Christians are to blame for Climate Change Inaction


Michael Pascoe wants to throw much of the blame for Australia’s apathy on climate change at the feet of those who believe in God. I share his frustration at the lack of action Australia has taken, but his account of the Christian view carries with it the flair of a Donald Trump argument, vociferous but empty.

No one doubts there are climate change skeptics among theists, but evidence suggests that they are few.

Let’s leave aside the cascade of “Christian” figures whom Pascoe names and shames (none of whom are practicing evangelicals, and seriously, would Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt consider themselves anything more than agnostic?), does the evidence stack up? Is the Christian ‘right’ somehow to blame? Does Australia even have a Christian ‘right’?

Long before Paris 2015, and prior to Copenhagen, Poznan, and Bali, Churches in Australia were vocal advocates for taking Climate Change Science seriously.

In 2006, the Baptist Union of Victoria called the Federal Government to take more action on Climate Change. Included in the resolution was the following:

“Commit to a target of 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and develop policies towards this goal, such as:

  • Funding significant research and development in renewable energy sources;
  • Introducing a carbon-trading scheme in which reduced carbon emissions are rewarded financially;
  • Promoting much greater use of public transport and fuel-efficient vehicles”

Similarly, in 2007 the Anglican Diocese of Sydney accepted the emerging scientific consensus and called for action from both Governments and from Diocesan parishes.

The reality is, Christian leaders and denominations have readily accepted scientific consensus and have been calling Government to account for a decade or longer. If anything, the issue is that no one has been listening.

Perhaps though these Christians are acting despite their biblical convictions, preferring the light of science rather than the darkened halls of faith. After all, science and faith oppose each other like the positive and negative forces of magnets. Michael Pascoe adopts this now popular myth when he says,

“Religious faith, by definition, is a matter of faith – not evidence.” 

This may be true for some religions, but it certainly not true of Christianity, which is the group Pascoe targets.

Faith is not the exercise of belief where evidence is absent; the word used in the Bible means belief or trust. What (in)validates faith is the object in which the person puts their trust. Reason is an aspect of faith, as are ethos and pathos, as was notably argued by Aristotle. What forms our beliefs is a combination of truth, social and ethical influences, and desire.

I accept the science of climate change, not because I am a qualified scientist who grasps all the data, but because I am trusting the scientific community of whom the vast majority  have reached consensus (having a climate change scientist in my church hasn’t hurt either!). Unless Michael Pascoe is himself a scientific expert, he too is trusting the information being presented, and with warrant. Christianity is not dissimilar in that demands scrutiny, it anticipates verifiability. The Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

“if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

Perhaps then, the problem is the Bible itself. Far from inciting rubbishing the environment, the Bible reference that Michael Pascoe quotes, Genesis 1:28, is in fact about responsibility. When read in its context, this is an important verse that calls for humanity to care for creation.

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28)

I suspect this is a case of reading meaning into the text, which is somewhat understandable given how the language of ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ hold negative connotations in our minds. But if one allows the text to speak for itself, we discover that the responsibility to oversee creation is given a framework; humanity was to rule in a manner similar to God himself. Genesis ch.1 demonstrates a God who blessed the cosmos through his creative and caring power. So too, humanity was to rule under God by looking after the world he had made. The positive language of blessing, being fruitful and increasing, suggests this, and it is further demonstrated by the following chapter of Genesis where man and woman cultivate the garden, giving names to the animals, and bringing order and beauty to this astonishing world. Perhaps the closest analogy we can have is that of a gardener. In the same way a gardener works his garden, she/he does not destroy or harm it, but cultivates it so that it grows in its beauty. That is the mandate given in Genesis 1:28, but sadly we have failed miserably.

Michael Pascoe, you may lay blame at the feet of the Republicans, an absent Cardinal, Tony Abbott, Aussie shock jocks, and poor biblical exegesis, but your hypothesis is evidence light.

