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Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses a crowd in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Change Conference. Courtesy of the World Council of Churches

Copenhagen Day Nine

'What on earth has the Gospel got to do with climate change?'

By David MacDonald

The words in the headline for this dispatch opened a seminar on “Creation and the Climate Crisis” in a downtown Lutheran church. The seminar brought together a number of delegates and theologians from around the world.

Theologian Jacob Wolf from Copenhagen asked, “Does loving our neighbour mean also loving the planet?” He declared the earth has a “fever” and we must attend to it.
Professor Barbara Rossing from the U.S.A. asked where God is in this crisis. She noted that the victims of the climate crisis are the poorest and most vulnerable. She described populations in the South Pacific, Bangladesh and Alaska who are becoming ecological refugees. Others, living in desert-like communities in Africa, are experiencing unrelenting droughts and famines.

She concluded by asserting, “Climate change is a ‘kairos’ moment for the life of the church in the world. ‘The fierce urgency of now’ is the message of Martin Luther King from his struggles in the 1960s. King said there is such a thing as being too late.”

Many who attended this seminar are part of the World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation to this conference. We were reminded by Rev Olav Fykse Tveit of Norway, the incoming general secretary of the WCC, that since the very first conference on climate change in Berlin in 1995, the church has been an active presence. A key figure at that meeting and more than a dozen that followed was the United Church’s energy and environment co-ordinator, David Hallman. David recently retired but is still advising and assisting Moderator Mardi Tindal on climate issues.

People might not immediately associate church folk with high-level negotiations like these. But climate change is not primarily a question of science or resources. It is about consumption, lifestyle and sharing the earth fairly. It is about what we value most, what we believe and how we are called to live.

The churches have been trying to make this point for a long time. If the message is being heard at events such as Sunday’s ecumenical service, and if churches have a higher profile at this conference through leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is because of the pioneering work of people like David Hallman.

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