The faith organisations and sustainable development
Dr.Mathew Koshy Punnackadu
(Paper presented by Dr.Mathew Koshy Punnackadu in the first International
Experts’ Workshop on Faith based Organizations and Education for Sustainable ndthDevelopment, at Barcelona (Spain) from 22to 24 March 2007, under UNESCO’s
What is the role of a faith organization in promoting sustainable development? How faith organizations can involve in promoting an ecologically sustainable development?. What is the role of spiritual organizations in the sustainable development ? Ecology and sustainable development are political and economic issues . Is it possible for a faith organization to influence political and economic decisions?. Here is an attempt to answer these questions from the speaker‟s
experience. The exposures and involvement in the struggles of the people for life were a new experience to me.
The exposure to eco-issues.
I have been teaching Chemistry in a reputed College affiliated to the University of Kerala since 1978. My attitude and approach to Chemistry took a new turn when I visited Minamata in Japan in 1989. There I saw people suffering from Minamata diseases and heard the sad story of their struggle for life. They were the victims of organic mercury poisoning. People with Minamata diseases are still living in Minamata rehabilitation centre as living martyrs. With tears only we can hear it when the mothers of Minamata victims explain the sad fate of their children. The Cadmium thrown out of a factory as a waste into Jintsu river in Japan entered the food chain and became harmful to the people and the disease is known as Itai Itai disease. The Bhopal gas tragedy and the recent
Endosulphan disaster in India were also due to chemical poisoning. It is not at all wrong if anybody comments that the harm the chemicals are doing to the environment is more severe than anything else. This was an eye-opener to me. Ecology had been a topic closely related to the Botanists and Zoologists. From the exposures I had, I am convinced that only a person having a chemistry background can interpret and interfere effectively to save Nature. I was really encouraged to read, study and do research on environmental issues. For a systematic study I enrolled as a research scholar in the University of Kerala and I got my doctorate for my thesis on river pollution. As a socially committed person, I started working as an environmental activist besides my teaching career and joined the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad(People‟s Science Forum). This
organization is highly committed to people‟s Movement. The Hindu religion
dominant in India has a sound eco-theological background and the majority of Hindus in Kerala have a concern for the environment.
Eastern Philosophies and Hindu religion
The Eastern view of the universe is „organic‟ and „holistic‟. This view is shared by practically by all Eastern philosophies/religion, such as the Hindu, Buddhist,
Taoist, Shinto, or Zen. They believe in ultimate oneness of everything. They recognize that all forms are transitory. Human body is a medium to do penance. All these philosophies teach the followers to shun material pleasure as that is a hindrance in reaching the goal of liberation. Indian philosophical tradition culminated in an organic , holistic and spiritual world view and renunciative way of life. This philosophy places before us the goal of eternal bliss which can only be derived by reduction in wants. Hence, reduced consumption is an obvious outcome of it. There emerges, thus, a pattern which is eco-friendly and sustainable. The „Saffron thinking‟ results in „Green living‟. „Saffron‟ signifies „Tyaga‟ , or renunciation. Bhoga, the tendency to consume more, gives rise to exploitation. Tyaga helps in nourishment. Bhoga results in possessiveness. Bhoga increases violence whereas Tyaga promotes peace. Possessiveness increases disparities; no possessiveness helps reduce disparities. Bhoga results in exploitation and pollution of Nature whereas Tyaga helps in conserving Nature.
Indian Christianity and Ecology
The Christian church in India is perceived as having little interest in environmental matters. It is quite shocking to note that the Christians are responsible for most of the ecological destructions. The attitude of most of the Christians is commercial. It is believed that Christianity came to India as a part of Trade and Business. For some Christians, man is the crown of creation. Hence there is a total disregard to the rights of other creations. This is quite evident in their life and attitude. How to challenge this attitude?. A member of that community can only do that. I have been excited by the wonderful Eastern philosophies. A fundamental change of attitude to the Earth - a deeply spiritual one –is necessary to address the problems we have created and to enhance our enjoyment of creation. It is necessary to inspire all people to know that caring for Creation is an essential part of the Christian faith.
A common perception is that the Bible shows little concern for our relationship to Nature and perhaps even encourages its exploitation. This perception is often supported by reference to the biblical commands such as "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over all living things (Genesis 1:28), which are interpreted to mean that human beings can treat the non-human world in whatever way they please. This interpretation and the perception that the Bible has little else to say about our relation to the earth have led many people reject the Bible as a resource for developing a sound environmental ethics.
