Faith communities can play a transformative role in communicating the message of environmental responsibility because of their extensive communication networks.
This is according to the Patron of the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Bishop Geoff Davies, who – with his wife, Kate – delivered the 6th annual Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.
‘A sustainable future is possible if we establish eco-justice which comprises both economic and ecological justice,’ said Davies. ‘In our present day world there is a huge level of economic disparity, with South Africa being the most unequal country in the world. This is an affront to God. This is not as God intended. He provides for our needs and not our greed.’
He appealed to all faith leaders to lobby for courageous and far-sighted decision making. ‘There is an increasing acknowledgement that it may only be through the intervention of faith communities that we will be able to bring about the changes needed if we are to leave a sustainable world to our children. Climate change is a moral issue and therefore involves us.’
Davies spoke on ecological justice and the need for people to treat the natural environment with respect and justice; ‘that means living in harmony with God’s environment - not pillaging, poisoning and even destroying it.
‘We must recognise that the decisions we humans make shape the future. Our aim, surely, is for a sustainable future. We must therefore make decisions regarding the use of our resources, the establishment of just economic systems, the care of our environment, and a just society that cares for people’s health, their culture and their spirituality.
‘As Christian communities, we have a moral responsibility to God and to other species and to future generations. All of us are being called to action,’ said Davies.
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities Professor Stephen Mutula said: ‘This lecture commemorates the life of Steve de Gruchy and is important especially in the area of theology, sustainable development and poverty as it speaks to the country.’
Both Geoff and Kate Davies praised theologian and Christian activist Steve de Gruchy (1961-2010) for contributing to environmental awareness in Christian churches.
During the lecture the Davies outlined what Christian communities could do to contribute, address and overcome environmental threats.
‘We face the dilemma of the divide between social activists who are concerned about the well-being of people, and environmentalists, who emphasise the need to care for the natural world,’ said Geoff Davies.
Climate change is ‘probably the single most serious crisis facing life on the planet as we know it – and it is a moral issue. There is an urgent need for the visionary voice of faith communities to be heard, calling for a different kind of practice, based on morals and ethics, which are essential if we are to bring about a more just and sustainable future for all life on Earth,’ he said.
The Davies also spoke on the ‘Olive Agenda’ (coined by Steve de Gruchy) which concerns poverty, the environment and sustainable development. ‘Society sees the acquisition of money as the goal of life. We have to acknowledge that we can’t get rid of capitalism overnight but what we can do is alter the goals and ethics of our societies - our goals must be the well-being of people and the planet.
‘We have to assess and judge all our economic activities under the question and goal of whether decisions and activities will further the well-being of people and the planet. Money is just a tool, not an end in itself.’