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Dear Friend of KLICE,

We are pleased to present the latest KLICE Comment.

This month Colin Bell writes on Faith and Sustainability.


Faith and Sustainability

Another year, another international climate conference, this time in South Africa. Does anyone care? Some faith and secular groups are still valiantly pursuing the campaign for a global agreement that can make a genuine difference. However, a majority now seems resigned that whatever emerges from Durban will be far too little, far too late. Debate in the general public and in the church, such as it is, seems even more stuck than among governments which even now are in reverse. Support for climate action has been eroded by numerous factors, not least fear about our economic future.

What can Christians do to move things forward? Perhaps the answer is to look more to our strengths than we have thus far. Our faith gives us no particular authority to speak to the scientific debates, but does yield great insights into ethics, human behaviour and societal interaction. We should try to widen the debate beyond climate change to include the whole question of humanity's sustainable future. This needs doing anyway: issues such as the loss of biodiversity, shortage of fresh water, economic growth on a finite planet and the depletion of non-renewable resources would remain problems even if we could somehow magic global warming away.

We have rich seams of theology to mine although their application to a very different world from their original contexts needs considerable care. Most pertinent perhaps is the tension between the bounty of God's provision and his commands limiting our use of it and our conduct towards each other, which are expressed in the Sabbath and Jubilee legislation and elsewhere. In addition, warnings should be heeded about the effects of greed and reliance on money and possessions, both major character defects in many Global North societies. Put these together with the principles of care for creation and justice for all humanity that are already familiar to Christian discourse in the climate debate, and we have a powerful critique of modern global society.

But we cannot just bring a negative message. Prophecies always include hope, even in the darkest and most corrupt situations. As well as analysing what has gone wrong, we also need creatively to imagine possible futures in which these biblical principles are more widely embodied, or share those already worked on by fellow-travellers in the secular green movement.

The challenge to Christians to stand against many aspects of our contemporary culture is something we already accept when it comes to the message of the cross and resurrection. There too we grasp a highly counter-cultural hope, see that another world is both necessary and possible, and start trying to live it, by being "in the world but not of it". For many of us who live comfortably today, this will undoubtedly involve sacrificing some of this comfort, and living more simply and radically than our neighbours, because we believe it to be right and part of our witness. It will involve caring for and speaking out on behalf of those who already suffer and will suffer more if we continue down our current track. And it will involve helping to reconstruct society, in partnership with others who may not share our theology, but share our beliefs about societal ethical goods, taking the opportunity to speak into one of the defining debates of the next half-century.

Colin Bell

For more on sustainability please visit the blog.

Colin Bell is the researcher for the 'Hope for Creation' project jointly sponsored by KLICE and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and administrator for the 'Sustainability in Crisis' conference held in September 2011. He has a background in science, computing and theology, and combines these to explore how the church can apply biblical principles to contemporary and future issues in society.

Author of 'The Church's response to the coming 'crisis of sustainability'' (vol.17 no.2, Ethics in Brief), downloadable from the KLICE website.


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