Bible/Theology, Environment, Uncategorized, Videos

Covid-19: Hope, suffering and a wake up call

July 3, 2020

For many, this time of global pandemic has raised hard questions – about how we live, about our values, about God. I was asked by St Paul’s Cathedral to reflect on some tough questions:

  • Is Covid-19 a wake up call to us?
  • What does hope mean in this time?
  • Does the suffering caused by this pandemic shake your faith in God?

I hope my reflections on these questions offer some encouragement and food for thought to you in this time.

These videos were originally published here by St Paul’s Cathedral.


What future will we build after lockdown?

May 10, 2020

SEVENTY-FIVE years ago, VE Day marked the end of a period of great suffering and turmoil. This year, it falls amid one of the biggest crises the world has seen since 1945. After VE Day, the UK had the hope, vision, and unity to reimagine society and build the NHS. As we move slowly towards coming out of full lockdown, what future will we imagine, and what will we do to build it?

Churches can play a vital part in helping society to answer this question. Although our buildings may be closed, many have adapted quickly to serve their communities with food-distribution networks, phone banks for the isolated, online pastoral support, and much more; and we’ve seen huge numbers engaging online: a survey published last week suggested that a quarter of UK adults had tuned in to a religious service since lockdown began.

For many years, Tearfund has walked alongside communities around the world as they respond to disasters, and we have seen the crucial part that local churches play as communities rebuild. This crisis has held up a mirror to society and revealed aspects of brokenness that were often previously disregarded, but the church can demonstrate that a different way forward is not only possible, but a better option for everyone.

In the words of Dr Vinoth Ramachandra, one of the senior leaders of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), “just as a receding tide exposes the debris that we would rather not see, the virus has exposed the deep health and economic inequalities within rich nations, as well as between nations. Poor economies are on the brink of collapse. And it is the poor and vulnerable communities within the rich nations that have been disproportionately affected.”

Our relationship with the natural world is also under the spotlight. Our destruction of the natural environment has made it more likely for viruses to jump species and get into humans in the first place, and research suggests that those breathing the most polluted air are more likely to die. Covid-19 is not a natural disaster, but a disaster largely of our own making.

The crisis has also revealed some of the best of humanity, however. Around the world, communities are displaying an incredible capacity for sacrificial love, courage, and kindness. Medics, food-industry workers, and care staff are going the extra mile, and, through street-level initiatives, millions of us are exploring what it means to love our neighbours.

In fact, I believe that we are beginning to see values emerge that could shape a brighter future for us all:

1. From “I, alone” to “We, together”. Our interconnectedness and our need for one another has never been clearer. In the UK, there has been an extraordinary surge in volunteering, creating new expressions of community, and weekly celebrations of vital ‘key workers’. Globally, the rapid spread of the disease has also demonstrated how the health and well-being of just one of us has implications for us all. We are deeply connected with one another and with the whole of creation.

2. From valuing economic productivity above all to valuing life. In response to this crisis, we have seen those without homes being housed and communities coming together to make huge sacrifices to save lives, demonstrating a shift to valuing life over productivity.

3. From small tweaks to a new way of being. Many are beginning to realise that we have a chance to reshape culture and society. More and more people are joining this conversation, and there is an appetite for real change. In a recent YouGov poll, only nine per cent of respondents said that they wanted life to return to “normal” once the lockdown is over. We have seen that we are capable of adapting fast as human beings and as a society: fundamental renewal feels possible, and examples of this reshaping are popping up in Milan, Amsterdam, and elsewhere.

As a Christian, I believe that God’s intention is for peace, for ‘shalom’. This transcends our modern notion of peace to include ideas of wholeness, balance, and tranquillity: everything in its place, everyone connected in right relationship — the antithesis of chaos; a world reflecting back the love and beauty of God.

This crisis might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape society more towards this vision, but it is not guaranteed. We could easily fall back to the old normal, and forget the injustices that have been exposed. We could even go in a dangerous direction, where lockdowns result in a rise of racism and division, inequalities are worsened, those with the least are forgotten, and the economic stimulus package prioritises polluting industries.

