Nevertheless as society of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religions each individual should attempt to define their attitudes - this "'Spirituality for a world at risk" to be especially encouraging.
ST GEORGE'S CATHEDRAL, CAPE TOWN
26th March 2006
I thank the Dean and the Cathedral for the opportunity of addressing the
topic of 'the environment at risk' in this important series on 'Spirituality
for a world at risk.' I was able to hear The Reverend Carel Anthonissen in
his important opening address and regret not being present when Margaret
Legum and Pat September spoke. I was away in Madagascar at the invitation of
the Bishop Toamasina to advise on the use of church land and assist, I
suspect, in finding funding for its development, which will be most
worthwhile if funding can be found to develop it as a centre for theological
training, conservation, sustainable agriculture and environmental education.
Madagascar, a land of incredible natural abundance, could now be described
as paradise lost, or more accurately, paradise destroyed, albeit
unwittingly. With notable exceptions which one seeks out, the trees I saw
were Australian invasives, and the birds were Indian Mynahs and Crows. To
experience Madagascar is to experience the pain of creation.
You could say that Madagascar symbolises the intractable problems of the
rural world - more and more people seeking survival off the natural world,
leaving little opportunity for the survival of the rest of creation. It is
becoming clearer by the moment that we are dependant on the well-being of
the natural world. We cannot just care for the poor without caring for the
environment on which they are dependent. But this dependence applies equally
to our urban, industrial world. While we bewail what is happening in the
rural world, our urban pollution, our toxic waste, our insatiable energy
demands that are changing the climate and leaving a risk to future
generations for the next 240 000 years from nuclear waste, our rapacious
greed, is causing even greater risk to our world.
But we are not here to list the catalogue of woes that both rural and urban
I am wanting to respond the challenge Canon Bruce Jenneker wrote in the
Sermon Series Notes: "Exploring resources for a spirituality that enables
and empowers us to live creatively, safely and responsibly in our world that
is so perilously at risk."
I. The Creator God
I want to start with an insight from my trip. Prior to Madagascar I attended
a conference in Kenya on "God and Creation." It was incredibly exciting and
encouraging - nearly three hundred pastors and clergy from East Africa
The overriding theme was clear: we cannot eradicate poverty if we destroy
the natural environment. The whole conference was music to my soul as
someone who has been pleading with the church to take creation seriously
since 1985 - and before. Now, here it was American evangelicals giving a
lead! It was held at Brackenhurst Environment Centre, a Baptist Conference
Centre with members of the Baptist Church who are the driving force. The
Centre is a haven in the surrounding chaos and disorder of rural Kenya.
An Anglican Bishop from Uganda, Dr Zak Niringiye, led the morning devotions.
I want to start where he began, with the first verse of the Bible.
"In the beginning, God. God, in the beginning. God in the beginning created
the heavens and the earth."
It matters little how you believe God brought about this creation - if God
chose to take millions of years through evolution to bring about this
incredible paradise, so be it. The importance is recognising this Creator
God and we Christians must confess that we have long neglected this with our
Christ-centred theology -and I might add - lectionary. Not only does
contemporary Christianity stand in danger of neglecting the Father, in our
Trinitarian Faith, it has largely forgotten God the Creator.
So the first resource is the rediscovery of God who created the heavens and
the earth. Now you might say, "Bishop Geoff, you are being a bit simplistic
for this Cathedral congregation. We know the importance of worshipping God
But the world out there does not - and our dilemma is, first, that the more
'developed' and better educated we become, the more we think we can manage
without God. In our technological world where we control our light and
temperature and have little opportunity of experiencing 'wilderness areas'
it is hard to fathom, never mind worship, our Creator God.
When we have opportunities of experiencing wilderness, such as sitting on a
200m high cliff edge, overlooking the Msikaba Gorge with 40 vultures soaring
overhead, one can only be filled with awe and praise. When you have seen
that you understand why we oppose the proposed Wild Coast toll road
threatening this vulture colony.
This leads to the second aspect: it is necessary for Man to acknowledge the
Creator God to place a limit on the arrogance of Man, who thinks he can do
as he wishes. I use the term 'Man' advisedly, and maybe I should be more
specific, and say 'Men'. We have so much wealth and power - to use for
building up or destroying - that without constraints, we do as we wish to
the rest of creation, and we rely on the strength of our "war horses" (Psalm
33). The trouble is that our contemporary 'chariots of war' are so much more
destructive than anything envisaged in Biblical times. But if only we would
seek justice and righteousness - as exhorted by the Prophets, instead of
relying on our war horses, our world would be a lot safer and more peaceful.
Redirect just half of the trillions of dollars spent on armaments, and we
would be well on the way to alleviating poverty, restoring degraded
environment and finding peace.
For that to happen, we - I really want to say - political leaders must not
claim that Jesus is on their side, but must submit themselves to seeking
what is God's will, and in obedience doing what is right and just before
this Creator God.
Thirdly, contemporary society worships Mammon, not God. "Market forces must
be free to reign. We must not restrict the 'market'", and so we bow down in
obeisance. All becomes subservient to the market and capital.
