Green Discipleship may be orthodoxy but we still have to talk about what it means.

Vote of thanks to Larry Rasmussen, seminar on Green Discipleship, Knox Church, Dunedin 7 March 2008.

(Papers by Larry Rasmussen on the same theme as his presentation at Knox can be found at Lutheran Advocacy Ministry and The Other Journal.Com)

In UK in 2006 while Jenny and I were on sabbatical at Westminster College, Cambridge, there was hardly an intercessory prayer that did not express concern for climate change and ecological responsibility (though the Brits have been talking about the weather for some time). It seems clear that "Green Discipleship" is now the accepted "orthodox" view of Christian responsibility towards God's creation. As such there are fresh challenges to working through what churches and Christians are called to do to live this out. Larry's framework is an important contribution to this ongoing task.

Bishops and Moderators talk about it: Bishop John Kirkby, chair of the Irish Bishops Overseas aid agency : “Climate change is undermining the fight against global poverty.”

Oil companies are rebranding themselves as being about something clean, hopeful, socially responsible and sustainable – deep questions about image and reality (eg BP in Alaska). Cannot visit the we Economist Greenview page without multiple adds from Chevron oil.

The environment is an accepted dimension of Evangelical missiology, for instance J Andrew Kirk, What is Mission.

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh and recent visitor to New Zealand, author of recent book, A moral Climate, on BBC4 was interviewed in late 2006 about buying carbon credits to achieve carbon neutral air miles, compared the system to medieval indulgences, which could be purchased so that you could go on sinning.

But if we do not want to go on sinning, what do we do? Larry Rassmussen’s paper this evening provides us with an important framework for the discussions we need to have. We should not underestimate the importance of these discussions.

This year John Hunt will be bringing to Presbyterian General Assembly a discssion paper. It is possible that he may draw our attention to the useful fact that there are metrics associated with Green Discipleship. It is is possible to calculate the carbon footprint of a congregation.

There are also some temptations and dangers in seeking to act on the basis of a new orthodoxy. A consensus on the importance of the issue does not necessarily mean a consensus on the actions to be taken. Again the framework of the discourse of Green Discipleship is important if we are to work these things through.

As we shift from promoting awareness to advocating action we will discovere a new set of diversities and new potential for conflict.

People are sensitive about being told what to do, especially by their church leaders. This may be especially a Presbyterian issue, but I suspect it is wider.

There are temptations to complacency and smugness, the human capacity for moralism, the easy move to repenting of other people’s sins, the empowerment not of victims, but of those who claim to speak on their behalf.

In the language of discipleship and covenant there are deep resonances within the Reformed family of Christians as well as the inheritors of the Biblical stories generally.

We should never under-estimate what is involved in:

  1. Establishing a language which enables these debates to take place and for Christians to find their voice.
  2. Providing people not with a sense of guilt, but with politically feasible and practical courses of action
  3. Earning the right for theology to be a welcome partner in public discussion
  4. Learning from social action campaigns of the past – both where they have been successful in their aims, and where they have failed or done damage along the way.

A consensus moral view makes it difficult for those with unpopular and possibly wrong or even harmful views to stay in fellowship with the church.

The language of green discipleship such as that which Larry provides helps make it possible to process issues at every leavel: congregation, Presbytery, General Assembly, Ecumenical and Inter-faith. Global climate / environment issues are important vehicles for religious co-responsibility.

The Church must speak the language of faith as well as the language of the issue, to speak out of our diversity as well as the commonality of shared concerns.

Ecumenical News International, News Highlights, 15 February 2008, Speak of faith in political statements, ex-Norway PM tells churches

Geneva (ENI). Former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik says that when international Christian groups such as the World Council of Churches make statements about political issues they should ensure they are rooted in faith. "What I often experienced was that we received statements from church bodies, domestic and international, and they were almost like statements from other organizations and NGOs," Bondevik told the main governing body of the World Council of Churches, its central committee, during its 13-20 February meeting in Geneva. "Very often my colleagues ask 'Why is this statement coming from church bodies?'" noted Bondevik, an ordained Lutheran priest who served as prime minister of Norway from 1997 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2005. He now serves as the moderator of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

I actually think there is a time to do it, and a time when it is less appropriate. But it can be done: Example of Christian Engineer and BCNZ graduate with the Dunedin City Council,  who designed the blue bin recycling project and whose papers “selling” the concept drew on Biblical material.

John Roxborogh, john@roxborogh.com