Environment and Development A Challenge to Our Lifestyles - 6. The responsibility of the Churches

Only in recent times have many of the churches rediscovered their responsibility for the whole of creation and for future generations. Churches should proclaim a sustainable lifestyle with great humility in the awareness that for a long time they themselves have been part of the predominant, destructive way of living. However, churches cannot claim a monopoly of solutions, especially not those coming from the technical and scientific fields.

It is against this background that we ask: What can churches do in terms of their cooperative witness for a sustainable lifestyle? We wish to highlight some important challenges for the churches:

a) The churches have a prophetic responsibility; that is, they are not simply social institutions which behave according to their own laws. Their task is to listen carefully to God's message in order to address today's issues. In translating God's will for modern times, the churches must be open to the world. They must read the signs of the times, dealing with the suffering of creation and listening to people as they share their stories, experiences and knowledge. The churches' prophetic task is to proclaim God's message to the world, even if it appears to be inconvenient, because it challenges present trends and practices. However, not every message from the churches which contradicts present trends is prophetic: it is essential that the message has its foundation in Scripture and Tradition.

b) Churches also must proclaim a message of hope in the face of every sign of destruction. Many people today, especially the young, possess much knowledge and many insights about the distressing state of the planet. What is often lacking, however, is hope and a confidence in the future. Heightening people's fear and bad conscience may lead to paralysing frustration and fatalism. The churches' belief in the Kingdom of God, God's grace in Jesus Christ and the renewing capacity of the Spirit should be a source of joy, inspiration and encouragement.

c) The proclamation of hope will not automatically change in the present situation. Therefore, the churches must give a credible witness in their own daily life and should thereby be credible co-operators in God's ongoing act of creation. Recognizing their own weaknesses as well as their own responsibility the churches ought to be good examples in practising a sustainable lifestyle which reflects the wholeness and holiness of life.

d) The churches recognize the spiritual dimension of life. They should advocate worship as an integral part of a sustainable lifestyle. The eucharist, meditation and prayer are ways in which we listen to God, put ourselves at God's disposal, open ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit and are sent out on a mission of action for the survival for the whole of creation.

These challenges could, for instance, be met:

  • by raising the awareness and commitment of believers with regard to their environmental responsibilities and capacity to act;

  • by celebrating creation, through worship and liturgy, intercession and preaching; elements of worship should aim to link creation more clearly with daily life;

  • by education and formation at all levels in the church, including the training of believers, teachers and ministers;

  • by dialogue and co-operation with other religions, especially insofar as Europe is increasingly made up of multi-faith societies;

  • by dialogue and co-operation with non-governmental organizations, governments, universities, and so on, in view of the extent of common interests concerning ecological responsibilities;

  • by promoting ways of implementing Agenda 21, the action programme for the 21st century adopted at the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio 1992, involving families, parishes, churches, local communities and the society as a whole;

  • by promoting everyday measures for environmental protection, the prevention of biodiversity, energy savings and systematic environmental auditing in parishes and all church-related institutions;

  • by taking ecological considerations into account in all church-related activities including, for example: construction of buildings, management of lands, organization of parish centres, energy and resource consumption, and production and disposal of wastes;

  • by promoting together with others the national and regional implementation of international ecological standards and conventions and resisting environmentally harmful actions such as nuclear testing.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version