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Meteorology and mere Christianity

Mick Pope believes talking about climate change may actually make people more interested in the gospel.

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As a forecast meteorologist with twenty years of experience in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and a university professor with a PhD in tropical meteorology, Mick Pope is one of the most respected Australian Christian voices on the subject of climate change. He regularly speaks at conferences and churches and has authored two well-received books on the subject and innumerable blogs.

“I didn’t want to do ‘Christianity and’. I wanted to avoid bolting on environmentalism.  So I went back and looked at the entire sweep of scripture again and concluded that I don’t need to, it’s all there.”

Yet ever since Mick first began thinking through his ministry, he’s been fiercely determined to ensure the message he preaches is a clear gospel one.

“I didn’t want to do ‘Christianity and’. I wanted to avoid bolting on environmentalism.  So I went back and looked at the entire sweep of scripture again and concluded that I don’t need to, it’s all there.”

The ‘Christianity and’ that Mick was avoiding references Letter 25 in C.S. Lewis’ popular literary work The Screwtape Letters, in which an elder demon called Screwtape disciples his young nephew Wormwood in how to tempt a new Christian convert (the Patient) away from his faith.

“I heard a lot of feedback afterwards that there were people on the edge of the community … saying that’s the kind of God that they could be interested in.”

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know – Christianity and the Crisis… Christianity and Vegetarianism… If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.”

Upon closer examination, though, Screwtape’s Letter 25 is an affirming reference for an evangelical meteorologist like Mick. In it, Screwtape acknowledges the natural rhythms of the seasons as God’s design and the way that He satisfies the contradictory human desires to experience both permanence and change. The way to disrupt this balance, Screwtape tells his young demonic protégée, is to encourage humans to develop an increasing demand for change that ‘eats up all the innocent sources of pleasure’.

Mick makes a similar point in his new book A Climate of Justice: Loving your neighbour in a warming world, examining the devastation humanity currently faces as a result of consuming the earth’s resources beyond what its natural rhythms can sustain.  He devotes a chapter to each of the contemporary issues of refugees and asylum seekers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, global aid, and human trafficking – all  ‘through the lens of the parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as within the context of climate change’.

“Sections of the Church are moving on and realising that this is really scratching where the world is itching.”

Mick believes that non-Christians are hungry to hear a holistic gospel that connects personal righteousness with public justice. It stems from the first talk gave a talk on the subject at the Cornerstone Community in Bendigo, many years ago.

“I heard a lot of feedback afterwards that there were people on the edge of the community – who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Christian but were generally interested in the faith – saying that’s the kind of God that they could be interested in.”

Mick is dismissive of criticisms that characterise Christian climate justice work as a “distraction” from more important gospel work of “saving souls”, saying that it stems from a “truncated theology” that is “not what the Bible is on about”.

“When we talk about abstract ideas in our gospel – models of atonement and individual salvation, and so on – many people are past that. We might still be appealing to post-enlightened individualism and consumer Christianity or consumer spirituality, but what a lot of people are interested in is genuine community and social transformation. [They] are interested in the future of the planet – the environment and climate change.

“So we’re preaching a gospel about me and my sins – as if that doesn’t extend to global social and political issues – and people are just not interested. Sections of the Church are moving on and realising that this is really scratching where the world is itching.”

Last year, Mick’s commitment to “scratching where the world is itching” saw him take on a role with an online US start-up, called Missional University as a Professor of Environmental Theology, developing courses in weather and climate.

Along with new methods of delivering content, Mick embraces new partnerships. He insists that broad coalitions are needed in order to deal with the serious global issues that face our world today and is critical of Christians who seem determined to focus on doctrinal differences at times when the issues at hand are of such global significance.

“If you’ve got metaphysical differences, well so be it. Do you believe passionately in the issue? Well get alongside other people. With issues like climate change, we just can’t afford to waste time. You don’t have to vote for them to work with them.”

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