If there is a difference between Christians and other members of the community on this issue, it is not about agreeing with the science or with proposed action, but with the question of hope. For the God-skeptic this world is all there is, and so it makes sense that they would invest so much effort into minimising rising temperatures. Christians on the other hand, while valuing creation and seeking to obey the mandate of Genesis 1:28, believe with reason that the one day there will be a new creation; the resurrection of Jesus Christ being the guarantor of this event. Christian hope does not diminish the responsibility that lays before us, but it offers a perspective that humanity needs. Imagine a world without pain and suffering, without disaster and death? For all our science and genius, we have not achieved these things, and most often we lack the resolve to do so. It is wise to take action on climate change, but it is foolish to bank all our hope in the endeavour.

The end of secular education?

The Age has published an article that every Australian ought to read, for the implications of what has been written could forever change the face of Australian education and society.


Photo: Nick Moir. Taken from The Age



Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have argued that we must give away the idea that we are a secular nation and have secular education, in order to introduce a program into schools that teaches students about religions. Berlin and Murphy have recognised that some young Muslims in our country are being ‘radcalised’, and key to prevention they believe is teaching religions in our schools.

“Our future is as a multi-faith nation. It is better to speak of Australia not as a secular society, but rather a civil society where there’s freedom of religion and separation of religion and state.

Education ministries speak about secular education because of the mantra “free, secular and compulsory”. But it’s time to change the discourse; why call it “secular instruction” when teaching about the histories, beliefs and practices of the major world religions, as well as the role and function of religion in society, is simply “educational” and should be seen as a normal part of the curriculum.”

I want to affirm Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy’s aim to prevent future attacks. I agree that there is a threat being realised with young Muslims becoming ‘radicalised’, and we need to find ways to avert this evil pathway. But I am  concerned by the answer they offer.

First, is it the role of Government to teach religion?

This is one of the reasons why Church groups were invited into schools to teach SRI. Society had acknowledged the role of Christianity and thus believed in giving students opportunity to understand its basic beliefs and practices, but these half hour lessons were optional and not taught by teachers.

Is it really wise for the Government to step-in to the role of teaching religion? Do we want that?

The state school that my children attend have a set of values. These values are taught and encouraged, and they do so effectively without need for a curriculum on world religions.

Secondly, there is no neutral theological ground. This is one of grave misnomers that secularists pontificate; they see themselves as religiously neutral and therefore objective, but that is no more true than there being fairies living in my back garden. The worldview one holds inevitably informs and skews the way we understand alternative worldviews. Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy offer a clear example of this failure:

“Teaching about the role of religion in society and in the creation of social unity might help students distinguish between religion and ideology.”

Outlining the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as a political ideology could help young people make sense of the way fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of religions become political movements, some of which turn violent. Teaching about religion could also assist in countering right-wing extremism by reducing the fear of difference.”

The reality is by far more complex. There are Muslims who would accept the above statement, but many would not and with warrant. Separating theology from ideology fails to grasp the very nature of Islam, and ignores the teaching of the Koran and the Hadiths (see this piece in The Atlantic). What Bergin and Murphy have done is erroneously imposed onto Islam, a view of religion that derives from Enlightenment and Kantian constructs.

Bergin and Murphy also include this strange paragraph, which further evidences their failure to understand religion, and so provides another reason why we must be  careful about introducing any religious course into schools.

“In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has ordered special religious instruction classes to be held outside school time from next year, and replaced in school hours with content on world histories, cultures, faith and ethics. We don’t know what’s  taught in the religious classes of Muslim schools, just as we don’t know what’s  taught in the Rudolf Steiner, evangelical Christian and Brethren schools.” 

I am not sure whether Bergin and Murphy are attempting a moment of political correctness or whether they genuinely believe that the SRI program and Christian schools are also dangerous. Either way, mentioning them in this context is poor form; there is simply no parallel between what is happening amongst some young Muslims and with Christians teaching students the Bible.

Bergin and Murphy’s own ideological agenda comes into the open when the say,

‘Providing students with the basic principles of major world religions in their formative years would provide a safe space for students to raise questions about religion that may be uncomfortable, but which require answers from a responsible and open mentor, and are better addressed sooner rather than later. It would assist them to engage meaningfully in a conversation about religious identity and celebrate religious diversity.’

