The Church Can No Longer Be Politically Neutral

I can still picture the moment I discovered that there are Christians who believe that climate change is a good thing because it will speed Christ’s return!  Much like the famed ‘rapture hatch’, it can be tempting to laugh at such eschatological clumsiness, but for the seriousness of its implications.  A similar story emerges with climate change denial, which after the above, somehow doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous now.  The consequences however, are grave.  Five million people already die each year because of climate change and the carbon economy.  Ninety percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, a figure rising to 98% when discounting deaths in the carbon economy.  The response to the climate crisis from many churches has at least been one of recognition and attempted action, but it’s not good enough.  Not even close.

In spite of constant and repeated warnings that as a country and as a planet we are sleepwalking into disaster, voices that might offer real solutions have been met with stunning ridicule.  Even the modest target set at the Paris Climate Summit of limiting global warming to a 2°C maximum has been fraught with issues, not least a belligerent US president.  This figure is based on proposals from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who are considered something of a cautious voice when compared to others. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for example, suggest that the ‘tipping point, beyond which feedback mechanisms could cause global warming to simply run away, may already have been reached’.

There are then, many emotions that can surface in response to the recent jailing of environmental activists. For me, surprise is not among them. Reports suggest that the trial was unfairly weighted against the men that would later trend on social media as the #FrackFreeFour as they were not allowed to contextualise their actions or adequately express their concerns.  Their imprisonment shows where the current government’s priorities are.  Rather than attempting any meaningful solution to climate change, the defining issue of our generation, they would rather accelerate it by granting fracking licences over and against the wishes of local residents and councils.  When those residents reject this with peaceful direct action, they would rather see them arrested and imprisoned for between 12 and 16 months on the trumped up and dangerously misapplied charge of ‘public nuisance’.

The dangerous precedent this sets will be tested over the next six to eight weeks with the trial of fifteen activists from the group End Deportations.  They have pleaded not guilty to a terrorism charge which could see them sentenced to life. Their crime?  Preventing the take-off of a scheduled deportation flight. Their message?  ‘Mass deportations kill’.  Hardly an act of terrorism, but given the aforementioned jailing of the Frack Free Four, who would bet against them receiving the same or even worse treatment?

Jailing any of these activists without allowing them to contextualise their actions is a political act.  The Conservative government has imposed anti-environmental legislation at an alarming rate whilst homelessnessviolent crime, and excess deaths have all skyrocketed. Wages and benefits on the other hand, have gone down in real terms.  At the same time, the curbing of civil liberties has taken on new energy, so if you don’t like it, your options to express that are becoming more and more limited.  Business it seems, is more important than either individual or collective liberty. This is not just a political act then, but a religious act, an act of worship, of idolatry.  Given that millions of people are dying each year for political and economic decisions made by this and other governments, it is no longer acceptable, if ever it was, to tread the careful line of political neutrality.  Whether on a personal or institutional level, or indeed from the pulpit, it is time the church was courageous enough to say that it is wrong to vote for a party that time and again has proven itself the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus.  It is wrong to stand idly by as peaceful activists fighting for the future of the planet are arrested and sent to prison. It is wrong to deport people to face death, then prosecute their defenders as terrorists.   Have no doubt about what I am trying to say here: it is morally wrong and contrary to the gospel of Jesus to vote for or support the Conservative Party, or anyone who would attack the weak whilst defending the rich.  Where Mammon, the false god of Wealth is worshipped, the Church of Christ cannot be found.

This can only be the start though.  Our approach as a church has to change.  Jesus referred to Herod as ‘that fox’; the writer of the book of Revelation referred to the Emperor Nero as the Beast.  How are we to refer to those in power today? And those who fight against their devastating regimes?  I for one will be hailing the Frack Free Four and the Stansted Fifteen as heroes.  Richard Roberts, Simon Roscoe-Bevins, Richard Loizou, and Julian Brock, and Emma Hughes, Melanie Evans, May McKeith, Melanie Stickland, Lyndsay Burtonshaw, Laura Clayston, Helen Brewer, Ruth Potts, Jyoysna Ram, Edward Thacker, Nicholas Sigsworth, Alistair Tamlit, Benjamine Metters, Nathan Clack, and Joseph McGahan, I stand in solidarity with you.  This is the calling of the church.  We can no longer leave it to a concerned few radicals to climb on top of lorries and go to prison, or attach themselves to planes and stand trial as terrorists.  We are to be defenders of those who cannot defend themselves.  If that means going to prison, so be it.  Next time someone’s arrested for trying to stop the foolishness of climate change or the racism and torture of the asylum system, I hope it’s me, and I hope the whole church is arrested with me.

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