Ecological concerns in Bible.
Genesis 1-11 contains several fundamental ideas about the natural world and our place in it. For example, the opening verses of Genesis clearly state that God is the source of all life and that creation is good. Furthermore, the formation of Adam from "the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7) highlights the connection between human beings and the earth because Adam, the word for "human being," is a play on adamah, the word for "ground" or "earth." The story of Noah and the flood illustrates God's concern for all creatures because it states that God made the covenant not just with human beings but with "every living thing"
and that God desires all creatures to "be fruitful and multiply." The ideas that God is the source of all life, that creation is good, that human beings are connected to the earth, and that God is concerned about all creatures strongly suggest that we are to value and respect the earth and its many forms of life. After the account of the great flood, the Bible stresses repeatedly that the covenant God makes is not just with Noah and his descendants, that is to say the humankind, but with "every living creature'" As the worth of all living creatures is shown by their inclusion in the ark before the flood, so is their worth shown by their inclusion in the covenant after the water has receded. If we take seriously such an attitude of respect towards living creatures other than humans in the Noah narrative, then the story has profound implications for our current attitudes to animals and to biodiversity. Several recent interpretations have shown that Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 call human beings to preserve and protect the Earth and its creatures. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 8, 104, and 148, reaffirm the goodness of creation and provide additional insights into our relation to Nature. Insights relevant to an understanding of our relation to the natural world are also found in Wisdom literature.It emphasizes the importance of nature as a medium of God's revelation, for it presupposes that God's wisdom can be revealed through observation of the natural world. At the same time, it points out the tremendous diversity and ultimate mystery of God's creation. Other wisdom texts, such as God's first speech from the whirlwind (Job 38, 39), indicate that God takes great delight in non-human creatures and did not create them for human benefit alone. Such passages all imply that human beings need to respect nature, to recognize the intrinsic value of its many creatures, to learn from it, and to preserve its incredible diversity.
Passages from letters of the New Testament, such as Romans 8:18-25, Colossians 1:15-23, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and Ephesians 1:10, indicate that Christ's redemptive power affects the whole creation. The passage from Romans reveals that Paul had a universal vision of the "liberation of all the creatures of nature, along with human beings" through Christ's death. Colossians 1:15-23 also claims that all things will be reconciled through Christ.
John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the New Testament: "God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life". Have you noticed that the verse does not say: "God so loved humans ...", but "God so loved the world ... " - the whole cosmos? John proclaims that God's love is not restricted to the human race; it extends to all aspects of life. Hence this well-known verse may be seen to contain considerable implications in relation to our attitudes to the environment.
All of the biblical passages that command us to love our neighbor also have strong implications to environmental responsibility, even if one does not extend the notion of "neighbour" to include non-human creatures, as some theologians have done. As we better understand the dimensions of our environmental
problems, it is clear that they are often connected to social injustices. We cannot adequately show love to our neighbors, therefore, without taking into account the environmental problems that affect them.
The passages outlined above and many others provide very strong grounds for respecting nature and its creatures and for living in ways that preserve and protect them. Although certainly not all elements of the Bible depict our relation to the natural world in this way, the Bible clearly contains ample grounds for environmental responsibility. It provides valuable insights for building the foundations of an environmental ethic that, if lived out, can help solve today's environmental problems.
These examples from the Bible give us slight idea of the biblical ecological heritage that we have, for so long, neglected. We believe it is time for the church to reclaim this heritage and make a useful contribution to the environmental debate.
Strategy adopted to bring churches to eco-theological line.
