Theologians See Climate Change As Way To Establish a 'One World'
Earth-Worshiping Super Church*
By Juan Michel
01 Jan 2010
How does biblical thought relate to climate change? What are the
theological insights churches can offer to a world facing an
unprecedented ecological crisis?
These questions, addressed at a public seminar on "Creation and the
climate crisis" attended by church representatives to the UN climate
summit in Copenhagen on 15 December 2009, seem even more urgent after
the summit’s failure to reach the fair, ambitious and legally binding
agreement that millions around the world had hoped for.
"There is no [immediate] relation between the gospel and climate
change", said Jakob Wolf, head of the Department of Systematic Theology
in the University of Copenhagen, which co-hosted the seminar with the
National Council of Churches in Denmark.
However, to the extent that climate change is a consequence of human
activity, it falls within the imperative of ethical principles, because
human beings are responsible for their actions. The ethical demand to
love one’s neighbour applies here, as "planet Earth has become our
neighbour", said Wolf, and one that is "vulnerable to human activity".
According to Wolf, a theological view of the planet and of the life in
it as God’s creation confers them an intrinsic value, therefore raising
"respect and love". "The more we love life on Earth the more we are
ready to act unselfish[ly]", Wolf said.
Here lies the contribution of Christian faith and theology to fighting
climate change: a motivation that is comprehensive, deep and "much more
vigorous" than if it were based on "cool calculations and cold-hearted
duty". This is crucial, because humanity has "all the tools at hand" to
take action on climate change. "It is only the will that lacks."
Not apocalypse but hope
The biblical scholar Barbara Rossing, professor at the Lutheran School
of Theology of Chicago, United States, agreed with Wolf in that "the
Bible does not say anything about climate change". But she believes
Christians can base their response to climate change on the Bible.
Rossing's point of departure is the question: "Where is God in this
crisis?" She rejects the notion that God is punishing humanity and
rather sees God "lamenting with the world".
According to her reading of the Book of Revelation, "God is mourning on
behalf of the earth rather than cursing it". The famous plagues are not
predictions, but threats and warnings, wake-up calls, projections in the
future of the logical consequences of human actions if their course
However, for Rossing, the Book of Revelation does not announce the end
of the world, but the end of the Empire. So in spite of the current
unsustainable patterns of consumption and carbon-based economy, Rossing
finds in it a message of hope: "Disaster is not necessarily inevitable;
there is still time to change."
This "vision of hope for today" is an essential contribution that
Christian theology and faith can make to global efforts to address
The ecumenical dimension of climate change
"In a very threatening and very disturbing way, the climate crisis
brings us together as one humanity, as one fellowship of believers, as
one church", said Olav Fykse Tveit, the General Secretary-elect of the
World Council of Churches (WCC).
"We are called to show a sign of what it means to be one humanity, of
what it means that God loves the whole world", Tveit said. As churches
come together to offer this sign, addressing climate change "is uniting
us in a very special way: as churches, as believers".
The message that God loves the world and every creature on earth "has
been the heart-beat of the ecumenical movement facing climate change",
said Tveit, recalling the long history of WCC concern with ecological
In an ecumenical perspective, the concern for creation has always been
linked to the concern for justice and peace. "It is not a matter of
saying this is a planet for some of us", said Tveit, "this is a planet
for all of us".
This point was also stressed by Jesse Mugambi, from the University of
Nairobi and a member of the WCC working group on climate change. "The
world is a world in which we are all relatives, but somewhere along the
line we decided […] to treat each other as strangers", he said.
Mugambi explained that in Africa, climate change is already causing both
severe droughts on the one hand, and flooding on the other. With the
help of maps he showed that those parts of the continent rich in water
and cultivable land are also the areas of greatest conflict. Such a
conflict "has nothing to do with ethnicity, it has to do with resources."
For Mugambi, the role of Christian faith and religion in general –
through its leaders, theologians and ethicists – is that of "bringing us
back to the norms" that can contribute to address a challenge like
"We are not talking about 'helping' African countries", Mugambi said.
"It is not a matter of 'help', but of survival for all of us."
(c) Juan Michel is media relations officer at the World Council of
Churches in Geneva, Switzerland.
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Audio recordings of this event are available at:
WCC work on climate change: http://www.oikoumene.org/climatechange 
Department of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of
Copenhagen: http://www.teol.ku.dk/english/dept/ast 
National Council of Churches in Denmark: http://www.danskekirkersraad.dk