Or, we could truly embrace the three shifts that we see emerging. We could live in the knowledge that our decisions affect everyone else and refuse to define people by their economic value or social status, instead valuing them as made in the image of God. We could pursue economic-recovery measures that fast-track action against the climate emergency, protect the vulnerable, and create greater global solidarity. We could reboot the world in a way that reduces the racial, economic, and other inequalities which have been exposed during the crisis.

ULTIMATELY, this choice is up to all of us. Crises of this scale give us, as a society, the rare opportunity to ask questions about who we are and about our place in the world. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Easter sermon: “After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life.”

In the past, Christians have, so often, been central at moments of social renewal — from the abolition of the slave trade to the civil-rights struggle, to the Jubilee 2000 debt-relief campaign. We have a similar opportunity now. VE Day heralded an era of global reimagining and reconstruction. Seventy-five years on, what part will you and your church play in this great reshaping of society — locally, nationally, and internationally?

At Tearfund we have launched a new toolkit for church leaders and their congregations to prompt discussion about this among your friends or in a small group. The toolkit will help you explore how we can each play our part in shaping this big reboot of our society and economy. For more information, please visit and let’s work towards this new future together.

(This blog post first appeared as an article in The Church Times on 8 May 2020.)


Image: Volunteers pack supplies for vulnerable people at a food-distribution hub in London, last month.



The Burning Question on Earth Day 2020

April 22, 2020

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the theme this year is climate action. 

Earth Day is a global response to the environmental crisis and is marked on April 22 each year. The first Earth Day, in 1970, is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event in history, and has proved hugely significant in catalysing the modern environmental movement. While Earth Day 2020 may be going digital this year as a result of Covid-19, hopes to ‘flood the digital landscape’, joining voices together to call for meaningful action and change. 

To mark this year’s Earth Day, at Tearfund we are calling on the UK public to write to the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo urging them to reduce dramatically the amount of single-use plastic they sell into developing countries. Go here to make your voice heard. 

This call comes as a result of Tearfund’s recent report:  The Burning Question which reveals for the first time the hidden plastic pollution footprint that four of the world’s biggest consumer brands are responsible for, driving up global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report has found that the emissions produced from the open burning of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever’s plastic packaging on street corners, open dumps and in backyards in developing countries is a major contribution to the climate emergency. And they do this despite knowing that: 

  1. waste isn’t properly managed in these contexts; 
  2. their packaging therefore becomes pollution;
  3. such pollution scars landscapes, contributes to climate change and harms the health of the world’s poorest people.

Such actions – with such knowledge – are morally indefensible.

This report looks at the emissions from burning plastic in six countries (China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria) and has estimated that, across just these six countries, CocaCola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution every year. This is enough to cover 83 football pitches every day (to a depth of 10cm). That’s more than one football pitch every 20 minutes. The plastic that is burnt creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 – the same as 2 million cars on UK roads a year. 

This is the first time such estimates have ever been made, and Tearfund is the first NGO to quantify the link between the burning and dumping of plastic in developing countries from multinationals and climate change. The findings of this report show that these companies must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets.

Tearfund launched the Rubbish Campaign in May 2019 to urge companies to act, and all but Coca-Cola have made new commitments related to Tearfund’s asks. However, so far only Unilever has committed to reduce its total plastic use. At present, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments. These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems.

Since May 2019 Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign has been challenging each company with a four-point plan to step up the pace to take responsibility for their plastic pollution. Tearfund has ranked how well the companies are doing in committing to this plan, asking, ‘Who’s the most rubbish?’. This league table reveals that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are barely off the starting blocks, with Unilever far ahead.

The steps taken to date by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are a far cry from the action necessary to tackle a crisis of this magnitude. This Earth Day it is more important than ever that these companies urgently reduce their reliance on single-use plastic and switch to refillable and reusable packaging alternatives. Today is also the AGM of Coca-Cola where important decisions about its future will be made. Today we can raise our voices to speak up and demand further action and responsibility from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s CEOs – for the sake of people living in poverty and the climate.


