Green parties gained much support in the recent local elections. To face the coming environmental crisis, “Christians will need a better grasp of the big picture of creation, fall and redemption”, says Rachel Calvert of A Rocha France.
The impressing support received by “Green” parties in the recent local elections in France might be a sign of a change in the priorities of citizens.
Cities such as Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux have now ecologist mayors, and the media speak of a “green wave” going through the country.
To know what Christians think about this shift, Evangelical Focus spoke to Rachel Calvert of A Rocha France, an experienced organisation advocating for creation care with a distinctive Christian vision.
Asked about how churches can make a difference, Calvert says: “As Christians, it is important that our efforts to care for God’s creation spring from worship, trust and gratefulness, not from some frantic illusion that ‘saving the planet’ is all down to us”.
Question. What has changed in France in the last years so that the Green parties experienced such a grotwh?
Answer. The effects of environmental degradation and climate change are becoming increasingly obvious to the general public - with a rise in average temperatures, forest fires becoming more numerous and more severe, and an observable decline in many insect and bird populations, for example.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris 2015 contributed significantly to galvanizing public opinion. The French media have been active in relaying the environmental crisis, as have public figures like the photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand.
Q. As a Christian creation care organisation, do you think the work of the last years is finally bearing fruit? What is what you find most exciting about the opinion shift on environmental issues in France and Europe?
A. We are grateful for the handful of pioneers who worked tirelessly to raise awareness within the Christian community, long before creation care issues became fashionable. Within churches, interest in environmental questions has increased enormously since A Rocha began working in France twenty years ago, but this is in large part because Christians are not immune to wider cultural changes. We are a small organisation so our contribution to the shift has been modest.
We are excited about the challenge of helping churches to respond to the current situation from a theological perspective. If believers are to live faithfully through the coming environmental crisis, we will need a better grasp of the big picture of creation, fall and redemption. We need to understand how Scripture sheds light on the climate emergency, and why the cross of Christ is our only hope.
It would be wonderful if the increasing awareness of the climate emergency we face was sufficient to galvanize us as a society into radically reducing our carbon emissions. But the reality is that, from a human point of view, we are up against the wall. Although many of us are willing to make small lifestyle changes, it is far from obvious how we as a society are capable of changing course.
Our hope is in Christ, not in politicians or programmes. As Christians, it is important that our efforts to care for God’s creation spring from worship, trust and gratefulness, not from some frantic illusion that “saving the planet” is all down to us. In a context where hope is thin on the ground, our prayer is that churches would be living demonstrations of the gospel: Jesus is the only one who can change human hearts and free us from our greed.
Q. In general terms, are evangelical churches in France more or less aware about envirtonmental issues compared to the rest of society?
A. There have long been French evangelicals who have understood that the gospel has implications for all areas of life, and have adopted a holistic approach to faith and ministry. But in recent decades, the majority of evangelicals have tended to see ecological concerns as a distraction from evangelism, potentially even as a false religion. Culturally conditioned readings of Scripture have often led to a false dichotomy between “saving souls” and caring for God’s creation, both human and non-human.
The current ecological crisis is forcing us to search the Scriptures and to discover old truths in a new light, to remember that God designed us as embodied creatures, for example, and that the whole of creation exists through and for Christ.
Many French Catholics have been encouraged to take environmental issues more seriously by the papal encyclical “Laudato si”, and the historic French Protestant churches have also been giving a significant place to ecology and climate issues. By comparison, evangelicals have remained wary of jumping on the green bandwagon.
Q. Beyond the sphere of politics, where else would you like to see changes?
A. In France, as in other European countries, environmental concerns are often seen as a luxury for those who can afford it. Last year’s “yellow vest movement” which began as a protest against increased taxes on fuel, brought home this reality. Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the French environmental movement, as are those who have had few educational opportunities and are on low incomes.
And yet the reality is that the environmental crisis is increasing inequalities still further, within nations as well as between nations. Here in France we need to find ways of making sure that it is not the poorest who end up footing the bill. As we seek to find ways of bringing together care for our human neighbours and responsibility for the non-human creation, nothing compares with the rich resources of the Christian gospel.
Learn more about A Rocha France by visiting their website.
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