Green Anglicans at the Adaptation Futures Conference
Adaptation Futures is the world’s premier conference on climate change adaptation. 1300 scientists, practitioners, business leaders and policymakers from around the world are connecting to learn and inspire. Adaptation Futures 2018 aims to facilitate dialogues for solutions between key actors from diverse perspectives and regions.
This is the first time the conference is held on the African continent. The Goal is to use this setting to foreground developing country adaptation issues and increase developing world and African participation.
Rev Dr Rachel Mash (Provincial Environmental Coordinator) and Mncedisi Masuku (Diocese of Swaziland – Eswatini) presented a session on the Role of Faith Based Organisations in Adaptation.
Rev Rachel presented on the reasons why the faith communities have an important role to play in Adaptation (full text below) and Mncedisi shared about the projects in the Diocese:water harvesting, food gardens, tree planting, rocket stoves, wonder bags etc
The key points of all the sessions are being collated for possible inclusion in the IPCC report on the Africa chapter
FULL TEXT OF SESSION
The role of Faith Based Organisations in Adaptation
THE ROLE OF FAITH BASED ORGANISATIONS IN ADAPTATION
“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… …and to deal with those we need a spiritual and sculptural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.” Gus Speth, former advisor to Bill Clinton
Do Faith based organisations have a role to play in adaptation to Climate Change? Everywhere you go in Africa from the smallest village to the largest city there are churches and other faith groups. Can the social and spiritual power of the Churches and other faiths in Africa be harnessed to combat climate change?
There is no doubt that faith based organisations have a great potential to have an impact.
Faith based organisations have a high standing in the community and are in touch with the local culture and local leadership. Churches and mosques are able to work effectively in the community, since there are faith communities in each community, with infrastructure, a potential pool of volunteers and an ethic that calls for transformational actions. Programmes can be developed at the local level and according to local culture.
Faith communities are accessible. They are to found in the most remote rural village, in the poorest peri-urban community and in the wealthiest suburb. Projects based in faith communities are affordable. Members are often motivated by their faith and willing to volunteer their time and resources. This avoids the set up costs that an external organisation would have to spend. They tend to be pro-poor and will allocate resources towards the marginalized. Faith communities often have access to resources such as a meeting place, kitchen, toilets etc.
Faith communities are acceptable: they are locally based with well understood norms and values; and they have a high level of acceptability, sometimes higher than state or foreign organisations. They are well grounded and deeply conversant with local culture. Religion promotes a culture of respect for the sacredness of life, which is radically undermined by environmental degradation. They inspire levels of trust and confidence unmatched by government or secular organisations, so they have the potential to mobilise communities into action
Faith communities can have a positive role in facilitating behaviour change. They have a large constituency and often a ‘captive audience’ on a weekly basis. This leads to opportunities for information and teaching. The Scriptures of all major religions have key texts on being stewards of the Earth and the moral dangers of greed and abuse of the poor and the earth.
However there are many challenges to getting faith based organisations involved in adaptation programmes.
Churches and religious leaders are very busy with church matters, there is limited time and staff to run projects. Some question whether the environment should be added to the social justice agenda of the church. There seem to be so many “far more urgent” issues such as poverty, unemployment, education, housing, AIDS and crime?
Other challenges are theological; –
Many Christians feel that the church should primarily be concerned with the message of individual salvation and evangelism. Our relationship with God is more important than “secular issues” such as the environment. Others believe that the Earth has been given to us by God to use as we desire. A favorite verse is Genesis 1:26, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.”
Some Christians believe that material possessions are a sign of God’s blessing. God wants us to prosper at all costs, even at the cost of the environment. There is a big movement in churches called the Prosperity Gospel that equates prosperity with material consumption.
And finally some Christians are worried about environmentalism being “New Age”. They are afraid of a shift towards pantheism (the belief that nature is divine) or paganism.
So let us turn to examine a case study of one Church which is having an environmental impact.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa comprises of six countries: South Africa, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique Lesotho and Namibia. An environmental desk (ACSAEN) was established in and known informally as the Green Anglicans movement. (www.greenanglicans.org). Starting with an environmental spirituality, this has led to practical projects.
What have they done to develop an environmental spirituality – a caring for the whole of Creation?
The Anglican Church globally has identified environmental ministry as a core part of its mission. As far back as 1984 the Anglican Church globally identified the Fifth mark of mission “ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth” This has given a strong emphasis globally for the Anglican Church to look at its theology and practice.
The Bible is in fact full of messages about caring for the environment. Some key scriptures that are important include the Creation story in Genesis, and the calling of Adam and Eve to be stewards or keepers of Creation. A key theme throughout the Old Testament is the story of the people of Israel and their relationship with the land. Key writings tell of the call of the prophets who condemned the abuse of the land and inequality. Jesus’ relationship with nature is seen as a source of spiritual strength. And the letters (known as epistles) call for Christians to work to renew the earth. Thus environmental education can be included in many ways into preaching from the Bible.
The Orthodox Church initiated a Season of the year known as the Season of Creation (month of September) and many denominations have followed. Thus, during a four month period churches are encouraged to preach on themes such as land, water, food security, climate change etc. The Season of Creation has been accepted as part of the liturgical year in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and we are now celebrating it for the sixth year. Not all churches take part but the number is growing
The role of children and young people is of critical importance .
The Anglican Church has produced materials for Sunday School on the theme of Creation , called Ryan the Rhinoceros. These include the same themes of caring for the land, saving water, saving electricity , not littering etc.
Water is an important theme in many Christian churches because of baptism. The Anglican Church has held two conferences on Water Justice in Capetown as a response to the drought. Churches were encouraged to rediscover the sacredness of water as well as installing water saving and harvesting devices as well as to consider the long term challenge of water injustice.
Lent has traditionally been a time when christians fast and give up on certain luxuries such as chocolates or alcohol. For the last four years the Anglican Church has encouraged fasting to reduce our impact on the earth – “A Carbon fast for Lent” each week there is a theme: water, land, food etc and a daily action to reduce our impact on the earth.
And so as we connect with our spiritual values of a simpler lifestyle of recognizing God’s call to care for Creation, this spiritualty is leadings to practical actions.
Churches have been encouraging tree planting as part of our spiritual growth – which ensures that the trees will be looked after. For instance trees are planted at baptism, confirmation, marriages, funerals, visits by the bishop etc. Many of the Mothers Union organisations run soup kitchens for the hungry or orphans projects. They are being trained to grow vegetables using organic farming methodologies. The Churches are also being used as sites for model food gardening.
As a result of the droughts in different parts of Southern Africa churches are taking seriously the need to use and model water harvesting methods , such as jojo tanks or retrofitting of toilets. The church can model methods that individuals can use in their homes. There has been a big push to reduce littering , with clean up campaigns and recycling taking place at many churches. We have promoted the rocket stove (stick stove) as well as the wonder bag to reduce the use of wood burning.
These are small steps but show that the potential for Faith Based Organisations to make a difference in adaptation to climate change is huge.
In the words of Pope Francis, it is time for churches to “Hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor”