Christian Students Uniting the Church for Climate Action

Humanity is at a cross roads. Recent global studies have described in detail that we have about 10-15 years until the damage we have done to our planet is irreversible. These are not opinions or perspectives to be argued. These are facts backed up by undeniable evidence.

As overwhelming as the climate crisis is, we have an incredible opportunity to act – as a Church, as a Nation and as a Global Community.

From the Civil Rights Movement in 60s, to the Vietnam War Protests, again at Tiananmen Square in China, the Arab Spring and more recently the Indigenous Water Rights protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States – it has been young leaders throughout modern history, calling on the rest of us to stand up.

The global climate change movement is no different. It is young people – high school and university students who are leading this global call to action.

Leaders of the Church Today

Four years ago, our young people in the Pacific Islander community led the way in the People’s Climate March. And now, as the world seems to be waking up to the reality of the climate crisis, it is young people across the Uniting Church that are calling on us to act on climate change.

This call is coming from across the diversity of our church, from city centres, to regional and rural areas, from schools and universities – united under the conviction, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).

Two months ago, at the annual School of Discipleship (SOD) conference, 30 young people from across New South Wales gathered to discuss organising the Uniting Church for the Climate Strike on Friday September 20th. Since this initial gathering, these students have helped instigate a state-wide and increasingly national campaign that now involves the NSW.ACT Synod, Uniting, Uniting World, numerous Presbyteries and congregations and the UCA National Assembly.

Momentum is building and Christian Students Uniting (CSU) members in our Universities are developing their capacity along the way. Since SOD 2019, the students have taken part in numerous community organising trainings, they have worked with Sydney Presbytery to develop a communications strategy and have had lots of meaningful and intentional conversations with UCA members.

At the August meeting of Sydney Presbytery, 15 of these students held an action asking Ministers and congregational representatives to commit to the strike. This action alone garnered the support of 215 UCA members (and counting).

We often talk about the young people in our church as ‘leaders of tomorrow’ or ‘the future of our church’. Although these statements are true, what they do not capture is the fact that young adults like these, and many others within the diversity of our Church are leading right now. For the sake of God’s creation, they are calling on us to stand with them. Will you answer the call?

Transformation & Sabbath Economics

Because of the life and witness of Jesus, the Church is (and has to be) about transformation. Transformation often starts with the individual; however, the Church is called to transform the whole of creation. Jesus presents us with a vision for another way of living. One that speaks of the abundance of the Reign of God. God’s abundance, as you will see below, is different to a contemporary economic understanding.

Theologian Ched Myers (a supporter of School of Discipleship and past keynote speaker) characterizes this vision as “Sabbath Economics”. Myers describes this as the basic struggle of mammon (which is the Greek word used in Luke 16:13 translated as “wealth”) and manna (which refers to the story from Exodus 16 in which God rains down “bread from heaven”).

Exodus tells the story of the Hebrew people wandering the desert, without food or water, surviving off manna from heaven. They were instructed to gather only what they needed – neither too much nor too little.

The idea of “Sabbath Economics” stresses God’s theology of abundance (which carries with it the instruction not to gather too much so others don’t go without). This of course stands in complete contrast to the dominate view of economic excess and accumulation. We are told and many of us seem to believe that “there isn’t enough for everyone”, and so as Walter Bruggerman has said, we set out to “seize our goods and seize our neighbour’s goods”.

How can one really love their neighbour, when they want what their neighbour has?

We see this again in the New Testament when Jesus feeds the 5000. Even the disciples asked, “Rabbi, there isn’t enough to go around?” Again, we are told and shown that there was enough for everyone.

God’s counter-cultural paradigm – God’s model of distribution – goes against the world system and requires us to un-learn most of which we are taught about how the world works.

If the Church is to truly transform the world, what must the Church un-learn?

What does this have to do with climate change? Responding to climate change is going to require un-learning, rule changing and a move away from the scarcity mindset that so many of us fall victim to and so many politicians reinforce. This mindset, which creates an often-irrational fear that my success, my wealth, my progress can only exist in competition to my neighbours is a fundamental part of the problem.

We need to un-learn what we understand regarding abundance because the world system view is counter to the abundance of God’s Reign, which tells us there is “enough”. Perhaps part of this un-learning also extends to how we understand the basic metric of what “enough” even is.

This call to live abundantly in God’s Reign is one that is both macro and micro. This is the stuff of both foreign and personal policy.

If I truly believe that I am enough, as I am wonderfully made in the image of God, then perhaps I will be content with what I have and the desire for more will have less of a grasp on who I am. Even as I write this I want to push back on my own words and say that the need to accumulate ‘stuff’ is natural and normal and therefore okay. This is at the heart of what we are called to un-learn, because if our security comes from faith in God, and is grounded in community then we will know abundance. This is about beginning to change the way we live practically. To understand that there is in fact room at the table for everyone and more than enough for everyone to be satisfied.

And so, when we talk about taking action on climate change, we aren’t simply talking about politicians creating better policy, we have to also be talking about a fundamental personal shift in the way we live and related to the world. This is the Gospel vision; this is what is asked of us as Disciples of Christ. And because the Church is perhaps the only institution truly in the “business” of transformation, we have a responsibility to be at the forefront of this movement.

