Author(s)Lee Gatiss
Date 1 April 2022
Categories Christian Living and Crossway

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, suggested recently that “the climate change ‘crisis’ [is] in fact… quasi-religious hysteria, based on ignorance.” In an article in The Spectator (16th November 2021), he suggested that “Mankind seems to have a psychological need for a belief system. Traditionally in the West, this has been Christianity: but with the waning place of Christianity in the modern world, climate catastrophism has emerged to take its place.”

It’s true that the warnings of imminent doom in this regard seem to have gotten more and more urgent just as Christianity in the UK has been declining. “Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.” This is what the Guardian reported…. in 2004. “A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs”, it revealed, “warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.” In 2007 we were told by the International Director-General of the World Wide Fund for Nature that we had only 5 more years to plant the seeds of change. Prince Charles said in 2009 that “Our planet has reached a point of crisis and we have only seven years before we lose the levers of control.” The UN said in 2018 that we only have until 2030 to limit the climate change catastrophe.

I know it can be hard to take the rhetoric (and supposed apocalyptic schedules!) seriously on this subject sometimes. I remember growing up in the 1970s and 1980s that there were constant threats of nuclear holocaust, overpopulation, global warming, and ozone layer depletion, which were going to end in catastrophe by the start of the new millennium. Yet we’re still here. All the same, in January this year, an EU climate monitoring organisation released data that shows the last seven years were the hottest on record, and that 2021 was the fifth hottest year our planet has ever had (though President Bush was told in that 2004 report that Europe’s temperature would drop 6 degrees every year between 2010-2020). It is hard to deny that something is happening to our environment, and it’s clearly not a great thing to have so much plastic in our oceans or pollution in our air. I don’t know if it really is “one minute to midnight” on the doomsday clock, as the Prime Minister said at the COP26 gathering in Glasgow last year. But don’t Christians have a responsibility to steward God’s creation in godly and sustainable ways anyway, whether we buy the timetable of irrevocable disaster or not?

There are several articles in the latest edition of Crossway, enclosed in this mailing, to help us think about these issues from a biblical perspective. Stephen Finch shares with us some of what he’s learned as part of a theological workgroup on this subject in his diocese. “I’m convinced,” he says, “we should be prioritising creation care as part of growing well-rounded disciples. Submitting to Christ as Lord, means taking the topic seriously.” Helen Stephens from A Rocha UK then outlines one way in which churches across the country are trying to live in a more ethical and sustainable way for the sake of the planet and each other. Every diocese in the Church of England is now committed to A Rocha UK’s Eco Church scheme, and many churches too, so it’s good to hear more about that as we consider our own response to the discussion. Kirsten Birkett, our Theological Consultant, provocatively asks whether it’s the people not the planet which really needs to be saved. What if “love another” had always been the dominant ethic, she wonders.

But as I reflect on all this, I am nagged by Chancellor Lawson’s observation with which I began, though we are coming at things from different perspectives. It is true that humanity has a need for a belief system, and it also seems to have a constant tendency to see doom and gloom in the future. Those horsemen of the apocalypse are always about to appear just over the horizon of our collective consciousness. Regardless of whether there is climate catastrophe in the future or not, or some miraculous technological solution to our predicament as some confidently predict, we will never shake that haunting sense that a day of darkness is around the corner. Because, in fact, it is.

As Paul told the Athenians who spent their time doing nothing but talking and listening to the latest ideas, “God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

So longings for justice in our societies, and intimations of an inescapable cataclysm, always have been and always will be perennial features on the human landscape. Because our Maker is returning one day to hold us all accountable. Something within us knows this to be true, and the whirl of activity around social justice and climate activism is an attempt to be busy in preparation for a day we sense is coming but do not always understand. We must do something! But above all, God commands (not invites) us all to repent — to turn away from our selfish and disordered desires and opinions, and turn to Christ our only Lord and Saviour. He is our only hope, in life or death — our only guarantee of a better world and a perfect future.

The rest of Crossway is about our fragile attempts to get that message out to a confused and confusing world. George Crowder has exciting news about our growing network of revitalisation ministries. Ros Clarke has an encouraging update on the Priscilla Programme, our training course for women run in conjunction with Union School of Theology. And Peter Jensen considers the immense challenges of identity, truth, and relationships within global Anglicanism as we seek to win the nations for Christ.

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