In June two key documents were published which could help determine the future of humanity and the Earth. The papal encyclical Laudato Si - On the care of our common home, and the Lambeth Declaration from the Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders - both tackle the vital issue of climate change, as part of a great challenge of reshaping our relationship with the Earth. It is crucial that we engage with this, not just this year, or next year, but continually and with great determination.
Back in the early 1970s when I was still in my teens I was greatly influenced by three books. The first was Only One earth – the care and maintenance of a small planet; the second was Small is Beautiful – Economics as if people matter; and the third was Enough is Enough, which argued that we must live simply that others may simply live. Since then the situation of the planet and humankind has got much worse in terms of climate change and immense inequalities. It is time to act.
There are four fundamental aspects to our response to this situation. The first concerns our basic understanding of the Christian Gospel and the Church’s Mission under God. I have recently given a talk entitled ‘Your Gospel is too small’, which draws on some of the thinking of Bishop David Atkinson who has written that ‘much Christian theology has become virtually overtaken with by the view that salvation is essentially something to do with our individual souls, and our journey to heaven. What has got lost is the truth of the redemption of all things, the Wisdom of God in whom all things hold together, in whom all things are reconciled to God, and in whom heaven and earth are joined’. We need a cosmic vision of the Gospel which embraces all of the Anglican ‘marks of mission’ and draws on biblical passages such as John 1 and Colossians 1.
The second element in a proper response to the challenges we face is to grasp the interactions between climate change and basic questions of justice and inequality. Major charities such as Christian Aid and CAFOD make it clear that the effects of climate change are felt disproportionately by the poor. The vast inequalities of wealth and opportunity across the Earth are surely one of the greatest moral challenges of our time. Climate change is integrally linked to this.
The third element is the challenge to us all to rethink our lifestyles. The problem is that environmental campaigning can appear all hair-shirt and kill-joy in style. But our present worship of consumption and growth can be seen as a form of idolatry - of mammon and material goods - against which Jesus spoke so strongly. We are to enjoy the good fruits of the Earth, but in such a way as they are shared equitably and sustainably.
The fourth aspect of a full response to the Encyclical and Lambeth Declaration is the growing realisation that the crisis of our relationship with the Earth is a matter on which all the major faiths can act with integrity and strength. This is reflected in the Lambeth Declaration, and in the way the Pope addresses in Laudato Si all people on Earth, not only the Catholic faithful. Shared action will do much to help our living well together in a diverse and plural world.
That we all respond is vital. As Bishop David has written, ‘the urgency of the task is not only underscored by the science, but also required by the Gospel’.
Richard Cheetham is Bishop of Kingston in the Diocese of Southwark. He is a member of the Environment Working Group of the Church of England
Check out the next blog in our Encyclical series: We don't need environmentalists to become religious, nor religions to become scientists; but we need a combined effort says Oliver Smith
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