By Mark Michael

The relationship between faith and science and the Church’s response to the environmental crisis will be “big picture” themes at next summer’s Lambeth Conference, which focuses on being “God’s Church for God’s World”.

The conference’s communications office featured the issues in a series of short films released in early June, including a special release of “How is the Church Engaging with Science in Responding to Environmental Issues” on June 5, World Environment Day.

The Anglican Communion also announced the foundation of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, a group of scientists and theologians from across its 41 provinces who will equip Anglicans “for courageous and confident spiritual leadership in issues involving science.” The commission will be formally launched at next summer’s Lambeth Conference and hopes to have its first conference shortly thereafter.

The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, will co-chair the commission with the Rt. Rev. Stephen Croft, bishop of the Church of England’s Diocese of Oxford. Its work will be coordinated by Dr. Andrew Briggs, Professor of Nanomaterials at the University of Oxford and Dr. Stephen Spencer of the Anglican Communion Office.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby celebrated the many ways that science has been “a gift to human beings” in an introductory video.

“It is scientific advance that has lifted so many people out of poverty. It is scientific advance that has enabled the world to feed itself. It is widespread science that has enabled us to produce vaccines at a speed that even five years ago — a year ago — would have been thought unimaginable. It is science that has begun to give us a big picture of our place in the world. It is science that has driven our consciousness of the danger to the world from climate change – and what we can do about it in the future.”

Climate change is “the great emergency of the 21st century,” Welby said in the film about engagement with environmental issues, which focuses especially on the deep impact experienced in the Global South.

Makgoba agreed, saying. “There is a heightened awareness that climate crisis, and some call it ‘climate racism’, ought to be tackled, because there seems to be a curve that is skewed towards the poor, and those with poor infrastructure, who are most affected by climate change.”

“For the people of the Global South, it is not an issue of the signs of climate change, but it is the reality of droughts, of rising sea levels; it’s the reality of cyclones in Mozambique that were not there [before], and people being internally displaced.”

The Rt. Rev. David Njovu of the Diocese of Lusaka in Zambia noted similar effects in Central Africa: “Mainly, we’re being affected by either we have a severe drought, or we have floods. In Namibia, they are facing an amazing level of drought, and thereafter, a lot of medical health issues…. These droughts and floods have an impact on food security because even where we had prepared ourselves, most of these fields are being washed away by these rains.”

Makgoba and Njovu discussed ways Anglicans are acting to address climate change in their regions.

“We came up with a system as a church where we are encouraging people to plant trees,” Njovu said. “In this diocese, when I go out for confirmation, it’s now a rule: each child who is being confirmed must plant a tree.”

Makgoba said that Southern African Anglicans have sometimes taken a more confrontational approach, noting “We have come together, as interfaith, ecumenically, to speak to the worst polluters. It is science that has empowered us, as the faith community, to say to the mining community, when you pollute the water, you influence the other. When you concentrate on extraction that leads to deforestation, there is an impact on climate change.”

Croft said that his service on an advisory body for Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute has helped him see how crucial the Church’s role can be in facing these issues.

“Every discussion of the advisory board I have been to, the board has wanted to discuss the impact and importance of the faith communities globally in tackling climate change. Because the faith communities are seen as huge potential centers of influence on the world when it comes to climate. To offer a motivation for care for the world and care for the earth, to offer a sense of solidarity globally, and a concern for the poor, and also to offer practical inspiration and means for change. So the alliance between the scientific community and the Church, and indeed, all the faith communities, is absolutely critical in addressing this global problem.”

“Unless we have a moral revolution and take seriously the need to protect the environment for future generation, it’s going to be tragic, very tragic,” added Professor Eunice Kamara, another member of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, who teaches African Christian ethics at Kenya’s Moi University.