I’m aware you have been feeling the brunt of a headline-seeking media over your interview with the Radio Times, accompanied by some fairly nasty tweets, and do sympathise.
I am writing to you in my capacity as Churches and Theology Director for the Christian environmental charity, A Rocha UK. I would like to invite you to come and see with me first-hand some of the great work being done by Christians around the country to protect and restore the natural world.
We agree on so many things, Chris, and I love what you do and stand for. I agree particularly with your comment about our risk averse society and how kids aren’t getting out and about anymore like they (we) used to. In fact I was speaking on just that subject at a conference recently.
As we are fighting for the same things, I was saddened to read your opinion that Christianity encourages us to exploit everything and I would like to suggest, in all humility and politeness, that you have misunderstood the Christian faith.
If we believe in a God who abuses and tramples on things then, yes, to be made in the image of that God would lead us to do the same. But the God of the Christian (and Jewish) faith is a God who loves and cares, nurtures and sustains, protects the vulnerable and fights the cause of the oppressed. To be made in that God’s image (as I believe we have been) thus leads us to act likewise.
The view you hold was popularised by Dr Lynn White Jr in an article for the magazine Science in 1967. It has been discredited so many times since then that it is quite frustrating to hear it repeated (have a look at what Dave Bookless, Director of Theology for A Rocha International, wrote about it here). The fact is that any world view which puts humans on a pedestal above nature will have devastating consequences. Distortions of Christianity influenced by Greek philosophy have done this, but so have versions of Islam, unbridled capitalism, secular scientific humanism, atheistic communism and so on.
Your comment saddened me because it flies in the face of what is happening in the contemporary conservation movement. I was surprised to hear it coming from someone of your calibre.
Indeed, I am sure you know that the roots of the wildlife conservation movement largely lie with committed Christians such as John Ray, Gilbert White and John Muir, and that some of the key figures in many of the larger secular environmental NGOs are themselves Christians.
Your comment ignores the work that my own organisation, A Rocha, has been doing for the last thirty years, with work in twenty countries around the world, and that of millions of Christians who are involved in caring for nature because of their faith.
There is now significant recognition that faith communities (Christian and others) – which represent 80% of the world’s population – give an ethical basis for the value of non-human species that the conservation movement otherwise struggles to articulate. In a world where hope is often so hard to find, we need to be working together, not alienating one another.
And so, again, I am inviting you to meet with myself and others (we have quite a few mutual friends actually!). I would love the opportunity to share A Rocha’s vision with you, to show you the practical action being taken by many Christians around the country, and to conspire together as to how we can work to change this country for the good, acting in ways that take care of all its inhabitants.
I look forward to hearing from you.
With all best wishes,
Dr Ruth Valerio
Churches and Theology Director, A Rocha UK
I share your desire to redress the balance of the debate. I once wrote an essay on the problem that sometimes appear to exist between conservationists and christians (a narrow but vocal group, to be sure) and how people on both sides of the debate need to start talking. My atheist tutor received it well, or at least I got a good mark for it. I think he could see that the tide has changed on that issue though.
Well done! What a good letter!
Excellent!! Do let us know if you get a reply!
Ruth, could you possibly post a link to the original interview: I cannot find one
I don’t think there is one – I don’t think they put their interviews online, at least not for the week that the actual mag is out (otherwise I guess no one would buy it!)
Here’s a report of the report:-
Many thanks for a very thoughtful note Ruth. I am sure that Chris will share many of your views> It will be interesting to see what he says by way of response.
An excellent response Ruth, I do hope Chris replies and meets more people like you who can show him the better side of Christianity. Thanks you for taking the time to do this.
Sadly there is so much in the Bible that is so easy to misinterpret, but even worse, there are many Christians in our churches who only ever pray for humans, who never mention caring for Gods planet or the creatures within it. I fear if Chris went to church on a regular basis he would come away disillusioned because we seem so arrogant and self centered, as if we are the only important species on this planet.
I know Christians who refer to wonderful organisations such as A Rocha and ‘eco’ groups within churches as misinformed tree huggers. There are young ministers who preach that animals do not feel boredom, frustration or have relationships and who look down on people who donate to animal charities as if they are betraying their own species; who refer to non-humans as biological machines and compare us to ‘animals’ as if the latter were the scum of the earth. Children who keep hearing this ill-informed message have no chance of respecting our environment, which is why organisations such as yours are so important.
