1 Cor 3:1-9
1 Cor 2:6-10
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
DIVISION IN THE CHURCH – FOLLOWING PAUL OR APOLLOS
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 New International Version (NIV)
3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Why has the church often been so slow to take action on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable? Climate change is striking hardest against the very people the Bible tells us to care for and love, it is amplifying hunger and poverty.
One of the reasons is that the very issue has become so partisan. There are two “sides”, some follow Apollos and some follow Paul.
Across the world, but particularly in the USA, Brazil and Australia, Christians are very divided over climate change. Some believe that faith and science are in conflict – not only evolution v creation, but now the science of climate change is debated. Others believe that we are in the ‘end times’ and it has been foretold that the Earth will burn up. Others believe that ‘this world is not my home’ and it is more important to focus on the afterlife and our spiritual life. And still others believe that to talk about the sacredness of Creation is bordering on paganism.
Katherine Hayhoe, a Christian climatologist says she is accused often by people with Bible verses in their social media profile who accuse her of spreading Satan’s lies. Others ask why she even tries to communicate with “those people”. Some follow ‘Apollos’, some follow “Paul’. She shares some insights into how to connect with those who are on the ‘other side’ when it comes to climate change.
“I’m not a glutton for punishment and I don’t thrive on conflict. So why do I keep talking about climate change to people who are disengaged or doubtful? Because I believe that evangelicals who take the Bible seriously already care about climate change (although they might not realize it). Climate change will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.
Then there’s pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, species extinction: climate change makes all those worse, too. In fact, if we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet (including each other) as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.
But if caring about climate change is such a profoundly Christian value, then why do surveys in the United States consistently show white evangelicals and white Catholics at the bottom of those Americans concerned about the changing climate?
It turns out, it’s not where we go to church (or don’t) that determines our opinion on climate. It’s not even our religious affiliation. Hispanic Catholics are significantly more likely than other Catholics to say the earth is getting warmer, according to a 2015 survey, and they have the same pope. It’s because of the alliance between conservative theology and conservative politics that has been deliberately engineered and fostered over decades of increasingly divisive politics on issues of race, abortion and now climate change, to the point where the best predictor of whether we agree with the science is simply where we fall on the political spectrum.
An important and successful part of that framing has been to cast climate change as an alternate religion. This is sometimes subtle, as the church sign that reads, “On Judgment Day, you’ll meet Father God not Mother Earth.” And if you are a Christian, you know what to do when a false prophet comes along preaching a religion that worships the created rather than the Creator: Reject it!
So this framing plays right into the narrative that scientists are a godless bunch who have teamed up with liberals (and perhaps the Antichrist, according to some comments I’ve received) to rule the world and overthrow religion, an agenda that any right-minded believer will oppose until his or her dying breath.
And that’s why my favorite question is the one I often hear from fellow Christians: “Do you believe in climate change?”
One of the first times I remember being asked this it was by a visitor to the evangelical church I attend here in Texas, who was surprised (and possibly a little horrified) to learn that the pastor’s wife was a climate scientist.
“No, I don’t!” I cheerfully replied.
A puzzled silence ensued. Wary of calling out the pastor’s wife, the man haltingly asked, “But aren’t you … didn’t you just say you study climate science?”
“That’s right,” I said with an encouraging nod.
“So how can you not believe in it?!” he asked, perplexed.
And with that question, he opened the door to an incredibly constructive conversation about science, faith and truth. As I always do now when someone asks this, I explained that climate change is not a belief system. We know that the earth’s climate is changing thanks to observations, facts and data about God’s creation that we can see with our eyes and test with the sound minds that God has given us. And still more fundamentally, I went on to explain why it matters: because real people are being affected today; and we believe that God’s love has been poured in our hearts to share with our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are suffering.
After hundreds, even thousands, of such conversations, I’ve grown to understand how much of this opposition to the idea that the climate is changing, that humans are responsible, that the impacts are serious and that the time to act is now, comes from fear: fear of loss of our way of life, fear of being told that our habits are bad for society, fear of changes that will leave us worse off, fear of siding with those who have no respect for our values and beliefs.
Connecting our identity to action is key, and that’s exactly why I don’t typically begin with science when starting conversations about climate change with those who disagree. Rather, I begin by talking about what we share most. For some, this could be the well-being of our community; for others, our children; and for fellow Christians, it’s often our faith.
By beginning with what we share and then connecting the dots between that value and a changing climate, it becomes clear how caring about this planet and every living thing on it is not somehow antithetical to who we are as Christians, but rather central to it. Being concerned about climate change is a genuine expression of our faith, bringing our attitudes and actions more closely into line with who we already are and what we most want to be.”
(Dr Katharine Hayhoe: “Im a climate scientist who believes in God – hear me out”, New York Times, Oct 31st, 2019)
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa