Can God fix climate change? It’s the question on the lips of many within the Pacific Church, this month more than ever in the wake of one of the region’s most deadly cyclones.
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale did not hesitate to link Cyclone Pam to the accelerating effects of climate change, describing it as a ‘monster’ that all but destroyed his country. Mr Lonsdale appealed again to the international community to do more for people left ankle deep on the global climate’s shifting front line.
But within the Pacific, where faith is central to identity and culture, the debate often has a different focus which very few agencies are equipped to deal with.
Rev Maleta Tenten is a minister from the Uniting Church in Kiribati.
“Our people experience all this for themselves – the changes in weather cycles, the flooding that comes more often, the tides and storms,” Ms Tenten said.
“There is absolutely no question that change is happening. But we have been taught to be people of great faith. Many people can’t believe this is the beginning of the end of their homeland. They believe God will save them, even as they experience great distress. When I speak to them of the need to adapt, of changing climate, it falls on deaf ears.”
According to many Pacific people, to believe in or act against climate change demonstrates a lack of faith. God has ‘promised never again to flood the earth.’ God will save. At the same time, personal experience of devastating events undermines faith at every turn.
While most Australians conceive of climate response in political and practical terms, Ms Tenten and others within the Pacific know that spiritual nurture and leadership from the church is also critical.
The ‘God question’ continues to be central. Grappling with a spiritual crisis leaves people depleted, unable to cope with devastating changes they currently face or plan for the future. Ms Tenten says her people urgently need better theological education and pastoral care in order to come to terms with what the bible teaches about stewardship of the earth, creation, justice and the presence of God.
“This is the only way people will begin to act for themselves in response to what is happening,” she said.
“We start here. It’s the foundation of our work because it’s the foundation of people’s belief about how the world works. If we can convince people here, we can motivate them to act and reassure them for the future.”
At the request of Ms Tenten and other frontline workers across the Pacific, the Uniting Church in Australia through UnitingWorld is supporting projects that equip church leaders and communities to take faith-filled action.
One project includes teaching about God’s presence, environmental stewardship and justice, training counsellors and chaplains for survivors of extreme weather events, helping communities complete disaster risk assessments and advocating for climate justice.
The project will cost $45,000 in its first year and UnitingWorld is seeking interested individuals and congregations to help fund workers and resources. If you have a passion for supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people as they cope with the effects of climate change, please contact UnitingWorld on 02 8267 4267. Read more at http://www.unitingworld.org.au/pacificchange/.