There is so little intervention, from those in charge of our church; it seems they do not understand the dependence of humans on everything else on this Earth. How many in our church are crying out against live animal exports, or intensive farming? There seems just a very loud silence. Vets who rescue animals in disaster zones have to justify doing so because of the cost benefit these animals bring to humans if they are saved. It appears to be all about us.
I fear it is this to which Chris is mostly exposed and I pray that you can show him that we are not all of that ilk; many Christians are fighting against the tide of human cruelty, ignorance and indifference.
Good on ya!
Well said Ruth Chris Packham was recently on Desert Island Discs and, when offered Shakespeare’s works and the Bible by Kirsty Young, said he would accept them both, but only as fuel for his island bonfire!! Not the most open-minded gentleman, I fear. Date: Wed, 21 May 2014 13:58:22 +0000 To: email@example.com
Well said, could not of put it better.
If the church cares so much about all creatures great and small then why are so many churches against wildlife living within their places of worship. I have seen a number of churches honoured by the presence of peregrines with priests and parishioners doing everything they can to get rid of them!
Really? Here in Portugal getting rid of peregrines is risking a 3-year prison sentence, isn’t it the same in the UK? Do those people want to do prison ministry—from within? 🙂
Chris might be surprised to find an overlap between Christian and conservationist… Yesterday morning I submitted ten trees to my country’s Outstanding Tree Registry, and in the evening I led Bible study and prayer… The day before I had a meeting with a local councillor and we agreed to replace invasive plants with natives, and then I had a different meeting to prepare an open-air Bible fest. I’m no ‘hero’, that’s just what I do with my free time. I’m just saying this as an example—he will find thousands such people in the UK.
An excellent letter but I guess we need to be clearer about stating our agreement with Chris over the population question as covered in a recent A Rocha magazine, We need to front up to our Catholic friends and their long-entrenched and way out-of-date official position on birth control – noting that it is totally ignored by the vast majority of Catholics in the developed world..
You should send the letter to Packham’s agent and also submit it to the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’. Packham seems to be as much an unreal stereo-type as the façade he is commenting on.
Thank you for this Ruth. I love so much of what Chris does, like his recent trip to Malta. How wonderful if he comes to faith! Caroline Hodges’ points are helpful too I think. So many Christians I know conform to a world which exploits Creation instead of nurturing it. I have recently had the privilege of hearing a Bible study on this from John Weaver of the John Ray Institute, in which he explained how such misunderstandings came to be (e.g. the meaning of dominion in Genesis 1). He has taught me the meaning of Jubilee in relation to the 7th day of rest and the resting of the land after 49 years, a rhythm our greedy world has lost. Thank you for your Bible studies too Ruth. it seems a lonely furrow at times.
I am a pentecostal Christian and a member of the Australian Conservation Foundation. It was actually photos of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers in Tasmania in 1983 (which I saw at rallies protesting the then Tasmanian government’s plan to build a dam that would flooded these two rivers) that convinced me there was a God.
Wonderful open letter, Ruth , I do hope he replies. Peter
[…] An Open Letter and Invitation to Chris Packham. […]
Great letter, Ruth. Well done. I fear that Chris., like many others, has a misconception of true Christianity. To some extent we are to blame for that, and we must reach out to him, and others like him, and show that we care for all of earth’s inhabitants. I hope that he will agree to meet you. god bless you and your work.
Thank you, everybody, for all the different comments and thoughts about my letter. Certainly I agree that we only have ourselves to blame for CP’s views in some respects. Still, I’m glad that things have changed in that regard and that people of Christian faith are now so involved in these areas. Lots for us all to think about with this.
[…] are fighting for the same things,’ she wrote in an open letter to the presenter. “I would like to suggest, in all humility and politeness, that you have misunderstood the […]
Well done, Ruth. I also wrote to RSPB magazine in response to his remarks blaming a Christian worldview for the ecological ills of the planet. The truth is that the ecological crisis has been brought on by mankind’s greed coupled to new technologies that allow us to destroy more, faster. By contrast, God calls us to be responsible stewards, caring trustees of the natural world that he created.
Thanks Paul. The good news is that a dialogue with CP has come out of all of this, which I’m thrilled about.