For Once, Some Environmental Good News?

By Peter Harris, Founder of A Rocha

The modern environmental movement in western countries is a bit like a performance I saw as a child of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, but in reverse. The environmental stage began empty with romantic ideas of wilderness and unspoiled nature. Then, a first movement of alarm started with haunting and impressive solos–depending on who you ask these days, they were maybe played by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Theodore Roosevelt or Rachel Carson. Everyone has their favourite virtuoso. As the 1960’s wore on, other instruments joined–percussively political or blaringly save-the-world simple, string-like and even nerdish as the science became clearer. Most of it played on higher ground by prophetic enthusiasts to a small group, many soon became quite depressed.

Meanwhile, most of the audience took little notice and talked about sport and celebrities, money, sex and power. The church people in the audience took even less notice than everyone else. For complex reasons, but mostly because the melody didn’t sound much like any hymn they knew. Or, maybe they were waiting to leave for another concert hall.

Slowly and surely the musicians started to sound more like an orchestra. Even the missing bass from business was heard more frequently, and choirs of concern in local neighbourhoods and medical centrs, schools, even groups of simple nature-lovers sang a story of a disappearing world and a grieving earth. Meanwhile, the distracted church folks found it harder not to hear. Stung by shouts from the orchestra that their faith was undermining the music, they looked at the score in their hand and discovered that there was plenty there to sing about.

All metaphors get tired after a while, and you can see where I am going. So here is the point–after a longer delay than we should be proud of, there is now a considerable global movement to make the Christian faith mean something for the wider creation that we all share. Of course there are arguments (we are talking about the church after all), but locally and globally, numbers of Christians now realise that the gospel doesn’t stop with us or even our neighbors, but it inevitably has to do with my neighbourhood and what happens to the wider world because of the way I live.

We either live like Christians or we continue to take part in the quasi-religion of consumerism and individualism that is most of all to blame for the various current environmental crises with which we and most of all the poor of the earth are struggling to come to terms. So, this is good news as all leading environmentalists agree that our global problems are rooted in our human values and beliefs, and not in a lack of legislation or data.

At the risk of defaulting to the familiar, gloomy environmentalism, there is just one drawback. It isn’t going to help a lot if Christians simply take on a negative environmental narrative of pessimism, fear, and judgement. As The Economist pointed out when it saw how close environmentalism comes to religious preaching, that is only half the story. Rather, the environmental good news we might look for is that Christian hope, both for local transformation and the final redemption of “all things” as the Apostle Paul promises us, can breath new life and energy and creativity into a vitally important human endeavour. That is nothing less than finding ways to sustain life in a Kingdom that is intended to be, as Jesus prayed, lived on earth as it is in heaven. It is in that hope that A Rocha has now grown to a family of projects in twenty countries – hands-on, locally driven efforts ranging from scientific research to conservation work to creation care kids’ camps. None of them are going to change the world perhaps, but all are signs of the Kingdom and signs of hope. And we hear the rest of the orchestra is delighted that some of the missing instrumentalists are finally showing up and making music.

  1. Why do you think that Christians have historically hesitated to be part of environmental movements?
  2. How can your family participate in local creation care activities?
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