II. Self Restraint
My second 'resource' has already been put forward by Carel Anthonissen: self
This is crucial in our contemporary Capitalist society with its daily
advertising barrage exhorting us to indulge our every desire. We cannot
continue seeking to satisfy our insatiable desires as if our finite planet
provided limitless resources.
My reading of our spiritual values is that self restraint and control is at
the core of a disciplined Christian life in spite of what the erroneous and,
I believe, deeply heretical prosperity cults tell us.
If we Christians cannot call for self-restraint, who can and what hope is
there for a sustainable future for our children?
The heart of the Christian gospel is self-sacrificial love - Christ died on
the cross to show us that.
It is for this generation, in the face of the constant refrain for 'ever
expanding (economic) growth' to be prepared to make sacrifices for the good,
not only of future generations, but for all life. How we do that is, of
course, for each of us to examine before God.
But again to quote Bishop Zak in Kenya: the call to "make poverty history"
should be replaced with "make greed history" for it is the rampant greed,
encouraged by our economic system that is at the heart of so much poverty,
suffering and environmental destruction. It is for us Christians to stand
and say "enough is enough". Don't look for a 6% growth rate. Look for a
growth in economic justice.
Our third and last response is inclusiveness.
I find it difficult to justify an exclusivist approach in our global village
facing environmental devastation, when we all - of all faiths - breath the
same air, drink the same water and depend on the soil.
By all means affirm - strongly - your faith in the salvation of Jesus
Christ. I would emphatically not want to deny that.
At the same time, I question that we humans can claim a full and complete
knowledge and revelation of God. We cannot begin to encompass the wonder,
majesty and incomprehensibility of God and we cannot claim that God has not
revealed Himself in a multitude of ways, and to diverse and many peoples.
That does not undermine my own conviction that the most complete revelation
we have is through Jesus Christ. Through no other religion do we come to God
as 'Abba', 'Daddy', a loving infinitely caring God.
I well recall the privilege of being in this Cathedral when Archbishop
Emeritus Robert Selby Taylor preached at the Golden Jubilee of his
consecration as a Bishop - a pretty good record! In that address he recalled
that when he became a Bishop, there was suspicion and distance between
different Christian denominations. I recall people commenting in those
earlier years that they had attended a Roman Catholic or Methodist service
and found that they said the Lord's Prayer or sang familiar hymns. The
unknown and unfamiliar are cause for apprehension.
But, he said, in his time as a Bishop, and through the Church Unity
Commission, there had been a great coming together and understanding between
Christian denominations. It was, Archbishop Robert said, his hope and prayer
that we would grow similarly in greater understanding and overcoming of
suspicion and fear between religions.
I believe this to be essential. We know the most horrifying prospect would
be an inter-religious war which would encompass the world. Our own
experience in our year-old Southern African Faith Communities' Environment
Institute is that there is deep appreciation and gratitude of the different
representatives of the religions of South Africa to work together on
environmental issues. It is deeply enriching for all concerned.
But I don't want this inclusiveness to be seen only in terms of our faith.
Inclusiveness must include all that God has created, all life, that God
declared was 'very good'.
"God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31)
We have been grossly guilty of misappropriating the mandate God gave us to
'rule' over creation. It can never be seen as an excuse ruthlessly to
exploit creation for our own selfish ends. We have treated the rest of
creation as objects, there only for the benefit of humankind.
As Thomas Berry points out, we must treat all of creation as subjects, not
objects, all to be treated with respect and with value in themselves before
As it is, we humans stand in danger of bringing about the 6th Great
Extinction, and I can consider no greater sin than to be guilty of causing
the extinction of a plant or creature that God has brought into being.
What profound arrogance to think that the rest of creation is of no
consequence and to think that only we are of importance. As Professor
Wangari Maathai, 2005 Nobel Peace Laureate so simply points out, if God had
made us on the second or third day, we would not have survived. We are
dependent on the rest of creation. We must rapidly learn to live in harmony
with it, for the survival of all. All life is precious to God.
I have talked of only three things: God, self restraint and inclusiveness.
I believe it is now urgent that we take seriously our responsibility to God
the Creator. This next decade could be critical for the future health of the
planet. For one, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is desperately
Finally, the sooner we acknowledge and seek to be obedient to God the
Creator, the better for us and the world and the more pleasing it will be to
God is Green! Read the Bible with green spectacles and see that being
earth-keepers (Genesis 2:15) is core gospel business. It is not just another
justice issue. It must become integral to our church and in our own lives.
We, who worship and serve the God who created the heavens and the earth,
must be foremost in 'keeping the earth' - for God and for our children.
What a challenge for Mission. What a sense of purpose - not justifying a
god of the gaps but working with and for the creator God at the centre of
life - all life.
Bishop Geoff Davies
SA Faith Communities' Environment Institute
7 Upper Quarterdeck Road
Kalk Bay, 7975
Telefax: **27 21 788 6591
Cell: 083 754 5275