Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Least of These and the Environment

“Not a secular fuss imported into the church”

Hurricane Sandy brought home to Americans the human suffering that often results from the kinds of extreme weather that are becoming more frequent – and more extreme – as climate change caused by global warming accelerates. This huge storm, of course, was not the first instance in 2012 of U.S. weather extremes affecting people’s lives in important ways. An active and destructive wildfire season impacted parts of Nebraska, and the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado destroyed 600 homes. A Midwestern drought also impacted much of Nebraska. This drought, the most extreme in 50 years, has caused a rise in food prices that is felt far beyond the Midwest. (See A year of extreme weather – and little climate change talk   from The Washington Post.)

Around the world, the personal and economic consequences of climate change impact people. Those who already know that lack of food or clean water can threaten their security now face additional burdens as a result of floods, droughts, or storm damage. Haiti, for example, was not directly hit by Hurricane Sandy, but Sandy’s heavy rains resulted in at least 52 deaths and destroyed crops. (See Yet Another Blow to Haiti from A Natural Disaster .) 

Both a forum at the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Auckland, New Zealand, and a resolution from our own recent Annual Council speak to the moral imperative for the church to do more to address environmental degradation and to lead in environmental stewardship.

Archbishop Rowan Williams chaired a public forum about environmental change at the ACC meeting. (The story from the Anglican Communion News Service – worth reading in its entirety -- is available here.)   The Archbishop said that “running out of a world to live in is a mark of our unfaithfulness”, and made it clear that environmental issues are moral issues for Christians, and not “a secular fuss imported into the church”. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa said “This is not a social problem, it is not an economic problem, it is not an environmental problem, it is a moral problem and it needs a moral response.” 

Something else Archbishop Thabo said resonates with the resolution entitled The Least of These that we passed at our Annual Council. This is the resolution that asks all committees, commissions, and parishes to prayerfully include as part of every meeting in calendar year 2013 the following agenda item: “How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?” Our impact on the environment needs to be included in our reflections on this question.

Thinking about environmental change and the underlying issues of water, food, and energy, Archbishop Thabo asked a similar set of questions around what we do in the Eucharist. According to the report, he asked:

“When you are receiving Communion, have you stopped to think about the water that we use to mix with the wine? Where has it come from? How clean is that water? Have you stopped to think about...those who do not have access to basic and of the resultant illnesses that go with poor sanitation and water? When you receive...wafers, have you spared a thought for those who do not have food?

“During the service, out of the small chalice, you are all able to share. Have you not thought that you could replicate that, that there is a plenty in the world and no need for others to suffer?”