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Extinction Rebellion: Prophets or troublemakers?

Extinction Rebellion (XR to its friends) is a campaign movement using acts of civil disobedience to raise awareness of the causes and potential consequences of global warming and climate change. Their aim is to create a sense of urgency to tackle the causes and prevent the dire consequences of climate change. In a series of demonstrations in central London and other cities, they have sought to alert the public to the potential climate change has to make our planet uninhabitable so the Government and all of us make changes in policies and lifestyles to prevent that result. How do we respond? Do we see them as prophets or just troublemakers?

Rarely a week goes by without the media reporting evidence of global warming and climate change; rising sea levels, deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon Basin or the USA, and the depletion of energy resources, clean water and fish stocks.  Christians believe that God created our planet and made us its caretakers (Genesis 1; 2:15; Colossians 1:15-16; Revelation 10:6). The evidence suggests we are failing to be good caretakers. We also have relational reasons for caring about global warming. Our children and grandchildren will suffer most from our poor caretaking.

That the earth belongs to God has some important implications. Although only we, his human creatures, bear God’s image, the earth dose reflect something of its Creator’s character, especially its beauty and, on occasions, its power (see Psalms 19; 29; 50; 104; 148). It follows that if we carelessly neglect to care for his creation, or worse, damage it by our misuse and abuse, we will betray its Creator’s intentions.

It is worth stressing that this insight is completely different from New Age thinking. There is a clear duality in the biblical account of creation between the Creator and the creation. This contrasts with New Age thinking that all reality is ultimately one. It is also different from polytheistic thinking that considers the earth divine and to be worshipped with fertility rights. We worship our Creator not his creation but if we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we will treat what belongs to him with care and respect.

It follows that the earth is not our planet to do with as we please. That may seem obvious until we observe humankind’s behaviour today and for at least the last two hundred years. Previously, whilst land was seen as a source of income, wealth and power it was used with respect for what were perceived to be ‘natural laws’ that prevented exploitation. Since the industrial revolution such good husbandry has sometimes been abandoned and the result has been the dustbowls of North America, the deforestation of equatorial rainforests and the overfishing of the seas that has made some fish species virtually extinct.

John Stott helpfully suggested that our caretaking role is one of cooperation with God. We can plough, irrigate, fertilize and plant or sow the land but God has already created the processes of nature that make the earth fruitful before he created us. At best, “we co-operate with the laws of fruitfulness which God has already created”. (J.R.W. Stott, “Issues Facing Christians Today” p.151) The earth is not ours to do with whatever we please, it remains God’s and we have to give account for our caretaking.

I am not suggesting that Extinction Rebellion is a Christian movement but I suspect that Christians are amongst its supporters. It should certainly motivate us to seek to be better caretakers of God’s creation and to do all we can to prevent the worst consequences of global warming that our grandchildren will experience even if we do not. This might mean making some sacrifices, such as replacing our petrol and diesel cars, flying less, shopping for locally produced goods rather than imported ones and voting for politicians who take this issue seriously. Extinction Rebellion may have inconvenienced us but they are making a point we dare not ignore.

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