As a first step we presented a resolution before the Assembly of the Kerala Council of Churches in 1998 to start an ecological commission to coordinate the ecological activities of non-catholic churches in Kerala. The Assembly of the Kerala Council of Churches unanimously passed a resolution and appointed me as the convenor of the Ecological Commission. With the help of Bishop Sam Mathew, the then President of the Kerala Council Churches, negotiations were started with Nilakkal Ecumenical committee( Catholic Church is a member of that body). At last, an organization has been formed as Joint Ecological Commission, with the cooperation of all the Episcopal Churches in Kerala. In another development the CSI (Church of South India) Diocese of Central Kerala sent me as a representative to CSI Synod Ecological Concerns
Committee(Chennai). Even though the CSI had a committee for Ecological Concerns, it was not active in various Dioceses. I could give the lead in editing two books for the CSI Synod: Reconciling with Nature, and God is Green. Then another book was co-edited known as „Eco-Mission and Vision‟. From my
experience as the convener of the Joint Ecological Commission, Secretary of Board of Ecological Commission of CSI Central Kerala Diocese and member of CSI Synod Ecological Commission, I could give leadership in Ecological activities and promoting the idea of sustainable development. As we got acceptance in all the Episcopal Churches in Kerala, we are organizing programmes with the cooperation of all the Churches. Green Theology, Green Diocese, Green Parish, Green Home, are the words very common today in Christian circles in Kerala. At present, some churches consider Eco-ministry as a part of pastoral ministry. All the Churches consider Eco-ministry as a relevant subject. This is the result of hard work during the last 9 years.
Eventhough I am working as an ecumenical environmentalist, my major thrust is on the CSI Central Kerala Diocese(Madhya Kerala Diocese). Rt.Rev. Thomas Samuel(Bishop of Central Kerala Diocese) is giving his ardent support to me in all the ecological activities. Hence, most of the trends noted below are directly connected with the Board of Ecological Concerns of CSI Central Kerala Diocese 1) We have a sound eco-theological faith assertion
We recognise the riches of God's creation and try to address from a Christian perspective the environmental problems of our society. Christian faith has a significant part to play in environmental debate and social action. We affirm that all aspects of God's Creation are linked and interdependent. Caring for God's Creation is an expression of praise to the Creator.
We recognise that what we do with God's creation around us will have a tremendous effect, for good or ill, on the lives of our grandchildren and on the generations of their children and grandchildren. By our attitude to God's creation now, we in fact determine the nature of the society that will be inherited later in the twenty-first century.
We see in nature a precious gift from God that we should cherish and respect, rather than something to subdue and exploit. God's creation has value in itself, not just because it is useful to humans.
We think of our world in terms of a web of life rather than in terms of a hierarchy of creation. All things have their God-given place which should be accepted and respected.
We hear the call of the Earth. We believe that caring for life on Earth is a spiritual commitment. People and other species have the right to life unthreatened by human greed and destructiveness. Pollution, particularly from the energy-intensive wealthy industrialized countries, is warming the atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere is leading to major climate changes. The poor and vulnerable in the world and future generations will suffer the most. We commit ourselves to help reduce the threat of climate change through actions in our own lives, pressure on governments and industries, and standing in solidarity with those most affected by climate change. We provide the parishes with intellectual and spiritual resources designed to promote awareness of the links between the environment and Christian faith.
Our view of Sustainable Development
The environment is one of the key issues of our time! We believe that Christian faith can and should be a major force for change towards sustainable development, sustainable communities and a healthy environment. Certainly these matters are political issues as also, economic issues. But at a deeper level, they are much more. At their core, they constitute a spiritual and moral crisis,
touching all that we hold sacred.” Sustainable development is a dynamic process
and will be applied by different countries in tune with their own cultural, political and dynamic perspectives. But there should be a broad agreement on goals, directions and means. 1)It cannot be achieved in the short run. It is a long term continuing process. 2)It is based on equity and justice. It is four dimensional- Equity among nations, developed nations, developing nations b) Equity within countries-regions, social classes, genders—c) equity between generations d)
equity between economics and ecology, science and spirituality. Equity promotes variety but not disparity. It calls for a fair distribution. The future generations too need fertile soil, scenic beauty, clean air, potable water, virgin forests, energy and wild life. Economics and science have great potential for human welfare. But their side effects on man and environment are proving to be unbearable. What we need is an integration. 3) Its approach is balanced and integrative.4) It aspires to common goals but permits different routes.Basic needs of all human beings must be met adequately. Ecological balance is least disturbed. 5) It accepts Nature not only as resource for development but also as the earthly womb for survival and development Nature is not a material resource for human consumption. Human beings are a part of nature. 6) It is participatory in nature.It is a business of the people. Democratization of decision making and decentralization of power and authority are, therefore, a must.
2.Retelling of Biblical Parables.
Re-telling of Biblical parables is necessary for this modern world. Jesus words were aimed at people who had no idea of modern science and
technology.There were no environmental problems during Jesus‟ time as we
have today. Had Jesus lived in the present, he would have used modern terminologies to express God‟s purpose and mission of the Universe. Hence, it is the duty of theologians and scholars to re-tell the biblical parables in a contemporary context. Here I am attempting to retell a Biblical parable in an environmental background.