  • Go here to write to the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo urging them to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastic they sell into developing countries. Go here to make your voice heard. 
  • Listen to this episode of BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Costing The Earth’, which focuses on our latest report, The Burning Question.
  • Read The Burning Question report, which highlights the link between plastic pollution and climate change. It includes the stories of Royda, Pascal, Miriam, and Agness from Tanzania and how they are affected. 
  • Share the report on social media. Use #rubbishcampaign and tag @CocaCola @PepsiCo @Nestle and @Unilever to let them know you want them to take action.
  • Pray for people who live without rubbish collection, for protection of their health and for provision for their families.

Thank you for caring and Happy Earth Day!


Saying Yes to Life

April 11, 2020

When I was asked to write the Archbishop’s Lent book for 2020, little did I or any of us realise what a tumultuous Lent it was going to be or how particularly relevant the themes of the book would be – my goodness, there is even a section in there on pangolins and pangolin trafficking, now thought likely to be one of the things that allowed Covid-19 to jump species onto people. Justin Welby’s Foreword is uncannily prescient too and speaks right into the present situation – particularly the final paragraph (you’ll have to read it for yourself, it’s too long to quote here!).

Connection has been one of the key themes from the last few weeks. We recognise that we are connected to each other; that there is indeed something called society, and that we all need to work together to save lives. And we recognise that we are connected with the wider natural world; that terrible things happen when we don’t look after it and other creatures, but also that there is beauty out there in our gardens and parks and skies to notice again and appreciate. Connection is what Saying Yes to Life explores as we go through the creation story of Genesis 1 and consider the amazing world God has created and our role in it as people made in his image: created to look after our neighbours and the rest of creation.

The initial response to the book was hugely encouraging as the Church of England decided to give over its whole Lent focus (called #LiveLent) to the themes of the book around creation care and I began to hear of churches from all sorts of denominations and networks all over the UK (and around the world) deciding to use the book together over Lent. It became an Amazon bestseller and I’m led to believe it’s the best selling Lent book ever. It felt as if what I and others have been working towards for so many years was finally bearing fruit.

So can I be honest and tell you how gutting these last few weeks have been for me as, totally understandably, the focus suddenly shifted? It felt like all the momentum that had been building and the potential that was emerging was brought to a sudden halt. I’ve needed to grieve – as we all have, for the hopes and dreams and people that we have lost and will lose through this time.

Will we be able to regain that momentum at some point? The good news is that so many of us (at least in more economically developed contexts) have been rediscovering the absolute joy of hearing birdsong, seeing bumblebees and clear skies, breathing unpolluted air, and realising just how nurturing and good for our wellbeing it is to spend time outdoors.

Alongside this, I know many people have continued reading Saying Yes To Life and a good number of churches adapted their Lent study groups to read it together virtually. I’ve heard time and time again how much the book has sustained them through this time and the messages that I’ve been receiving have been helping sustain me through this time too.

All is not lost, and as we leave Lent and head into Easter I am reminded to hold onto hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. In his great passage on the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us to ‘stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain’ (v. 58). That’s what I’m choosing to stand on. My work isn’t finished yet!

So can I just say THANK YOU. Thank you to all of you who walked with me and helped me bring the Lent book into being, and thank you to all of you who have read it and engaged with it and been inspired to act because of it. May we be resurrection people in resurrection churches, and may we look at all that God has made and say yes to life. And Happy Easter!


So What Do We Do? From Swords to Ploughshares: Climate and Conflict Part 3

January 30, 2020

In this series we are looking at the link between climate breakdown and conflict. In Part One we looked at how the two issues are linked, where in the world the problem is most acute and how it is affecting people generally. In Part Two we unpacked some of those issues in more detail, looking at how the concerns of climate breakdown and conflict are often mutually reinforcing. Here in Part Three, we consider what action we can take to respond to this unfolding crisis in our world.