To what extent should our children be taught to ‘celebrate religious diversity’? This is hardly a theologically neutral statement. There is a sense in which we want our children to recognise the reality of religious diversity, and to respect people who hold different views (Christians will take it further and say we should love them), but celebrate? Certainly, we should be thankful that we live in a society where freedom of religion exists, and we can celebrate that, but the word is loaded and can assume that all religions have the same merit or veracity. In other words, any course that teaches the sameness of religions fails theology 101 and insults the people who hold to their faith.

Thirdly, on a practical note, my understanding is that where students are being ‘radicalised’ in schools, it is in Islamic schools and not the State system. In other words, the course  is made redundant because it won’t reach the people it is designed to influence.

I don’t want to see the end of secular education in this country.  Indeed, it is my Christian theology that convinces me about the separation of church and state, not its absence.

Bergin and Murphy’s proposal is rash and it will remove one of the fundamental building blocks of Australian society, namely the separation of church and state. They have admitted that this so, but they believe the cost is worth it. My sense though is that they are falling into the fear trap that ISIL is setting around the world; they want us to change our ways, they want us to turn on each other and to restrict freedoms.

It is not the role of Government to teach religion. I recognise that the issues are incredibly complex and we must do something but this proposal is thwart with problems. Are we really willing to sacrifice secular education? I pray not.

Cultural Blindspots

I have noticed how people on social media, including friends of mine, are questioning why we are talking more about the attacks in Paris, than those in Beirut, Baghdad and Nigeria.


Mentone in France (courtesy of the Telegraph UK)

There seems to be a sense of frustration, and even anger that we are somehow more concerned for Paris than we are for these other cities which have also witnessed terrifying atrocities in recent days.

To be fair, our focus is partly shaped by the media and what the media choose to bring to our attention. Twitter and social media have to some extent eroded our dependence upon established media, but their influence remains significant. Having said that, the major news outlets have reported these other terrorist attacks, but not to the degree of the coverage in Paris.

I think the criticism holds some weight, and it is also probably a little unfair.

I do not believe that the lives of French people are more important than the lives of Syrians, Iraqis and Nigerians. The Bible makes it clear that every human being has intrinsic value and are equally God’s image-bearers. And yet, the value we attribute to people is evident not by our words alone, but our actions. Are we more concerned for wellbeing of white European citizens? Is the life of a Nigerian worth less to us? Is the security of Beirut less important to us?


This graphic is being sent around social media; it is certainly cynical. It is communicating something true (and sad), but I think it fails to appreciate laws of proximity. The closer we are aligned to a group culturally, the more affinity we feel with them when tragedy strikes.

To use an analogy, the way I am affected by the death in a family will be more intense than grief I feel in the death of a friend, and it will be certainly greater than my reaction to the death of a stranger. The closer the relationship, the more acute my reaction.

As an example, I admit that I personally have more cultural affinity with France than I do with Middle Eastern and African cultures:

  • My favourite cuisine has always been French (seriously, nothing surpasses truffles)
  • Susan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Paris
  • My favourite art has always been French Impressionism
  • As a pianist I loved performing Debussy, and I still regularly listen to his piano and orchestral works. My favourite orchestral work is Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
  • My favourite fashion label is also French, although a Pastor’s salary doesn’t permit shopping at Hermes! Those were the days of music.
  • I live in Mentone and my church is Mentone Baptist Church.

These ‘likes’ and affinities are not saying that, for example, Lebanon’s Shia population are therefore less important. Not at all. 

What can we do? Cultural proximity is fact of life, but it is not an excuse for neglecting people who are often more at risk and in need.

Find ways to acknowledge the suffering of people in other parts of the world.

  • We should pray for these other nations.
  • We should investigate what kind of assistance they need. A reality is that France is in a better financial place to assist its citizens in need.
  • In our conversations don’t forget the Non-Western world.

The reality is, our concerns and griefs will always be partial and limited. We don’t have exhaustive emotional energy, and it’s not only cultural leanings, but our sinful inclinations also impact our preferences more than we appreciate. Which is why I thank God that he is God. There exists a good and sovereign God who understands all things and who is able to embrace all of the world’s ills, who is sufficiently righteous not to neglect any injustice, and  who merciful enough to forgive the unjust, even me.

