The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings (2015). Climate Justice: Insights from African Anglican Theologians. An address delivered at the Partners in World Mission Conference 2015, Swanwick, England, on 4 Nov 2015.
This short article is from a speech about climate justice given by Bishop Graham King at a mission conference in England last year. He’s an English bishop, but one of his underlying themes is how we should strive to listen and learn from our African congregations and colleagues. Much of his speech quotes African bishops.
He shapes this comments around three of the five “marks of mission”. These are; 3. To respond to human need by loving service. 2. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. 5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth. For completeness, I looked up the first two marks of mission – 1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and 2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
He says that certainly we have a duty to respond in loving service to human needs that have been created by complications of climate change; and cites African bishops who have given examples about drought and crop failure due to climate change.
But he does on to state that we should not only be offering “loving service” but we also have a duty to “reform unjust political and economic structures” that have caused climate change. He quotes a Kenyan theologian who specifically names two of these unjust structures as an imbalance of political power between the global North and global South and a consumerist culture driven by the global North.
Lastly, he speaks of creation as being a space in which God is revealed and is therefore in need of care and protection.
I hadn’t previously come across these “marks of mission”; but I think they are valuable and sensible.
I like the idea of “loving service” to others. On an individual level I think I need to be better at identifying areas where people are in need and where I can serve others. (As an aside; I honestly miss my church in Ireland where week in week out I interacted with people who were in need and we tried our best to meet their needs in love. now having moved to London there are fewer people I come into contact with regularly with the same immediate needs). On a corporate level, I think “ responding to human need by loving service” is a good choice of words to describe “charitable” activities. We should of course be about serving our neighbours, getting to know them, responding to needs and looking for opportunities to serve those in need. And as a corporate body of Christians it makes sense to support institutions (charities) who are responding directly to human needs.
But I also liked when Bishop King moved to speak about the fourth “mark of mission” about transforming structures and I think it’s a useful counter-balance to the third. I worry that if all we ever did was response to human needs it might leave us “us” in the position of offering “patronage and condescendence rather than … partnership and empathy”. This fourth mark of mission rightly names the need to also need to identify and then work towards ending of unjust structures, strucutres that as rich global North Christians we might also be complicit in. As a corporate body of Christians, as well as responding to human needs in loving service we should be also working directly to change bigger structures, and to support institutions who are trying to change those structures. This is something I’ve very recently started to get involved with in my church in South London as we’ve joined the community organising charity Citizens UK.
I am now at an age and stage in a faith journey where I am comfortable saying that working to engage and transform unjust structures that hurt people who are poor can be a part of God’s mission in the world. However, I know that ten years ago I could not have been comfortable to say that and I would have told you that working for climate justice through political campaigning cannot be “mission.” I am not sure what else to say about this tension, other than to note it exists and that I realise that many Christians (including leaders in the church where I grew up) wouldn’t be comfortable seeing climate justice campaigning as an area of the church’s “mission”.
A final thought; this brief article doesn’t address much about practically how we could go about carrying out these acts that mark us as being involved in mission. I would love to read more and think more critically about what a distinctively Christian response to changing and challenging unjust political and economic structures looks like. What can we offer as a church over and above what we could offer if each member of a congregation signed up individually to volunteer with greenpeace? I think Bishop King starts hinting at what a distinctively Christian response might look like; the church could be a forum in which there is genuine engagement as equals with leaders from the global South and this could help us identify our own privilege and complicity with unjust structures or perhaps church teaching could help to change some of the consumerist mindset to a culture of sharing.
This is the first thing we’ve read which considers an African theological perspective. Something I’ve noticed as a tension working for the Anglican church in Mozambique is that it doesn’t always make sense to superimpose a Western theology on an African culture. More than that, I feel like the African culture has a lot to offer our theology and we rarely take it into account. Kings talks about it a little more frankly in terms of our white Western privilege blinding us to the realities of climate change for the majority of the world’s population. I love this, on page 6: “It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel”.
This address also resonates as someone who first came to development through the eyes of climate change and I have seen evidence here of the impacts that climate change is having on already struggling societies. Addressing climate change is vital to development.
On responding to human need, the Bishop of Kajo-Keji, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo notes that the ‘church meets more people face to face every week and can therefore be the best avenue to bring this issue to its adherents’. This struck a chord with me as I have spent the last few weeks looking at the theology and development nexus from a very practical standpoint: how can we keep proving to the secular development world that the church is often the best placed institution through which to approach development? And how do we continue to ensure that we are making the most of the reach and trust that the church holds within its community in order to improve the lives of not just the believers but the entire community?
It is challenging to read Kenynan theologian, Prof Jesse Mugambi indicate the Global North as the perpetrator of injustice with regards to climate change. Shouldn’t every church in the Global North be repenting? I had an interesting discussion with someone recently about how in the Global North we have lost the sense of community and communal responsibility that is so much part of biblical culture, particularly in the old Testament, where we often see people praying on behalf of whole nations or peoples.
Another thing I ‘ve been thinking about over the last few weeks is ‘abundance’ and what it means to have the abundance that Jesus proclaims. I was pleased to see here Mugambi’s confirmation that abundance is not equal to profligate consumption and Durbur’s call to move ‘from a culture of consumerism to one of sharing’. It was interesting to me to read Koama’s statement that Western theology has often viewed the earth as a negative distraction from God whilst African theology sees the earth as ‘filled with the glory of God’. Another result of a consumerist culture? The address goes on to give examples from several African theologians regarding this and noting that African people live in awareness of their environment and in dependence on the earth.
As I return to the Global North later this year I have had my thoughts reinforced that I must ‘challenge cultural patterns and aspirations…learning to live by needs rather than wants’.
Our 5 main take-away points
- In 1984 a group called the Anglican Consultive Committee produced a statement about “Five marks of mission”. These are 1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and 2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.3. To respond to human need by loving service. 2. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violience of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. 5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
- Rachael was intrigued thinking about the links between responding to human needs in loving service and then in working to transform unjust structures that led to those needs in the first place.
- Jo was intrigued by reading thoughts from African theologians and is keen to read more and let this inform her thinking.
- Professor Jesse Mugambi is a Kengya theologican who names two key causes of climate injustice as an imbalance of power between global north and global south, and rife consumer culture, driven by global North.
- Jo and Rachael often have quite different take-away points from the same article!