Good News for Creation and Ecological justice, be placed at the top of the agenda
Eco Bishops, Africa
Don't pray for rain, the Bishop responded to the call of another Bishop requesting the prayer of the congregation for rain. The Bishop continued, Dear Bishop, don't pray for rain. We have cleared all the forests enhancing the process of desertification. Let us plant some saplings and compensate the present damage and pray for rain. Bishop Zac from Uganda explained the incident while he was taking the morning devotion in the Eco Bishops Conference organised by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) steering committee from 18th to 23rd September at the Good shepherd retreat Centre, Hartbeespoort, South Africa. On the second day Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, Anglican Bishop Swaziland and the Chair of ACEN, mentioned that through Eucharist we are in full communion with God, People and Nature. The Celebrant is blessing the fruit of the work of the people on this earth, the bread and the wine and serving to the believers. The earth is sacred. On third day's devotion, Bishop Chad Gandiya, Anglican Bishop of Zimbabwe mentioned that why can't we use the biblical Version John 3.16, For God so loved me, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. The disciple John wrote it clear that Jesus came to this world not to save individuals but to save all the creation. In Romans we are reading the salvation is for all the creations. Eighteen Anglican Bishops from various countries in Africa, Clergy and laypersons representing different Anglican groups attended the four-day consultation of Eco Bishops.
Dr Mathew Koshy Punnackadu, Hon. Director of the Department of Ecological Concerns of the Church of South India explained the eco activities of the CSI Synod. Rev.Dr.Rachel Mash, ACSA Enviro Convener introduced CSI as the active Eco Church in the Anglican Communion. As CSI produced so many books on Eco Bible Studies, the Hon. Director presented a model eco Biblical interpretation. God created everything in His own rhythm. He took six days for creation. The seventh day – rest. There is a rhythm in creation. Human beings disturbed the rhythm of God. If you want to see the rhythm of God, you have to observe nature closely. In order to understand the rhythm of nature, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness( a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest).Jesus could resist the temptations as he has understood the rhythm of nature. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.' Jesus knows the rhythm of Nature. When the seed finds a fertile land having water it sprouts. After a particular period, it produces grains. Ripe grains harvested, ground and made into a powder to make bread. The journey of seed to bread is through a systematic process with a rhythm. Forty days stay of Jesus in the wilderness helped him to study the rhythm of nature. Hence Jesus was not ready to disturb the rhythm of nature which God has given. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The answer of Jesus can be paraphrased in a different way. I made the universe and I know its rhythm. Any living being falling from a height may collapse. That is the rhythm of nature. Hence do not test your God. The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." It can be paraphrased like this, I have created each and everything in the universe with an intrinsic value and purpose. You or any corporates or any multinational companies have no right over this nature. Its owner is God. Hence worship your God. Luther saw the whole creation of God as something which exists for the benefit of humans. Karl Barth advocated a similar theology. Barth is very explicit that salvation history begins with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, but not from the creation. Everything is created solely for the sake of the realization of God's covenant with humanity in Jesus Christ. Bultmann held a similar position. God is not to be perceived in the phenomena of nature, but He is known and experienced in the `cave of the heart', in the inner personal experience. Such theology places creation in a secondary position. Serious attention was not given to the creation theology as they did not face an ecological crisis as we face today. Christianity does have a theology of creation. The presence of God makes this earth sacred. That is why God entered into a covenant relationship with all creatures. We believe in God because God as the Creator is present and continues to work with the land, river and sea to give life and hope. We have been taught theology which is giving importance to Life after Death. Give importance to life before death also. The world we live in is also important. Where there is no water, there is no good news. When there is a flood, it is a bad news.
The four days Eco Bishops concluded with strong resolutions and time-bound programmes. In Theological education they decided to hold eco-theology trainings at all levels (clergy, laity, guilds, youth), popularise available ecological resources, include ecology in theological education curricula, include ecology in liturgies, organise refresher courses/conferences in ecology, make budget provision for ecological activities in our Dioceses and encouraging such provision in our Provinces.
Other resolutions are regarding Youth activities, Sustainability and partnerships. Youth: initiating and increasing environmental consciousness and awareness among children and youth, empowering children and youth to initiate or take part in tree planting and re-planting programmes and to desist from contributing to pollution, enhancing the capacity of school teachers, confirmation teachers, youth workers and children in ecological matters, creating an African Youth Eco-Movement and encouraging budget provision for youth engagement in ecological justice.
Sustainability: planting indigenous and environmentally friendly species and removing alien vegetation which degrades the environment, exploring ways to restore degraded land and enable natural regeneration, using church land productively, for example, for solar energy, and increasing green cover and bio-diversity, establishing waste management projects, including collection and productive use of waste, promoting organic, climate-smart, agriculture, engaging proactively with urban planning systems with a view to addressing degraded human habitation, and advocating for the provision of clean water, sanitation and accessibility, ensuring that our church buildings and property provide an eco-model for the community, stop using single-use plastics on our church properties.
Partnerships: promoting the establishment of environmental desks in every diocese, encouraging the inclusion of environmental issues on diocesan websites, sharing challenges and successes, initiating resource mobilisation strategies to promote ecological justice, promoting active networking on environmental issues through twinning with other dioceses and Provinces, and encouraging exchange programmes in order to learn from one another.
The statement concluded with a request to the Anglican Communion. Requested Dioceses, Provinces, Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), and Lambeth 2020, that Good News for the creation and ecological justice be placed at the top of the agenda. All of us are interested in this and all are part of the problem, whether in the north, south, east or west. Our Communion provides an opportunity for global witness and resources to tackle this global challenge together.
Prof. Dr.Mathew Koshy Punnackad
Member, Anglican Communion Environmental Network Steering Committee