Take a moment to read these words from Isaiah ch.40.

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

    every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

    the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

    Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,

    go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

    lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

    say to the towns of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

    he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

    or weighed the mountains on the scales

    and the hills in a balance?

13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,

    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?

14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,

    and who taught him the right way?

Who was it that taught him knowledge,

    or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

    they are regarded as dust on the scales;

    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,

    nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;

    they are regarded by him as worthless

    and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?

    To what image will you liken him?

19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,

    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold

    and fashions silver chains for it.

20 A person too poor to present such an offering

    selects wood that will not rot;

they look for a skilled worker

    to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

    and its people are like grasshoppers.

He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught

    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

24 No sooner are they planted,

    no sooner are they sown,

    no sooner do they take root in the ground,

than he blows on them and they wither,

    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?

    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

    Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

    and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?

    Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

    my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

    and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

    and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

    and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,

    they will walk and not be faint.

A Christian response to Paris & the problem of religion

Australians (and the West at large)  don’t know what to do with religion. We don’t want to say that one religion is better or worse than another, but how do we deal with aspects of religion that are unacceptable? While ISIL are not supported by most Muslims, adherents are nonetheless practicing a devotion to Islam that finds support in the Koran. However because their ideology does not conform to the accepted pluralist world-view that all religions are valid, we hear political and religious leaders being forced to explain them away.

I don’t claim to speak for everyone and I don’t want to suggest that what I’ve written isn’t without bias. What I have written is a list of criteria that I try to practice when I’m talking with people about my Christian beliefs.


1. Show grace. Pride is not a Christian virtue. The very nature of Christian faith is that knowing God is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, as we engage in conversation with people from different religions we avoid arrogance and pride, both in what we say and in the manner we speak.

2. Be gentle and respectful. When we talk to men and women we are speaking with people who are God’s image-bearers. That imago Dei, like in ourselves, is broken, but we maintain that they have value and ought to be treated with dignity. Therefore we don’t support graffiti on Mosques or other buildings, and we don’t support verbal or physical abuse toward people of other religions

3. Be honest about differences, and recognise that some contrarieties really do matter. One of the great weaknesses in current religious discourse is the unwillingness to call a spade a spade. Where there is commonality and agreement it should be recognised, but the pretend game of sameness is intellectually dishonest and shows disrespect to the many who hold to those points of difference.

There is no value in diminishing, ignoring or lying about differences in theology, ethics, or politics. For example, Christians and Muslims must not pretend that they share the same view of Jesus: Muslims do not believe that Jesus is fully and eternally God, Christians do. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Christians do. Muslims do not accept that the Bible is God’s authoritative, sufficient and final word, Christians do. In the same way Christians don’t accept the Koran as a holy book, whereas Muslims do.

There exists an epistemological crisis in the world right now. The current crisis is not merely  a moral one, but it is about how we understand truth. September 11 2001 shocked the world, not only because of the scale of evil perpetrated, but because it exposed the foolishness of our deference to the philosophical liberalism in the West; we were reminded that not every world-view is equally good or valid. Despite the warning, 14 years have now past and most of us in the West continue to walk the line of relativism. Will the recent and appalling rise of ISIL rouse us from the age of the post-critical conscience or will we keep popping our everyone-is-right pills?

4. Don’t excuse or protect the sins of your family. Sin is sin, whether it is perpetrated by someone else or by me. Christians can be guilty of wrongdoing: sometimes they break the law, other times they act lawfully but in ways that are unloving and therefore spurious. In the name of Christ, men and women have committed acts of cruelty and hate, not because of the Christian Bible but because they have abused the Bible in the pursuit of personal agendas. Where and when we are wrong we need to confess and repent, and repentance includes accepting the cost of restitution.

