encourage politicians, decision makers and opinion shapers in commerce, industry and the media to grow in sensitive and accurate knowledge of the faiths within our society. Where religious beliefs contribute to conflict and division, we ask our national leaders to strive for understanding and reconciliation among those whose beliefs differ. We believe that lasting peace in our world is not possible unless the religious dimension of life is recognised.

Each part of the Uniting Church is invited to make the building of friendship in the presence of religious and cultural difference a priority missional objective. Whatever theological or spiritual stream of the church’s life we belong to we all have a positive role to play. Trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Uniting Church commits itself to cultivating friendship in the presence of difference.

Clearly, the call that the Gospel places before us at this time, is to offer and receive friendship in the presence of difference.

See https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/theology/livingsummary.pdf

https://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/about/theology/item/1876-study-guides-for-living-with-the-neighbour-who-is-different

https://assembly.uca.org.au/fipd

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/resources/appendix_1_-_Friendship_in_the_Presence_of_Difference-Christian_witness_in_Multifaith_Australia.pdf

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/hello-thank-you-we-are-with-you-we-support-you/

Hello. Thank you. We are with you. We support you.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.

Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.

They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.

Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.

We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.

Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.

So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.

This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.

Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.

Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.

It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.

They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.

What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.

We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch:

https://canberra.uca.org.au/uca-news/uca-statement-christchurch/

https://revdocgeek.com/2019/03/16/prayer-for-christchurch/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/aussie-church-leaders-respond-to-christchurch-massacre/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/dont-give-nz-terrorist-what-he-wants/