Recently I was privileged to be in a room with several other Christians who care about this earth, God’s Creation, and want to do something about it. One of the members of our team is a young man who just turned 18. It’s easy to dismiss someone so young, but he used a phrase that really gave me pause: “a livable future.”
When I was 18, I had no concern for “a livable future,” at least not as this 18-year-old does. When I was 18, I was confident that the future was livable. Sadly, this is not the case for many of our young people.
Climate change is real. A few days ago, Hurricane Dorian passed through my home state of North Carolina. I remember one hurricane hitting North Carolina before I was 13 years old. My three-year-old daughter just experienced her third.
Climate change is real, and it is impacting our children. It is threatening their future.
If this is not a church issue, I don’t know what is.
So what can we do in our churches to combat climate change? How can we help our children have a livable future?
Many people I know, respect and work alongside jump straight to advocacy. We need to write letters and emails, we need to make phone calls, we need to somehow convince our political leaders to take some positive action against climate change. We need to legislate.
That’s all well and good, but me, I’ve never been much of a fan of government intervention. Considering how hard it is to get our legislators and representatives to hear us (and knowing that there are many others vying for their attention, too), I just don’t have the time and patience to wait for the government to fix this problem.
Besides, I’m convinced the Church is culpable in the current climate crisis, and I was always taught to clean up my own mess. So here is how we can start fighting climate change in our local churches.
Climate change and environmental justice are deep, convoluted issues. They’re scientific, political, and social issues. Oftentimes they are addressed using scientific, political and social rhetoric.
But if we want our churches to start fixing the environment, then we need to understand that this is also a spiritual issue. We need to reclaim our language, repair our theology regarding Creation and the environment, and talk about it in church like we’re actually in church.
If we are to start fighting climate change in our local churches, we need to start by understanding the spiritual and theological ramifications of climate change, the biblical imperatives to care for God’s Creation, and the ways that environmental abuse effects the children of God. Then, we need to teach others the same.
There are lots of opportunities for exploring the theology of climate change and environmental justice. There are books and articles and blog posts. There are speakers and teachers and pastors. There are initiatives and guidelines and teams and collaboratives. There is no reason a Christian today cannot know the Christian theology and spirituality of caring for God’s creation other than willful ignorance.
- Reduce pollution
If your church has a recycling bin, chances are that is as far as their efforts to reduce pollution have gone. Well… that’s not enough.
For one, I have seen some frightening articles lately that have explored the recycling industry, and just how much recycled material ends up in landfills in third world countries. But even if your recycling is actually recycled, that is simply not enough. We are producing way too much pollution for it to be offset by a few recycled bottles and newspapers.
Start by reducing the amount of trash you create. At my church, every week we print off paper copies of bulletins. At least once a month we share a meal together, eating off of Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils and drinking from plastic cups. We produce way too much trash.
So what if we started making our bulletins available electronically? Most of my congregation is sitting there with a smartphone in their pocket (and some with their phone in their hand). If they want to see the order of service or take home today’s announcements, why can’t they do so on their phones and tablets?
We have a dishwasher in our church kitchen that gets used maybe two or three times a year. I think we’ve reached a new level of laziness when we own a machine that was designed to make the job of cleaning dishes easier but we still refuse to use it.
If my church started using the plates, bowls, cups and silverware that are sitting in our church kitchen collecting dust instead of the disposable ones we typically go for, we would eliminate a minimum of twelve truckloads of non-decomposable waste in the landfill every year.
More than just reduction of waste, though, churches need to consider how to reduce carbon emissions. Because of our location, nobody walks or rides their bike to church on Sunday mornings. Everyone drives, myself included. That is at least fifty cars, usually more, driving to and from church every Sunday morning.
And with few exceptions, those cars have empty seats in them. Oftentimes there are more empty seats than there are full seats.
The irony is that many church members who are driving to church alone have to drive right by the houses of other church members who are driving to church alone.
So what if we start a carpooling network at our church? It would take a little effort, but all things that matter take effort. We could reduce the number of cars on the road on Sunday mornings, plus we would have the benefit of deepening relationships between church members. Hey, we might even increase regular attendance if someone is in charge of picking up others and bringing them to church.
I haven’t even touched on such complicated ideas as changing the thermostat setting or installing energy efficient windows. Your church can fight climate change and save money at the same time!
Or what about alternate energy sources? Personally, I would love to see solar panels on every church building.
- Support local, sustainable agriculture
I’ve never been part of a church that didn’t like to eat. There’s a whole theology and movement around Christians eating together, which I’m proud to be a part of.
Our food choices are about more than what goes into our mouths. Our food choices effect our health, the wellbeing of workers in the food and agriculture industries, and the condition of our planet.
By supporting local, sustainable agriculture in our eating practices, we are accessing healthier foods, financially supporting our community and those most often taken advantage of by large corporations, and reducing the amount of pollutants and toxins released into the environment.
Our churches should be promoting this.
When we share meals together at churches, we ought to be intentional and vocal about the food we are choosing to serve and its impact on Creation. We ought to celebrate local farmers and producers, highlighting the good food that is available right here and now. Our church meals ought to provide justice and fairness for those who are eating, those who are working, and God’s earth that is providing.
So what if we invite local, sustainable farmers to share at our churches? What if we allowed our facilities to be used by them as markets? We could reduce carbon emissions by lowering the distance food has to be transported, and we could increase farmers’ ability to care for the land entrusted to them.
It pains me to even make this next suggestion, but what if we held vegetarian church meals?
I am not a vegetarian and have no intentions of becoming one. I love meat. But studies have shown that the meat-producing industrial complex that has arisen because of the modern North American diet is just terrible for the environment (and our bodies).
My family has intentionally reduced our meat and dairy consumption, for both health and environmental reasons. We do our best to get our meat from farms that are committed to treating their animals well and using farm practices that benefit the earth. Our churches can do the same.
None of the suggestions I have made are that difficult, but they will require intentional effort.
And, none of the suggestions I have made will have a large impact on their own.
If one person, or one church, does one of these things, climate change will not be greatly corrected.
But if lots of churches and lots of individuals make lots of little changes, it can have a huge impact.
See, that’s how we are going to stop and reverse climate change. Most of us lack the power or position to institute giant changes or enforce strong regulations that will have a huge impact. But all of us have the ability to make several small, intentional changes in our lives and our churches. When we all take several small steps, we all make huge progress.