Climate change from a church-perspective
God promised Noah there would be no more floods. How does a society, where Christianity is a major part of everyday life and a prerequisite for social acceptance, receive messages of submergence and sea level rise?
In the capital of Tuvalu, Funafuti, that is really just about the size of a village with its 5000 inhabitants and 1,4 square kilometres, there are over 10 different branches of Christianity and all the churches are packed every Sunday.
Tuvalu is a conservative country. A good girl dresses carefully and proper (if you are not a good girl, it will be hard to get acceptance of the family of a future husband). It is not accepted to hold hands or show affection in front of other people. It is important to go to church on Sundays, to participate in church activities, like the choirs or youth groups, and to pay a good amount of your salary in contributions to the pastor and the church.
The average monthly household income on Funafuti in 2010 was 1,364 Australian dollars. Of this money, you are often supporting large families on Funafuti and on the outer islands; you have to pay your contributions to the community on top of monthly expenditures on food and rent. Too many family, church, community and island contributions are listed as one of six reasons for poverty on Tuvalu. A friend told us that he pays 20 AUD to the pastor every second week. His family gave 2000 AUD to the pastor at the end of last year. If you have a ceremony (like when your baby turns one, a wedding, a funeral etc.) you are expected to give a large contribution to the pastor on top of this. And if that wasn’t enough, if your island is the lucky chosen one for the annual church meeting, you are expected to contribute something like 500 AUD per person, in order to restore the church on the island and make the feast even better than the year before.
In other words, the church is extremely important part of the social life on Tuvalu and it has a huge power. If you want to reach out to people, you simply have to cooperate with the church.
- If you don’t go through the church, people will not change, says Maina Talia, climate change officer at the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu.
97 percent of the population on Tuvalu belong to the Kelisiano Tuvalu (EKT) and this year, the church also appointed Maina Talia as the climate change officer. The climate change officer is dedicated to work with awareness rising with the church community, to give a broader understanding of the readings of the Bible and providing possible ways of reading the bible from the context of climate change related sea level rise.
- The church has a responsibility to respond to sign of time – to deal with the issues that are relevant in the given time. Because climate change is such a highly relevant issue for Tuvaluans, it has to be a number one priority of the EKT. It is our responsibility. Especially because the faith sometimes is contradictory to the science, Maina explains.
Mainas work with climate change within the church started on his home island Vaitupu. Instead of the regular Wednesday service, we had a series of workshops and lectures about climate change issues where the community could ask any question they liked. Maina admit that it was difficult at first and that many didn’t believe in climate change, even though their living conditions were changing around them.
- The first thing I did was to ask everybody that came to the first session to raise their hand if they didn’t believe in climate change. About 60 percent of the people raised their hands.
- I was shocked, Maina says.
However, Maina worked hard and responded to the questions of the perish and after three weeks, no one raised their hand anymore. Maina explains that the story of Noah and the importance of land remain strong in the Christian understanding of many Tuvaluans.
- Land is important for Tuvaluans. The chosen people of God were nomads without land. Then God gave them land. Just as the chosen people of God got their land, many Tuvaluans believe that we were placed here on Tuvalu and that the land is a gift from God. Therefore, climate change, rising sea levels and submergence do not fit in their system.
Traditionally, Tuvaluans have strong ties with their land. Our lands define who we are. Without a land, you are nobody.
Maina explains that some of the religious groups in Tuvalu deny climate change, even if they are from western countries (Tuvalu must have something like the highest per capita rate of foreign experts and journalists coming in to “talk” with the locals about climate change – therefore this contradiction might seem strange). The EKT however, doesn’t need to read the science to understand that something is happening.
- Our calculations are based on the experience of our people. They are our rationality. Our people tells that life is becoming impossible; either too much rain or long time of drought and lack of safe drinking water, unusual kind of diseases and that our islands are disappearing. That is enough for us, Maina says.
Mainas work consists of introducing new ways of understanding the Bible and read its stories. - Up until now, there has only been one way of reading the Bible. This one was implanted by the western missionary in the past. This way doesn’t fit with the Tuvaluan society and especially when it comes to understanding climate change.There is a great need for the church to come up with orther possible ways of re-reading the bible in the present time.
- The story of Noah is still valid, the problem is us. God created everything in perfection. We are placed on earth to look after Gods creation, not to abuse it.The use of the Genesis term “dominion” to rationalize exploitation of nature and other species its a legitimation of our unjust action towards Gods creation. It’s unethical! And the church is trying to restore that good relationship with Gods creation as it was in the past, since human beings are not taking care of the environment. That has nothing to do with Noah and Gods promise its about our culture of greed and consumerism, in which we should have the heart to negate, and come up with a culture of love and simplicity.
Maina looks upon technology as the modern ”Golden Calf” – something that humans worship as a God.
- Climate change demonstrates that we have abandoned God. People have shifted their focus to the market. Therefore, people abandoned God and moved to Money, which of course is the creation of our hand. The issue is a new form of the worship of idolatry by the capitalist system that the western churches passionately defend, he says.
- We look upon technology as our new salvation. But technology is not a creation of God. It is a creation of our own hands and in the end technology will turn around and become our greatest enemy. Just look at the nuclear power plant in Japan, how many lives have been wasted due to radio actives? Where did they opt to dump these radio actives? The have opted to use the Pacific as a dumping place for the industrialize countries, why? Is it because our lives are cheap? Or because money has priority over human life and nature? We humans need to become more humans by considering the well being of the others. Maina closes off.