Saving the Planet

by Simon Penney
Posted on 1st November 2007

Please excuse the use of a pun in the title of this article. However "saving the planet" has, during the last decade, rapidly ascended the political and cultural agenda. The green agenda is regularly brought up in our newspapers, on our televisions and across the internet. So much so that there are now even signs of a reaction against it and a hardening of those that would perhaps have in the past taken a more centralist approach to the issue. However despite some well orchestrated attempts to muddy the waters, there is almost universal agreement amongst the world's scientific community that climate change is a symptom of an unhealthy relationship between man and his environment. This received very recent international recognition with the awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). Interestingly for the first 14 years the Scientific Assessment for the IPPC was co chaired by a profoundly Christian man, Sir John Houghton CBE FRS.

Despite this the church has had difficulty in responding to this issue. On the one hand there has been complete dismissal of the idea that man can play "God" and change his atmosphere, indeed it has been suggested that this is probably a clever attempt by the Devil to subvert our focus from the real task of saving souls. On the other hand there is an increasing number of faith based organisations that have been set up to deal with the "environmental crisis" from a faith based point of view. Environmental theology has also become a more significant area of theological study, as courses have been developed in our universities and Bible colleges in order to consider what a Christian theological response should be to this issue.

Perhaps one of the most interesting battle grounds within the Christian church has been North America. Indeed fault lines have appeared where historically there has been none. Some of the major church leaders in the US have "come out" and vigorously advocated that environmental stewardship, or creation care, is a fundamental part of an authentic Christian witness, whilst others have publicly criticised their brothers in Christ and almost suggested that this issue is just the latest weapon of the liberal agenda.

In February last year a headline in the Washington Post read, "The Greening of Evangelicals, Christian Right Turns, Sometimes Warily, to Environmentalism". It is important to note that there are some 30 million evangelical Christians in the US, so it is a different situation to that which we find in the UK. According to research carried out in the US, 45% of evangelicals supported strict environmental regulations in 2000 and in 2005 this was at 52%. There is little doubt in the US the direction that the trend is going. Of course there are far fewer evanglicals of the North American variety in the UK, however the Church in the UK was not a leader in the origins of environmental awareness initially, but now there is a great deal more openness to the green agenda in both the evangelical and the more liberal wings of the UK Church.

There are many reasons for this slow change. One important one is that the fault lines are associated with many other issues, not just the environment, indeed loosely it can be thought of as the postmodern interface. Evangelicals in their early 40's and older have a very different world view to those in their 30's and younger. They are very much more inclined to take ownership and be involved in what may have been referred to in the past as the social gospel, so issues of fair trade, economic and social development, are no longer understood by this group to be issues "of the world", but rather "of the Kingdom". This is a fundamental difference to their elders.

So where does all this leave the missionary movement? Can, even should, mission be green? Does the idea of holistic mission, the reconnection of people with their environment smell too much of new age religion? Or should we look to the hills for our God? One of the interesting facts concerning this question is that currently there has been very little if any research conducted into the current relationship of the missiological community with the environment. Redcliffe College is hoping to at least start to fill in some of the gaps.

I am currently a part time student on the Redcliffe Masters Degree in Global Issues in Contempory Mission. I have been undertaking this course with a special interest in mission and the environment. As part of this Masters Degree I am conducting research into the environmental attitudes and experience of missionary organisations, investigating if there are organisations that use creation care, environmental stewardship as part of their praxis. I am also trying to find if there are any organisations that have started to apply environmental management techniques to their organisations.

This research is being carried out by way of an online questionnaire, the questionnaire takes only a few minutes and I would be very grateful if individuals or organisations involved or associated with mission could fill this out:

When Simon Penney set up Promise Consulting, a small international environmental consultancy with offices in the UK and Canada. Simon currently lives in Mission, BC Canada, with his Wife and two children.