Care for creation: why religious Australians are going green

Most religions believe that the universe and everything in it is the creation of God or gods, and most demand that we nurture God’s creation.

So for many religious people in Australia today – especially among the younger generations – it makes sense for religious leaders to encourage caring for the environment.

University student Hattie Steinholdt, who attends a Baptist church in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, is part of this growing culture shift.

“Climate change is already negatively affecting marginalized communities,” she says.

A young white woman sitting in the garden smiling.
Hattie Steinhold says the issue of climate change within the church needs to be freed from politicization.,Supplied by: Hattie Steinhold,

Hattie was part of a beach mission with the Scripture Union in her hometown of Mallakuta during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.

It was an experience that reinforced his belief that Christians needed to do more about the climate crisis.

And according to a survey conducted by Christian development agency Tearfund Australia, she is one of many young people who feel the same way.

Titled They Will Inherit the Earth, the study examines the perspectives of millennial and older Gen Z Christians.

It found that three out of five people are very concerned about climate change, and two thirds want their local church to take action.

But it also found that 35 percent of church leaders say they rarely campaign on environmental issues, citing the politicization of the issue as a major challenge.

This figure doesn’t surprise Jessica Morthorpe.

She is the founder and director of the Five Leaf Eco Awards, a worldwide program that helps faith groups achieve sustainability goals such as the installation of community gardens, water tanks, and the construction of giant crosses made of solar panels.

A large Christian cross made of solar panels sits on the roof of the church
A church powered by a cross made of solar panels.,Supplied by Five Leaf Awards,

For him, though, caring for creation is pushback. against Politicization of religion.

“Climate change has become this incredibly political hot-button issue, which is devastating,” she says.

“Therefore the issue has affected the reception of churches, rather than churches starting with the Bible, and starting with what God has actually said about creation and the need to care for it.”

Hattie feels the same way.

“The issue of climate change needs to be politicized within the church,” she says, “to the extent that we see it from the standpoint of our Christian duty to act appropriately.”

Activists Ask: Where Is Ethical Leadership?

While some religious Australians are focusing their energies on grassroots solutions, others also see the need to engage in electoral politics.

The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) is a multi-faith affiliation of religious communities advocating for climate justice.

In the lead-up to the federal election, the ARRCC is ramping up its climate activism, targeting lawmakers in marginalized voters, and urging them to adopt meaningful climate change policies.

“We don’t just run retreats, and have workshops and talk about lifestyle and webinars,” says President Thea Ormerod.

“We actually get out there and hang banners and meet Members of Parliament, and protest at coal mining sites.”

A man standing outside the office of a politician greets a priest and a Buddhist nun.
Samuel Batt, an adviser to Liberal MP Warren Entsch, met with Father Neil Forgy and the Reverend Rinchen Kelly.,Supplied by: ARRCC,

He believes that many religious leaders are too close to conservative politicians and are more concerned about rituals than morality.

“They’re not really living the values ​​and teachings of the faith they purport to champion,” she says.

“Ethical leadership is coming from secular people, the environmental movement. They are speaking for moral positions that should be most strongly championed by people of faith.”

A cause to unite Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim leaders

Joel Lazar, chief executive of the Jewish Climate Network – which is affiliated with the ARRCC – says a key role of a religious leader is to access the knowledge of their religion to inspire the community to embrace the values ​​of that religion.

“The Old Testament prophets knew this very well and were constantly speaking on important social issues that, today, might be called ‘political,'” he says.

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