5. Aim to persuade. Coercion, threats, insults, violence – such things don’t help anyone. Beating someone down with a string of rapid rhetorical assaults does little more than create more distance between people, making genuine communication even more difficult. Persuasion, however, is healthy because it gives due weight to the subject at hand and it shows respect for the person with whom you are dialoguing. Persuasion says that people matter and the topic of dispute is too important for flippant dismissal or violent suppression. Persuasion includes using considered argument, showing coherence in your reasoning and providing evidence, using story and testimony, appealing to peoples hopes and desires, pointing out the weaknesses and untruths in alternative beliefs, and speaking with clarity and conviction.

6. Don’t caricature people or their beliefs. Not all atheists are like Richard Dawkins. Not all Muslims support ISIL. Not all Arabs are Muslim. Not all politicians are self-seeking egomaniacs. Not all Baptists are tee-totalling anti-fun facebook club members!

7. Seek to understand. Too often we assume what other people  think and believe. Let’s not ignore the power of attentive listening, and of asking questions and taking time to research what other religions believe, teach and practice.

8. Live what you believe. Christianity doesn’t begin or end on the blog or at the public meeting, it continues through every encounter in all of life. If what Christians believe is true and good then it will influence every aspect of our interactions, both private and public.

When was the last time we smiled at and said hello to someone who was Muslim or Hindu? When was the last time we invited into our home for a meal someone who practices another religion? When was the last time we shared the good news of Jesus with someone from another religion? Why not put these things on our agenda?

9. The State and not the Church has the role to exercise civil and military authority. Unlike Muslim Scriptures, the Christian Bible recognises a distinction between the Church and the State. Throughout history not everyone has properly practiced this, but that has been due to a rejection of the Bible’s teaching, not adherence. However, in Islam there is no such distinction between religious and civil law and Government, hence Saudi Arabia and some of nations, as well as the theology underpinning ISIL. Having said that, other Muslim majority nations such as Turkey, have managed to move away from this orthodox Islamic worldview. (This article in The Atlantic about “What ISIL Really Wants” is worth reading)

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13:3-5)

My point here, is that  Governments have responsibility to protect its citizens and to punish those who harm its people. It is not wrong for the French people to desire justice, and we must recognise that issues surrounding a response are complex. Doing nothing is hardly going to stop ISIL and engaging militarily seems to play into their agenda. Recognising them as a legitimate state is out of the question, given their propensity to abuse and kill thousands under their the control, and they are clearly not content to limit their borders at their current places. What we can do is pray for our Governments.

Below is a diagram that represents various approaches to viewing difference:

 the way we view difference
This article has been adapted from a piece I published last year at Engaging with Religions

Praying with our children about Paris

Praying with our children is a wonderful opportunity and privilege. It not only helps us in talking with our children about what happened in Paris, it reminds us that we can take everything to God in prayer, and it teaches our children how to pray when evil comes.

My suggestion is that you  firstly sit down with your children and answer their questions about Islamic State attacks, and then explain the pray to them before praying it with them. There is little point praying what we don’t affirm or understand!

Here is a prayer that you might like to pray with your children:


Heavenly Father,

We thank you that you are God, and that you are good, and are in charge of the world today.

We thank you that we can talk to you in the good times of life and in the sad times.

We are sad and want to cry for the people of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

We ask that you may comfort them in their grief, and that you might show them your great love in Christ Jesus.

We pray for the injured, that they will receive the medical help and pastoral care they need.

We ask that Governments and authorities will have great wisdom as they protect their people and as they respond to these attacks.

We thank you for the refugees who are arriving in Australia from Syria. May they be welcomed and cared for. Help us to love our new neighbours as ourselves.

The Bible tells us that evil makes you angry and the cross tell us you have done something about it. Thank you Father for sending your only Son into the world to die on the cross and to rise from the dead so that we know your forgiveness, and have new life and hope.

May the world come to know and see the peace that Jesus brings.

Help us to keep trusting Jesus and to show others that he is trustworthy.

And we ask this in Jesus’ name,


Paris, Terror, and Hope

Here is the sermon I preached today at Mentone Baptist Church in light of the dreadful attacks on Paris. The sermon is an exposition of the book of Habakkuk.

“O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.” (Hab 3:2-3)