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Ecojustice in the Uniting Church in
Australia, Queensland, and Indooroopilly

Article for TIES (Indooroopilly UCA monthly booklet), June 1998 

Jason John

 

 

Ecojustice is the practice of extending our concern for other people to a concern for the whole of creation.  People's reasons for embracing ecojustice vary widely.  For some Christians, it reflects a view that God put people on the earth to rule the rest of creation.  However, the creation remains God's and we are obliged to rule over it in a responsible and caring way.

           

            For other Christians, our belief in evolution leads us to emphasise that people are a part of creation.  While we may be the most self aware, and the best able to relate to God, we are none-the-less creatures, genetically related to all other creatures.  Infact, more and more evidence suggests that we are more closely related to chimpanzees than gorillas are!  We therefore extend our justice and compassion to other species because they are, in some way, our relatives.

 

The Uniting Church is officially an ecojustice church, and has been since 1988.  Prior to that, creation was to be conserved for the sake of other humans, not because it had any intrinsic worth.  In 1988, however, the Assembly released a Statement to the Nation, which said,

"We affirm our belief that the natural world is God's creation; good in God's eyes, good in itself, and good in sustaining human life.We will seek to identify and challenge all structures and attitudes which perpetuate and compound the destruction of creation."

 

The heightened status of creation was exemplified when the 1991 Assembly voted to adopt the Rights of Future Generations and the Rights of Nature statement from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, of which we are a member. 

 

The Queensland Synod is officially an ecojustice Synod, having acknowledged in 1990 that, "the Synod's responses to environmental destruction are imperative to its proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ in the 1990's." (90.96), and later it, "urges all parishes to choose, implement and support at least one environmentally responsible activity within the church." (91.112)

 

            How did the Indooroopilly congregation respond to this request?  If it did nothing, it would be in good company.  The Synod has twice resolved to produce policies on how parishes and church bodies should enact ecojustice, but the document has never been written. Unfortunately, the church's fine words up to 1991 were followed by an economic downturn, and in such times practical commitment to care for others, creation included, declines.  We turn to self preservation and damage control.  The ironic thing, is that refusing to invest in justice for the rest of creation is self destruction, not self preservation in the long run.

 

            I believe that the renewal of the diaconate in the Uniting Church is one avenue for renewing our commitment to the rest of creation.  The diaconate is intended to catalyse and support justice and compassion for the marginalised.  It is easy to argue that Australian policy makers and businesses have moved the rest of creation to the margins of our concern when making decisions.  The government's support of Keith William's resort in the World Heritage listed Hinchinbrook Island is one example, the approval for a uranium mine in the World Heritage Kakadu National Park, despite the protests of ecologists and Aboriginal people, is another[1].

 

            Despite the Synod's financial crisis, I believe that the church ought to be able to contribute at least one ordained minister to promote justice and compassion for the 99+% of the creation that isn't human.  The Indooroopilly congregation is one of the wealthiest in the Synod.  This means, unfortunately, that we are probably amongst the worst environmental offenders, but ironically we are also the ones most able to afford to do something positive. 

 

We could send a delegation to join the Jabiluka blockade for a fortnight, at a cost of about $300 per delegate.  Many of us are in positions of considerable influence in the community, as teachers, lecturers, civil servants, students.  All of us can exert some influence in our society, not least by renewing our own commitment, and refining our lifestyles.  Not everybody will care about this issue.  Those who do may need to join together to support each other, without creating schisms, much as the charismatic movement has in decades past.  We would do so knowing that we are simply acting out our leaders' trumpet call, even though they themselves may have lost the energy to do so.

 

Jason John is a final year deacon candidate, currently doing his field education at the University of Queensland chaplaincy centre.  He finishes mid-year, and hopes to find a settlement which will enable him to support the church's desire to see justice and compassion extended to all creation.

 

If you would like to read more on ecojustice and the Uniting Church, there are a number of articles written by Ann Wansbrough, from Assembly SR&J; Andrew Dutney, a born and bred Brisbanite who now lecturer in Systematic theology in Adelaide; and myself.  These, along with various official UCA statements, have been bound together in the I'pilly church library, and are also at the web site:  http://www.client.ucaqld.com.au/~jjohn/deacweb/envment/index.htm [now defunct]

 

I would welcome any comments on this article, or my papers, as the work is all, "thoughts in progress".

 

Jason John

 



[1] On April 16th, 1998, The Assembly SR&J committee issued a press release condemning the mine on environmental and social grounds, and wrote to the Prime Minister to reiterate those concerns.