Many of us reading this won’t be living in conflict areas nor be in a position to work directly into those situations with their complex, large-scale problems. But there are still things that we can do to respond:

1. Campaign: on climate action, adaptation finance, independent aid

First and foremost, if we want to see climate-induced conflict reduced we need to see the climate crisis tackled, through slashing global carbon emissions. At the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015, 196 countries agreed to phase out the use of highly polluting fossil fuels to keep global temperature rise to well below 2℃. We need to hold our governments accountable by asking what they are doing to achieve this and what more could be done. In the UK, this means delivering net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. Additionally, we must call for alignment of our national contribution to keep us on track for 1.5℃ of heating globally, as well as using our diplomatic influence in the run up to hosting the UN climate talks later this year to press other countries to do the same. We need to demand that all overseas investments are compatible with the aims of the Paris agreement, moving away entirely from fossil fuels, and increasing investment in zero-carbon energy development. One way to join with others in lobbying the government in the UK is through the Climate Coalition, a network of over 100 organisations made up of 19 million individuals, all dedicated to action against global heating.

As well as the crucial preventative work of cutting emissions, we also need to call for measures to adapt and reverse the damage that has already been done. These will include climate adaptation initiatives and financial support from richer countries for poorer nations to help them continue to develop using green energy sources, as outlined in the Paris agreement, with an ambitious plan for international climate finance post-2020. Alongside this, it is vital we keep independent aid a priority in the UK, with its own Department for International Development (DFID) and Secretary of State. A merger with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) would lead to less aid going to the world’s poorest people and to help the situations of conflict and climate breakdown they are facing. So we can also make a difference by lobbying to maintain this crucial government department as a separate entity, where it can be the most effective.

2. Support organisations working on peacemaking

Another way that we can help tackle the issue of conflict which exacerbates the climate crisis around the world is to support those organisations that are working to alleviate it. Peacebuilding is an increasingly important part of good development in many places, and it is an area that Tearfund has invested in heavily in recent years. As an organisation, Tearfund has made working in fragile states affected by conflict one of its three corporate priorities, and has created a team dedicated to peacebuilding work with affected communities to see context-appropriate, locally-owned and sustainable solutions to issues of fragility. Its work encompasses the spectrum of responding to immediate needs, supporting people’s recovery and building their resilience, and the longer term addressing of root causes. By giving to Tearfund, you will support the work we do in this and other areas, and you can help to make a real difference in people’s lives. Please do read more and give here.

3. Pray

Crucial for Christians, alongside calling for change and giving our money to support this work, is prayer. So another way to take action to help alleviate climate and conflict issues is to bring these concerns into our churches in sermons and prayers, helping people understand why involving ourselves is a Christian calling. Let us pray for peace in places around the world that are experiencing violence in the face of climate-induced difficulties, for their governments to know how to respond and to have the resources to do so, and for factions and rebel leaders to find solutions for the issues at the root of conflict and fragility. I strongly believe that change happens when we pray, and particularly when we pray together, and this year, linked with number one above, we need to stand together to pray for climate action. Please join in – we need you!

4. Live low-carbon, peace-filled lives

Finally, if we’re going to see climate-induced conflict addressed, then alongside pushing governments to take action on the climate crisis, supporting organisations that are working to combat conflict and praying to see a change, we must also consider our own lives and lifestyles. This means thinking about our personal carbon emissions and consumer habits, recognising that we hold part of the responsibility for the difficulties we are experiencing. But being part of the problem means that we are also empowered to be part of the solution! There are lots of steps we can take in our ordinary lives to make changes and help resolve these issues. We can change our eating habits to a predominantly vegetable and grain-based diet. We can use less polluting means of travel to get around, such as public transport, car shares or electric cars – and of course flying significantly less, or not flying at all, is one of the most effective things we can do. We can switch our domestic energy supplier to one that uses 100% renewable energy, or even install our own solar panels, as well as planting trees and reducing our energy use when we can (such as by choosing energy efficient appliances and turning things off wherever possible). And let’s work to live peace-filled lives ourselves, caring for others and seeking peace in our relationships.

