John Butterfield, one of the Eco-Congregation Scotland board members, attended the first Eco-Congregation Ireland conference earlier this month. here is his report.
Eco-Congregations Ireland hold their first conference
Ireland is a very green country but the idea of churches being interested in green issues is very new. When the committee of Eco-congregations Ireland decided to have a conference they though that it would attract 30-40 people. The Dromantine conference centre in beautiful rural County Down was booked in faith for a two day residential conference from 9.30am on Friday 14th to 5pm on Saturday 15th September 2012. The conference attracted almost 150 attendees and a block booking at a local hotel had to be made to accommodate them all! There seems to be an awakening sense of environmental awareness in the Irish churches.
Dromantine is just a few miles outside Newry, and thus just north of the Border. The participants were attracted from all the major denominations and from all parts of Ireland, North and South, and was particularly successful in attracting religious sisters and brothers. (In fact I have never been with so many nuns at one time in all my life!) Many of these religious communities have run gardens and farms as part of their vocation for many years so Christian environmentalism was for them a natural progression.
As the representative of Eco Congregations Scotland I was made very welcome and told about some of the green achievements of Scottish churches and parishes in a workshop. ECI is in a different place to ECS. It was set up by the inter-church committee for social affairs five years ago and to date has made five awards to churches and dioceses. It still operates as a sub committee of this body. In contrast ECS is a charity in its own right and has now made 100 awards.
A range of distinguished speakers opened up the whole area of green theology and ethics.
Prof David Howell (Exeter) asked if the bible is green and how environmentalism be drawn from the text. Prof Stephen Williams (UTC Belfast) examined what a theology of creation could look like. Ann Primavasi looked at the threat to the world from Militarism. Alastair McIntosh spoke about money, consumerism and society and Peter Owen-Jones spoke about the quest for well-being in the twenty-first century. There were also workshops on weather, economics, GM crops, earth spirituality, and practical advice on what churches can do.
I enjoyed my long weekend in Northern Ireland and the great craic of the many coffee time and after hours encounters. I even ended up late on Friday night singing Irish songs with a Presbyterian couple from Belfast and four lovely nuns from Kilarney!
Here are some of John’s notes from the presentations:
Is the Bible Green?
(Some notes from a presentation by Prof David G Horrell (Exeter University) at the Eco-congregations Ireland conference September 2012.)
The bible is not a simple green book. There is a green bible published (illustrated here) in which all the parts that have positive things to say about the environment are highlighted. But there are also many negative aspects in the bible that cannot be ignored.
Some of the problems with the Bible as a green text are:
- In Genesis 1 the word subdue used in reference to the human relationship to the earth can be interpreted in terms of stewardship but has often been used to justify exploitation. In 1967 Lynn White published a paper claiming that the command to subdue the earth was at the heart of all the environmental problems of the world because the western Judeo Christian ethic originating from this text had dominated the world.
- The end times such as the apocalypse in Mark or 2 Peter indicate that Christians should be doing whatever they can to hasten the end of the world! This will make people bad stewards of the earth. However the ideas of destruction can be interpreted as ideas of transformation and renewal of the new heaven and the new earth
There are however numerous good texts from an environmental point of view
- Genesis 1.31 Goodness of the earth emphasised in every stage of the creation story
- Genesis 9 Noah’s covenant is with the whole earth
- Psalms (104 and 148 :3-10) hymns of praise of all creation
- Job ch 38-41 – humanity is not seen as the centre of all that exists as God asks “Who do you think you are?”
Prophetic visions of future peace such as in Isaiah 11:6-9 where the lion and the lamb lie in peace. Here peace goes beyond the human world to encompass all creation
- In Matthew 6 v 26-39 Jesus outlines God’s care for creation (but also says God loves people more!)
- Romans 8 outlines God’s saving purpose for all creation
- Colossians 1 is a vision of all things being reconciled and saved
- The vision in Revelation 21.5 is ambiguous and could be good or bad from an environmental point of view.
The bible is not a simple green Christian text book but it contains within it great potential for the green reconfiguration of Christian theology.
A Biblical Theology of Creation for Today
(Some notes made at a lecture by Prof Stephen Williams of UTC Belfast at the Eco-congregations Ireland conference September 2012)
Before the twentieth century creation and creator were seen as completely separate. However since the beginning of the twentieth century the distinction has become less absolute and belief of all things existing in God has become widely held. (A belief often called panentheism) The theology of creation has been extended with new insights from eco-feminism and other ideas in the second half of the twentieth century.
- A biblical theology will be based on the following principles:
- creation is good which in this context means fit for purpose
- the biblical command to have dominion will be taken to mean care
- the covenant of Noah between God and all creation is foundational
- all creation is sustained by God’s providence
- eschatalogical peace is holistic rather than destructive
Darwinianism ( and other theories of evolution) have problems with these principles.
The problem posed by Darwinianism is that the evolution of the world by natural selection reveals a world of waste, cruelty and meaninglessness. It will be very difficult for anyone who takes that view of the cosmos to believe in a benevolent creator.
There are five responses to that challenge:
- evil is inexplicable – a mystery – for example from Genesis 3 the story of the serpent makes you ponder on how one of God’s good creatures can be evil
- there is a connection between moral evil (what people do) and natural evil ( earthquakes floods etc) – evil can be seen to come from that which is good
We have a two sided universe and the so called natural evils are not evident. So for example volcanoes are necessary and morally neutral in themselves
We live in an interconnected universe – you can’t have the good without the evil and some evil is just shadow possibility of what is not good
Possibility of meaninglessness – Leviticus states that everything is fleeting vanity – and it is not possible from the cosmos to work out the meaning of the word
Work for creation is work of love not work of HOPE
HOPE in the bible is attached to God’s promises
There are many things that we cannot understand and theology cannot comprehend everything. In the Jewish traditions paradox was important as it shows us the nature of reality cannot be comprehended because of its great depths.