Reformed churches versus the climate crisis

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Reformed churches versus the climate crisis

With forests burning, floods, and extreme heatwaves, Reformed churches are talking about shared responsibility to address this urgent climate crisis.

Earth Overshoot Day
The NGO Global Footprint Network declared the 29th of July 2021 as Earth Overshoot Day.[1] Every year, this NGO calculates the date when humans have used all the resources the earth can provide in a year. In 1970, Earth Overshoot Day was on the 29th of December, and in 2000 it was on the 23rd of September. This clear decrease of natural resources mostly comes from the increase of our carbon footprint.[2]

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the carbon footprint slightly decreased and Earth Overshoot Day was delayed by three weeks. This date gave hope during the pandemic as humanity saw the positive ecological impact that occured when less transport is used. However, our carbon footprint is not the only factor in the current ecological crisis. There are many different elements today that make this crisis an urgent one, such as the acidification of oceans, less biodiversity, and the destruction of natural habitats.[3] In response to this crisis, Reformed churches are currently addressing this global issue.

The Reformed tradition in the ecological discussion
Sociologists, such as Karl Marx[4] and Brad Gregory,[5] determined that the Reformation influenced capitalism and the individualisation of society. Therefore, should the Reformed tradition address the issue of the ecological crisis if its thought might have influenced society toward mishandling the earth?

Since Calvin developed the idea of loans with interest, Switzerland has been a wealthy country. Even though this idea might have influenced capitalist society, the Prostestant Church in Switzerland does not restrain itself to act for social and ecological justice. On the contrary, this church focuses on Zwingli’s theology to develop an eco-theology.[6] According to him, the earth is not our house but God’s house, and Christians have a shared responsibility to take care of it.[7] Another reformation theologian, John Calvin, invited Christians to an attitude of modesty and thankfulness for a true contemplation of God’s work.[8] With these two ecological reflections, the Protestant Church in Switzerland declares the need for a transformation from Calvin’s position as member of the audience, to Zwingli’s position as actor in God’s house.

From theology to action
The Protestant Church in Switzerland is taking various actions to reduce its carbon footprint. On a local level, churches aim to use recycled paper and less heat. Through these actions, more than 20 parishes have already received an environmental label called ‘Grüner Güggel’.[9] This label has existed since 2015 and was created by the association ‘oeku Church and Environment’[10] to encourage Swiss parishes to take ecological actions. On a national level, every Reformed church is asked to participate in the international and ecumenical movement called ‘Season of Creation’.[11] This movement was created by the World Council of Churches and has the purpose of commemorating God’s creation. To help national churches in the commemoration, this movement offers resources such as ecological liturgies, information about the climate crisis, and bible studies.[12]

The oeku Church and Environment association and the Season of Creation movement are examples of how the contemplation of God’s work (through liturgies and reinterpretation of the Bible) brings the understanding of a shared responsibility by acting as ecologically responsible in parishes. The Protestant Church in Switzerland developed this eco-theology in order to explain the need for Christians to act on this climate injustice.

Fighting the crisis
In conclusion, the short timeline between the development of eco-theologies and the subsequent actions of churches highlights their interconnected relationship. In the Reformed tradition, there is a close relation between theology and action. Reformed Christians act according to their interpretation of the Bible. Thus, a reformed eco-theology gives tools to understand the ecological message in the Bible: from simple contemplation to shared responsibility on the ecological matter. Through eco-theology and actions, the Reformed tradition participates in the ecological debate and helps fight against this ecological crisis.

Emma Van Dorp

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[1] Global Footprint Network

[2] Le «jour du dépassement» remonte au 29 juillet

[3] “L’atmosphère se réchauffe, la biosphère s’effondre” in Dieu, la nature et nous

[4] Calvin et l’économie : quelle lecture et quelle actualité ?

[5] The Unintended Reformation

[6] 10 questions – 10 réponses Entre action et sérénité

[7] Huldrych Zwingli, De la justice divine et de la justice Humaine (1523)

[8] John Calvin, Institution de la Religion Chrétienne, vol I, chapter 6(1559)

[9] Erste Schaffhauser Kirchgemeinde erhält oeku-Zertifikat «Grüner Güggel» and «Dieu, la nature et nous»: premier hors-série de Réformés

[10] OECO Églises pour l’environnement

[11] Season of Creation 2021

[12] Resources-Season of Creation 2021