Rather than losing hope in the face of these vast issues of climate and conflict, we can choose to act, to contribute to the solution and be part of reversing the terrible trends we are seeing in our world. It has becoming increasingly clear that the fate of the planet cannot be separated from its effects on people – and this fact will perhaps see both the climate crisis and human conflict addressed with the urgency they require at all levels of society, starting with us.

Bible/Theology, Environment

Why have Christians not responded sooner to the climate crisis?

January 25, 2020

Why has the Christian faith not responded more wholesale and seriously to our climate crisis and caring for the natural world in general?

This was a question I was asked to say something about at a small inter-faith dialogue at St George’s House, Windsor Castle. The gathering brought together leaders from the seven main faiths who are active in engaging their constituencies on climate issues. About twenty of us gathered, along with a couple of leading climate scientists. It was an incredibly rich time – better than I was expecting, I confess! – and I came away with a number of things to reflect on as well as some new relationships which I hope will continue and bear fruit.

My contribution was very brief and each of these points needs much more nuancing and investigation.  Nonetheless, my main points were:

1. Dualism

Those of you who have heard me speak or read my books will know this is something I talk about a lot. We have inherited a damaging theology, rooted in Greek Platonic dualism, that has separated out body and spirit, earth and heaven, natural and spiritual. It exalts the latter and denigrates the former, so that nature/creation is held to be inferior to the ‘supernatural’ realm. It goes hand-n-hand with a view that says the created order is doomed to destruction and our mission is to save souls onto the lifeboat of the church, ready to be whisked off to eternal life in heaven. Anything else there, such as looking after people’s physical needs or tending the natural world, is seen as a distraction.

2. Individualism

Many of us in the Christian faith stand in the cherished tradition of the Reformation – that move of the Church that saw Christianity wrested out of the hands of the religious leaders and given to the people, in their own language and culture (forgive me Church Historians – I know there’s a lot more to the Reformation than this!). Salvation came not through paying an indulgence or touching a holy relic, but simply through having faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Other wonderful church movements followed – German Pietism, Pentecostalism and many others that placed the focus on one’s own personal relationship with God, not mediated through priests and rituals.

These are hugely to be welcomed – and I am firmly rooted in their tradition – but it is interesting that the rise of consumerism came at the same time, and this ‘turn to the self’ has allowed this influential branch of the Christian faith to become unhealthily preoccupied with one’s own salvation and with the personal benefits that brings. Other concerns have been labeled ‘too political’ and dismissed as not Christian.

3. New Age

Some decades ago, the soul-destroying effects of our high consumer lifestyles became felt, and there was a reaction against our increasingly secularised, materialistic culture. This led to a growing interest in Eastern religions and a flowering of ‘new age’ philosophies with a desire to ‘return to nature’. Often they rediscovered the paganism and Celtic cultures of the pre-Christian era, and these were much more firmly embedded in the natural world than was the Church, which had sought to erase this sort of thinking due partly to the reasons above.

The Church therefore became deeply suspicious of anything that talked about our connection with the wider natural world, or the need for us to be embedded in and engaged with it. Despite the powerful figure of St Francis, the Church has not welcomed theologies or practices that show an interest in or indeed a compassion for other creatures.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment has caused many problems for the Christian faith – not least an unnecessary antagonism between science and religion, and a negative view of other animals as ‘machines’. When I look at the evangelical wing of the church (the wing that, somewhat nervously, I know I am a part of), I see that the Englightenment has brought fear. The foundations we felt so secure in have been eroded – in the UK at least we have moved away from being a ‘Christian nation’, and the Church has felt beleagured. This has led to the Church focusing too much on particular issues such as sexuality, which have been seen as a part of Christian identity, and this has resulted in us failing to notice millions of people being pushed into poverty by colonialism and consumerism, and the natural world being destroyed.

Dualism, individualism, the new age, and the Enlightenment. Four things which I think have been barriers to Christians and the Church as a whole responding sooner and more seriously to the climate predicament we are in.