The Church of England is missing a trick on climate change

9 September 2021

10:17 PM

9 September 2021

10:17 PM

Justin Welby urges us, echoing Deuteronomy, to ‘choose life’, so that our children may live. It is an apt use of scripture, in the face of the climate emergency. But his performance on Radio 4 this morning was far from impressive.

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the need for ‘meaningful sacrifices’, but when asked which ones he was making he sounded a bit muddled, as if he was not ready for such an obvious question. His first answer was ‘recycling and all that’, a locution with an air of irritation, like a man too often nagged to take the bins out.

Asked about meat, he said he had cut down, but mainly for health and financial reasons. (Can’t Lambeth Palace afford daily sausages?) Then he spoke about the Church’s gradual divestment from the extractive industries: make me carbon-free, Lord, but not yet.

The Church is missing a trick. Maybe the trick of its life. It has the potential to do something that is good for the climate, and for its own image. It can model a new culture of voluntary restraint. And it can show how a new approach to consumption can be culturally enriching.

Imagine if the bishops had the guts, and imagination, to issue a statement along these lines:

‘We suggest that Anglicans refrain from eating meat on weekdays. As well as helping reduce carbon emissions, this would help us to appreciate our food more, and deepen our connection with the natural world. We take too much for granted: let us learn to be more grateful. 

‘Of course this is not a hard-and-fast rule. The very first Christians opposed dietary rules, and so we should be wary of implying that any dietary decision is somehow more godly. And Anglicans have been even more averse to rules than most other Christian traditions, which is why we are seen as weak and woolly. But for this very reason we are in a good position to attempt a new sort of loose, light-touch rule-making. Maybe it’s what our culture needs.’

Think of the sudden press interest in the Church, which despite its famous decline is still a major cultural force. It could create a sense that we are not passive spectators of a disaster, but have agency. It could be a potent sign of hope, that we can adapt our culture in order to protect our planet.

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