Christian Denominations and the Environment

Pope Francis promulgated Laudato Si, his global encyclical on Christian ecology in June 2015, six months before the historic, 195-nation Climate Agreement in Paris. The Pope’s encyclical sets out Christians’ duty to address the dangers we cause to God’s Creation, and to step back from environmental despoliation. David Weight, a British Catholic layperson, has produced this helpful summary of the Latin original. As Weight notes, unusually for an encyclical, the document is addressed not only to Roman Catholics, but rather to every person on Earth.

A conference at the Vatican to launch the encyclical was entitled ‘People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course’. As he works to secure humanity’s repentance on its environment behaviour, Pope Francis shows himself unafraid to reach out to radical advisors, both secular and religious. As one of his assistants, the Pope chose Naomi Klein, environmental activist, trenchant critic of capitalism and author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine. Klein is a feminist, Jewish and a world-renowned activist. For the New Yorker magazine, Klein wrote a reflective diary article of her trip Rome for the launch of Laudato Si. As Klein concluded:

‘If one of the oldest and most tradition-bound institutions in the world can change its teachings and practices as radically, and as rapidly as Francis is attempting, then surely all kinds of newer and more elastic institutions can change as well.’

The United Reformed Church re-stated in 2016 its own formal Environmental Policy. Six pages long – as compared to Laudato Si’s 184 pages – our URC document cites the Paris agreement, supported by 195 nations in the UN’s framework convention on climate change, as well as other churches’ statements such the 2015 Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change, and the URC Southern Synod’s own reflections. Without fudging, the latest URC national policy asserts that:

‘We know that human activity has contributed to the degradation of the earth and that this is not the will of God. We believe that this degradation limits the attainment of the fullness of life that God wills for all Creation, and is a sin for which we should seek forgiveness’.