A reflection for an interfaith meeting on Gender Justice and Climate Justice

From Gender Day at COP26 Glasgow

Ocean and Orphan: powerful street theatre in Glasgow at the time of COP

As a Christian minister of a Reformed tradition which has ordained women to leadership  for more than a hundred years, my ‘ecclesiology’ is one in which leadership is no longer gender specific.  

No one who disagrees is appointed to a leadership role in my church, where female, male, lesbian gay and trans folk serve equally.   I’ve been a celebrant for same-sex marriage since 2016.   These things are not always unopposed. 

But  in places in our  Scripture, even God does not silence opposition. 

I am  reminded by the teaching of Jesus of two priorities : both not to wear myself out with those who are completely determined to take no notice  – and that’s the divine origin of the beautiful rude phrase “pearls before swine”….  

….but also to go out of my way, in company with others to bring round those who dig in to what continues to harm every excluded community of the Earth. Including the Earth.

The transition from where my church was we were before we formally embraced equality took far too long, but it came about both by means of – rather than in spite of  – Christian theology repurposed by the recognition of the gifts of women staring us all in the face.  We finally noticed what we should have read :that “in Christ there is neither male nor female” 

That’s partly why I choose to speak  tonight within role, not outside of it.  I’m not suspending anything of my belief and trust in God, who is known in liberation rather than domination.

Indeed, the more I become aware of the climate crisis, the more that faith makes sense.   Emergency does prompt us to reassess, recycle, repurpose even our most cherished beliefs,  which are often strengthened and refined by such questions.. 

I find it hugely affirming that the breaking down of barriers to the education, empowerment and equality of women are an objectively valid and mainstream part of human response to the climate emergency.  You don’t get there otherwise.  You don’t get a better life.

But I also have to speak up when folk talk of overpopulation, then blame the poor, when the lifestyles of the richest and most powerful people on the planet have environmental impacts tens of times or more of those in poverty. 

 And the birth rate – and childbirth mortality  drops rapidly when poverty is addressed. Praise the Lord.

Would we be looking in churches at the legacy of slavery if the historic  dynamic of obstruction and denial were not so similar as that over the need to act on this crisis?

And is it providential that during lockdown, when ‘Black lives’ were seen the more to matter,  and ‘Me Too’ became more visible,  and public consciousness of climate issues held steady or even grew, according to the presentation by Mori Polls at COP last year?

I thank God for those scientists and researchers who in this and other fields, are teaching us that what is beautiful is also real and vital to our survival.  The Westminster govt would probably call it a “double lock.

Now …as EcoChaplain:  gender and indeed racial justice might be included  specifically because effective climate justice requires this.  And just as Creation is the first casualty of any war,  those who suffer most are most likely to find common ground with the Earth. ….Specialists can’t be separatists.

There are some  headline-grabbing  but impoverished presentations of the key foundation of global Christianity – that ‘God was in Christ, making friends with the Planet ‘. 

These are faith approaches  which amputate the visceral earthiness of who Jesus is,  and it’s difficult to see how they are not related more to a right-wing capitalist, imperialist culture of domination, rather than a dynamic and relational spiritual appreciation of human beings as creatures amongst creatures.  

I could add ‘western,  white, straight  male’ to those qualifications. .. a culture which does not nurture the girls of today to be the wise  grandmothers of tomorrow.

It’s also very noticeable how, when you conflate ‘more’ and ‘better’ in all circumstances, you even exclude the endings and fragilities of life. 

 And act as if they will never catch up with you.

You live the lie of endless growth, endless control, and the biggest fiction of all, that there’s no problem which can’t be fixed with more money, power or technology. 

The powerless – and how often these have been women – know that the exercise of soft power can still transform.  A response may be better than a solution. 

“Final solutions” were what  Nazism was about.

We’re very happy, in EcoCongregation Scotland, that COP put us more in touch with indigenous groups for whom Christianity amplifies and completes, rather than competes with their spirituality of straightforward  relatedness to the Earth.  The Earth that holds humanity to account for how we live.

And how wonderful it is too, that the Paris Agreement from 2015 onwards recognised the treasure of wisdom amongst groups who care for 85% of Earth’s biodiversity. 

How very well this fits with mainstream Christian teaching, such as that ‘the last will be first’  and that   those who are despised and rejected carry the wisdom that even the oppressors require to survive.

Faithfulness requires change, requires sharing of  power and listening… if all of us want to survive.