A Pacific Island Perspective

The hearts of our Pacific Island sisters and brothers have been slowly breaking with every new climate disaster back home. As a stand-out leader in her own Auburn Uniting Church and now, a Field Officer from Pulse, Joyce Tangi has an important perspective on the role of new emerging generational leaders.

“I don’t go back to Tonga as much as I want to. My Dad’s family is from a small island off the main island – you have to catch a little boat and travel out. I can remember the image of my grandparents, standing at the top of the island, waiting for us. Waking up on a Sunday in Tonga to the bright early light as a child, you’d know that the elders are already outside, cooking food in earthen ovens. You’d know that the food you would be eating later that day was part of the same land that you’re a part of; was made by hands that make and shape the whole community. If the smell of food didn’t wake you up then the sound of roosters crowing and church bells tolling would. Standing in church that morning with your entire family, you’d open a window for the breeze, look out and see everything green and alive. You’d know that you are blessed.

Now, I hear the stories of stronger and stronger cyclones, typhoons and storms hitting Tonga. In the back of my mind I can envision the huts as they buckle. By the time that I wake up in Sydney I know that those huts are destroyed.

It’s more than an accident or natural disaster, it’s the human consequence of a lack of stewardship for God’s creation. To know that sea levels are rising faster than they should be, that whole networks of community, the entire reality of life for Tongan people on this earth will irreversibly change, is absolutely heart-breaking.

Joyce continues: “It resonates in my core and makes me ask myself: how can we become more educated about what’s happening to our climate? And then; what are we going to do about it?

To me, that’s why the Climate Strike on September 20th is so important and inspiring. It’s a movement; it might seem as if it’s just for young people, but it’s actually for everyone. As the global campaign slogan says: ‘everyone welcome, everyone needed’.  It reminds me of a scripture verse where Paul tells us that we are all, in fact, one body of Christ – ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ (1 Corinth 12: 26).

A month ago, I went along to a gathering of Christian Students Uniting (CSU) members as they started to put ideas together for how to participate in the Climate Strike. I felt the passion in the room; inspiring energy to push for a healthy future. It made me feel alive.

Sitting in that Christian Students Uniting meeting, I felt something that I feel when I work with all emergent leaders: this generation is not just fighting for themselves, they are fighting for me, and they are fighting for my family back home. I could see the passion in their eyes, and I felt blessed.

One of the reasons I love being part of the Pulse team; are the opportunities I have to mentor and direct the gifts and talents of young leaders, to give them an opportunity be part of the solution for change, in a way that only Christian leaders can. Our Church is brimming with potential to be part of historical change. That change looks like our new generation and they all have a drive to preserve God’s creation.”

UCA Climate Action

Christian Students Uniting groups within our Universities are joining a strong narrative for climate action within the Uniting Church. Did you know that our National Assembly divested from fossil fuels some years ago? Our UCA President, Dr. Deidre Palmer was among 150 religious leaders who signed an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging the Government to recognise the climate crisis as a national emergency and to stop all new coal and gas projects in Australia.

Did you know that our friends at Uniting in NSW are proactively working to reduce their carbon emissions? And UnitingCare nationally have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by 5% by 2020 (compared to 2017 baseline).

More recently at Living Church – Synod 2019, the NSW.ACT Synod agreed to a proposal to develop a state-wide Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions across all councils and agencies of the Church. The plan, which was passed unanimously, also states that the Church will advocate on a Federal, State and local level for government to fundamentally reduce our national emissions.

These are inspiring examples of institutional transformation. And there are many climate activists within the church who have been at the forefront of this movement for years, like Jessica Morthorpe and Jason John from Uniting Earth who helped ensure the Climate Action Plan was passed at Synod 2019.

Sisters and brothers, with all of the progress we are making and the momentum building within our church and within the community, much and more action is still needed. Without Federal Government buy-in and significant policy shifts, this climate crisis will worsen until the damage is irreversible. We are talking about a matter of years. And in the meantime, our Pacific and Torres Strait Island sisters and brothers will continue to suffer the consequences of our in action.

It is clear from media reports coming out of the Pacific Islands Forum that the Morrison Government is still not taking the climate crisis seriously and have no intention to move away from coal or gas to cleaner energy sources. If we want change, we are going to have to collectively demand it.

Friends, this is a moment in history that we will (hopefully) look back on and mark as the turning point in the global climate change movement. Join us and the millions of ordinary people from every corner of the earth on September 20th and demand real climate action. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed.

What will happen on September 20th?

Christian Students Uniting (CSU) are organising a pre-strike worship at Pitt St Uniting Church from 930am. This will be an opportunity to sing and pray before we join the strike.

Following the worship service, we will walk together to the Domain and join the tens of thousands of Sydney-siders in the march.

Registration is essential so we can keep you up-to-date with the campaign and get an idea of numbers.

Please register here: Bit.ly/UCAClimateStrike

Join us on September 20th #ClimateStike

Natalie Martignago, Andrew McCloud




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