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Why the Uniting Church supports students striking for climate change

‘Our discipleship calls us to engage with the climate crisis,’ says church leader

Australia’s Uniting Church has come out in support of student climate change strikes, endorsing participation in next month’s global climate strike by the 10,000 students and their teachers in Uniting Church schools across the country.

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While the Uniting Church is not the first and only denomination in Australia to support students striking for climate change, with the Quakers voicing their support for the movement earlier this year, the church may be the first major Australian institution to so openly do so (as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald). 

Here, Simon Hansford, moderator of the Uniting Church’s NSW and ACT Synod, shares with Eternity why the Uniting Church is taking this position.

Our discipleship to Jesus Christ calls us to engage with the climate crisis, because we begin where we have always begun: with the God of all of creation and all of history.

God’s Word and breath and love shaped the universe, our earth and everything within it, placing humanity at its heart. From that first moment, we have been inextricably bound with the world around us. Our care and responsibility for the creation, the dominion which reflects the gracious likeness of God, remind all of us that from the beginning we have been woven together in the loving act of tending the handiwork of God.

When the woman and man disobey God’s intention and are removed from the garden, their relationship with God is wounded and so is the creation: “cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life…” (Genesis 3.17-19).

Our relationship with all that God has made remains, but struggle is now inherent to all we do. Our responsibility to care for the earth has never been removed, and in our fallible, faithful lives, we seek to do what we can.

It is our relationship with God’s creation which is vital to this whole conversation.

It is our relationship with God’s creation which is vital to this whole conversation. There is the naïve argument that we should care first for our sister and brothers – loving God, and our neighbour as ourselves – which misses the reality that caring for the world around us is doing precisely that.

Our neighbours in the Pacific are watching their islands sink beneath the ocean and their crops being inundated with seawater. Many of us are living in the catastrophe of the latest drought, crippling farmers and rural communities, who are trying to adapt to this new “climate normal”, where rainfall is erratic and drastically different, while the ground is warmer, diminishing any rainfall’s effect.

We know that a rising overall temperature in our climate condemns us, our children and grandchildren to an even more damaged world, with all the implications of climate refugees and changed communities, with more demanded from an earth that will find it harder and harder to produce.

What of the developing world, where climate change already wreaks havoc, and where subsistence farming is integral to existence?

So, what does loving our God, and our neighbour, look like? What do the voices of Micah and Amos, of Jeremiah and Isaiah call us to do and say? When there was injustice for the weakest in their communities, the prophets called the monarchs and the leaders of the community to attention. Look at the first chapter of Isaiah, where God rejects their worship because those in need are not being cared for.

We cannot claim to care for the widowed and the orphan, to seek justice for those in need, and then ignore the world in which they live.

We cannot claim to care for the widowed and the orphan, to seek justice for those in need, and then ignore the world in which they live. When we speak of our God who saves, can we be silent about the homes and lives of those to whom we offer the gospel?

Jesus always attended to the lives of those around him. People who were healed were often restored to life in their families and communities; they proclaimed their new sight, new ability, new life to any who would listen.

When Jeremiah is called to be God’s prophet, he responds: “… Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jeremiah 1.4-10).

As so often in our discipleship, God has greater imagination (and greater faith in us!) than we have.

We are Jesus’ disciples, and have responded to the call of our neighbours, to the prophetic call of our children, as we amplify their voice to the governments and leaders of the world in which we live.

As our children call us to attention, to the challenge before us of climate change, can we believe that God has chosen the young to challenge us? Can we believe that the God who used a young woman to be the mother of Christ can use school children? Can we accept that the God who used a carpenter’s son to save the world, can also use young people to remind us of our responsibility for the earth and all within it?

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 1.7-8).

Pray for our children, for the witness of every disciple of Jesus, as we live our lives with and for him.

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