HOW GREEN IS MY CHURCH? – Michael Gormley

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 17, Spring 2000
by Michael Gormley

The Year of Jubilee is a tremendous opportunity for our church communities to make a fresh and sustained commitment to ecology and to the integrity of creation. This is a time to affirm a strong missionary and spiritual dimension in the environmental debate. Ecology is not an optional issue. Care of the earth is high on the church’s mission agenda. It joins all our efforts for justice and peace, part of our total spiritual and social package of transformation.

The daily images of poverty, hunger, conflict, despair, exploitation and pollution discourage us. Consumerism and greed strike at the root of the sources of life: the land, seas, rivers, forests, and all plant and animal life. Unabated technological research and experiments unsettle ecosystems and balances, and endanger future generations and their life on mother earth. The problems not only encompass the realms of science and technology, industry and economics, politics and law. All relate to culture, religion and spirituality.

Faith suggests a hopeful vision to make a difference amid the crises. In our quest for ecological integrity, we must cease to be timid and hesitant onlookers. We need to delve into the profound connectedness between God, our world, ecology and ourselves, and claim a unique and spiritual perspective. Our gospel message has the potential to awaken, energise and make a difference.

This is not just about our feeling good in the natural world. Nor is it just about recycling and making odd adjustments in life style. It is more than an accommodation between the churches and the green movement. Respect for the environment implies conversion to a strong sense of belonging to the earth. Believers have a special story to tell about a creating/sustaining God, and about their connectedness to everything in their life environment.

Pope John Paul emphasises that a just, peaceful and integrated planet is not just a slogan or a vague ideal, but a moral and practical necessity, demanding a new global solidarity. Nature cannot be deciphered outside relationships with God the Creator. This involves a change in consciousness about how we relate, to ourselves, our world and our God. It means awareness of global trends and the shape of the emerging worldview and culture.

Note that a clear gospel perspective engages all the major themes on our global landscape: economies, resources, technology, ethics, politics and peace. Cautious moralising from the sidelines has no place. The missionary response, is to deliberately meet the issues of hunger, poverty, pollution, conflict, genetic engineering, food security, exploitation and world debt. Great emphasis is given to economic reform – putting the earth and its inhabitants back at the centre of economics.

Happily, as we enter the Year of Jubilee, we find our churches are getting an ecological act together. We can identify a compelling eco-theology and authentic eco-spirituality emerging across the world. Resources in scripture, theology and spirituality provide the base for a faith encompassing all living beings and all of creation. Contemplative aspects are fostered in liturgy and retreat opportunities. Social justice awareness spreads through committed networks. Positive recognition goes out to committed environmentalists, farmers, politicians, scientists, teachers, lobbyists and activists.

Consider the New Zealand 1997 church statement: “A Consistent Ethic of Life: Te Kahu O Te Ora”. The document contains an inspiring reflection on the sacredness of creation, and highlights, as a central component of church teaching, the protection and enhancement not only of human life but also the life of the planet on which we depend. It notes that respect for the sacredness of creation is in keeping with the traditions of the Maori of Aotearoa, living as partners in life with the earth, the oceans, the lakes, the animal world, the mountains, the fish of the sea and the birds of our forests and gardens. From such sources, balanced by the infinite hand of God, we draw life and nourishment. Without them we face diminishment and death.

The Year of Jubilee is an opportunity for faith-filled people to re-emphasise the spiritual, religious and ethical perspectives of ecology and integrity of creation. For pastoral and liturgical leaders, it is a moment to bring fresh appreciation for God’s creation into their preaching and celebration. Teachers and educators can bring awareness, insight and new attitudes to their classroom presentations. Parents can encourage children to love, respect and delight in creation, nature and the earth which nurtures us.

Primary producers and business people can make protection of the environment a central concern, collaborating for the common good. Scientists, economists and other specialists can bring a faith perspective to the challenges and the crises they face. All citizens can share the debate with the policy makers, resisting short-term, self-serving responses, developing socially just and environmentally sustainable decisions.

Michael Gormley works with the
Columban Mission Institute, Auckland.

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