How should Christians face climate change?
We've moved on from the question of whether we should care.
With the emergence of global climate change and widespread inaction in response, an important shift is happening in conversations about Christianity and the environment: a move from “Why should we care?” to “What are we to do?” Gone are the days in which Christian environmental thinkers were primarily concerned with trying to convince people to love the wider-than-human creation. Christians are turning toward more practical discernment. In Sharon Delgado’s words, the question is “How can we face these realities, discern their implications, emerge with our faith intact, and respond with words and actions that demonstrate God’s loving intentions for the world?”
Although climate change is seen as a new problem, many Christians are seeking resources from within the Christian tradition to help shape responses. As Kevin J. O’Brien writes, the “claim of uniqueness is very common in writing about climate change,” but “a movement for climate justice requires good news from the past in order to look with realistic hope into the future.” Faced with the potential of discontinuities caused by drastic climate change, Christians are turning toward inherited wisdom as sources of continuity in thought and practice.
For Delgado, a United Methodist minister and environmental activist, this turn to the Christian tradition involves using the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a means for discerning how one might live in love in a time of climate change. Wesley’s four interrelated sources of authority for moral and spiritual discernment—scripture, tradition, reason, and experience—guide Delgado’s reflections on what it means to honor creation and establish justice in today’s world. The less denominationally grounded O’Brien, who teaches Christian ethics at Pacific Lutheran University, turns to the tradition of nonviolent protest in the United States, engaging five Christian “witnesses” to glean lessons for responding to climate change: John Woolman, Jane Addams, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez. O’Brien argues that this tradition of “resisting violence while refusing to use violence” offers creative resources for thinking about how to respond to climate change precisely because the problem of climate change is one of structural violence, “caused indirectly by social systems” but still “a selfish expression of power that harms others.”