Caring about the climate is a matter of loving our neighbour, says Tim Farron. But when civil disobedience alienates people, it becomes counterproductive. And that has serious consequences for us all
As climate protesters glue themselves to the M25 and continue to block roads, Prince Charles has said that he understands their anger.
Earlier this week, His Royal Highness shared his view that: “All these young people feel nothing is ever happening so of course they’re going to get frustrated.” But he did also criticise them for alienating people by preventing them going about their daily lives.
So how should Christians think about climate change and civil disobedience?
Out of control
I have heard some Christians say that any change in the climate is God’s sovereign will; that it is arrogant to suggest human beings control the climate and futile to think we can still the storm as Jesus did. But, with respect, I think that would be to read scripture wrongly. Human sin is real. It was the trigger for the curse on creation. God’s good creation has been tainted by sin and its consequences. Most Christians would agree that human sin damages relationships, families and society. So, of course, it is likely to damage the natural world too.
Loving your neighbour is the key motive for caring about climate change
We should not be surprised, then, that human greed and rampant materialism has had an impact on our planet. Our desire to have ever-more comfortable lives, make more money and squander resources unthinkingly has caused this current situation. The earth’s temperature is rising rapidly and changing weather patterns are affecting the lives of billions of people.
A good gift
Our planet is a gift from God. In Genesis 2:15 we are told: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Psalm 24:1 reveals that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”.
We should not be surprised that human greed has had an impact on our planet
We are given stewardship of God’s good creation. Climate change is a consequence of our failure. In James 5: we read, “You have lived on the earth, in luxury and self-indulgence”. This takes us away from God, makes us idolators and blights the earth.
And the consequences of catastrophic climate change? Land becomes useless – either deluged by water or desiccated and capable of growing nothing. This causes the mass movement of desperate people whose homelands become uninhabitable and unable to sustain them. This, I think, reveals the key biblical motive for caring about climate change: love your neighbour. In the parable of the good Samaritan, found in Luke 10, Jesus tells us that our neighbour is everyone, even those we have never met and even those not yet born.
The COP26 summit will be taking place in a few weeks’ time. I am praying that its outcomes are ambitious, practical and urgent. If we care about justice, we will want to ensure the poorest are given serious help from the richest to transition quickly. We won’t be loving our neighbour if we plunge them into debt and poverty or force them out of work.
So, climate change is a huge threat… but many Christians will feel uneasy about using civil disobedience to fight it.
Romans 13 tells us that all authority is established by God and to resist it opposes God’s ordinances. But I think I agree with Prince Charles here. I worry less that the protests are ungodly than counterproductive. Many Christians, perhaps most famously Martin Luther King, have engaged in civil disobedience - which means peacefully protesting, sometimes breaking the law where necessary, and meekly accepting the consequences, all in service of a greater cause. That isn’t resisting authority, it is accepting it while making a stand. So I don’t think such actions break the biblical command to respect the authorities. But if your actions turn the people against you, you may still have damaged your cause.
And given that climate change is a matter of life and death to our neighbours alive today and those yet to be born, I’m not sure we are loving our neighbour if our actions ultimately lead to failure.