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Good news from Paris, France

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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In December, after almost two weeks of negotiations, representatives of 195 countries agreed on steps to be taken to counteract the causes of climate change. The world breathed a sigh of relief at the great leap forward in the expression of unselfish concern for the earth and for future generations that will live here.

Christians who take seriously the vocation to care for God’s creation celebrate the outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Hopefully, the churches will now strategize on how to hold governments accountable in fulfilling the pledges made at the conference. Churches with an ecumenical commitment understand that such advocacy would be consistent with the affirmations made in their consensus statements on creation care, beginning in the 1960s.

In this connection, one remembers the Geneva, Switzerland, conference on Church and Society in 1966, where concern emerged for "the responsible world society." In the subsequent discussion at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly at Uppsala in 1968, the groundwork for the discussion on the church's ecological obligations was laid as the participants grappled with the notion of development. Not surprisingly, the Church and Society Conference in 1969 addressed the destructive impact on the environment by the use of technology.

Between 1969 and 1974, a series of consultations alerted the churches to the urgency of the ecological and technological crisis. Perhaps the most important of these was the 1974 Bucharest Conference on Science and Technology for Human Development. Conferees recognized the unforeseeable social, economic, political and environmental problems that accompany the philosophy of "growth without limits." This awareness contributed to the emphasis the 1975 Nairobi Assembly of the WCC placed on the need for a "just, participatory and sustainable society."

Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States, was the venue for the 1979 WCC Conference on Faith, Science and the Future. The fuller appropriation of the biblical teaching on the meaning of human dominion over creation allowed participants to recognize that alienation from God goes hand in hand with alienation from nature. Cooperation with nature came to be regarded as a reflection of the compassion of God who truly exercises ultimate dominion over creation.

By 1983, when the WCC Sixth Assembly took place in Vancouver, Canada, focus was placed on "justice and peace for the whole world and respect for the integrity of all creation." In the ecumenical context, Christian concern for the environment reached its zenith in 1990 at the Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in Seoul, South Korea, when representatives from the churches issued a Declaration expressing the value they placed on the integrity of creation.

Participants in the Seoul Convocation benefited from the work done by theologians of the Orthodox Church at their meetings in Sophia and Minsk in 1987 and 1989, respectively. They drew on the findings of the 1989 meeting at the Vatican of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, as well as insights from scholars from the evangelical church community.

It came as no surprise that, at the WCC Assembly in Canberra, Australia, in 1991, the theme was "Come Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation" and a sub-theme was "Giver of Life, Sustain Your Creation."

Especially in the aftermath of the Seoul Convocation, critically important work within the evangelical community has sought to further deepen the reflection on creation care that emerged at Seoul. Meanwhile, within the Roman Catholic community, concern for stewardship of the environment continued to gather momentum.

A quarter of a century after the Seoul Declaration, some contemporary discussions of creation care appear not to reflect awareness of the long history of ecclesial concern for the natural environment whose late twentieth century expressions we have referred to in this brief commentary. Meanwhile, especially since the First World Climate Conference convened in Geneva by various United Nations-related agencies in 1979, awareness of the need to arrest the deterioration of the created order has grown apace.

Many Christians will rejoice to see the day when the international community has managed to agree on the urgent need for action to limit global warming in order to reduce the likelihood of climate-related catastrophes. Let us pray that the resolve displayed at the Paris Conference in 2015 will find expression in complementary action to respect the integrity of creation and to make this planet a safer place for all today and in the future.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    Mary Beth Mankin Friday, 01 January 2016

    Thanks for sharing this important history!

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