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British Methodists call climate change a moral issue

A desert now exists where a river once flowed near Samburu, Kenya. British Methodists passed a resolution related to climate change and its impact on developing nations. A UMNS photo by Samantha Tuck, Methodist Relief and Development Fund.

By Kathleen LaCamera*
July 16, 2007 | BLACKPOOL, England (UMNS)

British Methodists are urging congregations, communities and the government to do more than pay lip service to the threat posed by global warming - especially to the world's poorest people.

During their July 7-12 annual conference, representatives of the British Methodist Church voted to monitor and reduce carbon emissions at every level of the church's life, encouraged businesses to disclose carbon usage and urged the British government to join binding international agreements on carbon reduction.

Introducing the resolution to conference delegates, Anthea Cox, the denomination's coordinating secretary for public life and social justice, said this issue requires "deep reflection" in every Methodist congregation.

"We are hearing from partner churches about the increasing injustice that climate change inflicts on the poorest nations," she said.

Experiencing the impact


Alejandro Martinez tends to his organic tomato crop in El Salvador, thanks to help from Methodist-supported relief workers who teach farmers how to adapt to the changing climate. A UMNS photo by Samantha Tuck, Methodist Relief and Development Fund. 


In Northern Kenya, where the British Methodist Relief and Development Fund works through local partners on agricultural development projects, workers on the ground bear witness to havoc caused by severe changes in weather.

"The major effects of climate change in the area have been in the form of unprecedented changes in weather conditions in terms of rainfall patterns and occurrence of drought," program manager Thomas Leskesike reported.

Prolonged lack of water means animals that provide economic security for local people die from hunger or thirst.

An ocean away in El Salvador, another partner says that a longer than normal rainy season can mean destruction of local maize crops. Local environmental damage and deforestation make matters worse as top soil washes away with the heavy rains. Here, the Methodist Relief and Development Fund helps farmers adapt to a changing climate by growing a variety of crops that better withstand unpredictable weather.

The church's relief and development experts acknowledge that floods, droughts and extreme weather always have been a challenge for farmers. However, global warming, they say, makes these events more frequent and more severe. 

"The world's biggest market failure is climate change," Bala Gnanapragasam told the conference. A global communications specialist and Methodist layman, Gnanapragasam observed that the United Kingdom has 10 times as many carbon emissions as El Salvador and 100 times as many as Africa.

"Climate change is the single most important threat to development. We are culpable. We need to bear the cost of dealing with this mess."

'Help us'

The Rev. Laisiasa Ratabacaca, representative from the Fiji Islands, brought this clear message to the British Methodist Conference: "Please, come help us. … At the moment, people are drowning in the tiny islands of the South Pacific."

Britain itself has felt the full force of extreme weather in recent weeks when high winds and unprecedented rainfall caused severe flooding in central England. Eight people died in the flooding, including a Methodist lay preacher and 14-year-old boy. Thousands have had to abandon homes and businesses. Estimates for repairs and reconstruction are already in the billions of dollars.

“We are hearing from partner churches about the increasing injustice that climate change inflicts on the poorest nations.”–Anthea Cox

A number of Methodist churches in these communities sustained damage as well, but local ministers say their congregations are shaken by the shock and a sense of vulnerability about what may happen in the future. 

The leading Anglican Bishop, the Rt. Rev. James Jones, spoke about the link between recent floods and global warming. "When people lose their lives, others, their homes and livelihoods, it is important pastorally to say that their disaster is definitely not a judgment of God on them," he said.

"God has created a world of cause and effect. If we change the climate through profligate use of carbon, it is we who bring upon ourselves and others the consequences of reaping what we sow," Jones said in a statement posted on the Archdiocese of Liverpool Web site.

Beyond lip service

"You do not have to guess about the reality of climate change," said United Methodist Bishop William Oden, ecumenical officer for the denomination's Council of Bishops and a representative to the British Methodist Conference.


"In our quest for comfort and convenience, we have created a system that makes it difficult for others," says Jenny Laster. "We Methodists have to walk the talk." A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera.

Oden is chairman of the council's task force on the (Hurricane) Katrina Church Recovery Appeal and believes that while it is important for churches to talk about climate change, words are not enough. "Methodists can take leadership and action on climate change around the world," he told United Methodist News Service.

Jenny Laster, a United Methodist representative from the West Ohio Conference, applauded the British Methodist Church's move to highlight those who are most affected by climate change.

"Poor people have always had a Hurricane Katrina," she said.

"In our quest for comfort and convenience, we have created a system that makes it difficult for others. We Methodists have to walk the talk. We can't go to church one to a car when we can carpool. Do we really need all the lights on at church? Do we really need the air conditioner on? There are things we can do."

The Rev. Sheryl Anderson, a London-based minister, closed the conference debate by calling on people to see climate change as more than just an environmental issue.

"It is a moral issue," said Anderson. "It is worse than unjust; it is a sin. We have to make right the wrong, to become righteous. We have to act collectively, working with the worldwide Methodist people, especially those in the U.S., to combat global warming. And we have to do it now."

*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org .


British Methodist Church

Methodist Relief and Development Fund

United Methodist Social Principles: The Natural World

EPA: Climate change

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