A reading from Luke Chapter 12 beginning at verse 16:
Jesus told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
Modern version in an environmental background:
And he went on to say to them all, “Watch out and guard
yourselves from every kind of greed; because a person‟s true life is not made up
of things he owns , no matter how rich he may be” . Then Jesus told them this parable: “ There was once a rich man who had land which yielded good crops. He was interested in Science and Technology. He appointed leading scientists all over the world in his high-tech laboratory and asked them to bring out high yielding rice seeds. As per the direction of the rich man the scientists started research and succeeded in bringing our high yielding genetically engineered seeds.
Scientists told the rich man: “ If farmers cultivate this high yielding variety of rice seeds, then famine will become a myth.”
The rich man instead of appreciating them became quite astonished. He told the scientists: “ Look, you should not eradicate famine with these high tech-seeds.
The farmers should come to my company for buying the high tech seeds. They are free to use these seeds, but they may not be permitted to use the seeds in the traditional way. If they make seeds in the traditional way why I should spend money?”
The rich man put the scientists in a dilemma. The rich man again told them. You have manipulated the gene to get better seeds. Using the same genetic engineering, why can‟t you remove the reproductive part from the seed”
The scientists started research in this direction and at last they succeeded in bringing out seeds with the terminator gene. The farmers had to buy seeds from the company for cultivation, but they could not set apart the seeds for the next annual cultivation. The rich man became happy.
He began to think for himself, I have created the best seeds of the grains which are used by the majority of the people all over the world. The farmers all over the world can purchase the best seeds from my company. The farmers will abandon the traditional seeds and will use my seeds. After some more years the other seeds will disappear and I can monopolise rice farming. Then, the farmers would have no other options and I will make profit from the sale of seeds. I will become the richest man in the world.”
Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself!. But God said to him, „You fool!, You have used science and technology to satisfy your greed. You have been expected to use your knowledge through this technology for the welfare of all. An earthquake will destroy not only the nuclear reactors you have built, but also destroy the life in this place for many many years. Your pride and your greed will be shattered within seconds.
This very night if you have to give up your life, then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?”
And Jesus concluded, “This will be the fate of those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God‟s sight.”
3.Green Parish Award
The Diocese gives away Green Parish Award to a Parish every year after assessing the ecological work done by the various Parishes . The number of parishes participating in the Green Parish Award Competition is increasing every year.
4.Diocesan Ecological Convention
A special Session on Ecological concerns is held every year in connection with the Diocesan Evangelical convention.
The Diocesan Ecological Committee conducts Environmental rallies to highlight the environmental issues
6.Rain Water Harvesting
Rain water harvesting pits were dug in 125 parishes during the monsoon season in 2004. The slogan is „Not to waste rain water falling in our Church land‟ . The diocese is encouraging its members to construct Ferro-
cement tanks and rain water harvest pits to harvest rain water in all houses. The Diocese is providing the service of technical experts to those who need it.
7.Interactive Bible Study Programme
Conducting Interactive ecological Bible study programmes for clergy and educated persons regularly.
8.Environmental Day Celebrations
Celebrates World Environment day on June 5 in all the Schools of the Diocese
All the Churches in Madhya Kerala Diocese celebrates Second Sunday in June as Ecological Sunday. A sample Eco sermon is prepared and distributed all over the diocese. Sunday sermon on Deputation / Pulpit Exchange basis
10.Resource Persons‟ Training Camp
A training programme to equip resource persons during April & May, every year 11.Throw away Plastics
The diocese has taken a bold stand to avoid throw-away-plastics like cups, carry bags etc. in the premises of the Church. A sign board has also been exhibited in the Diocesan office campus prohibiting the use of throw away plastics in that campus. Such sign boards are exhibited in most of the parishes in the diocese.
12. Activities in the Organisational level
The Ecological committee is carrying out awareness programmes in cooperation with other organizations such as Sunday school, Laity Fellowship, Women‟s Fellowship, Youth Movement etc. In the he conferences arranged by these organizations in the diocese, a talk on ecological concerns has been arranged at our request.
13.Vocational Bible Study (VBS) Training
Ecological activists participates in the VBS training programmes to share the Ecological concerns. They give suggestions to be communicated to the students, especially on the need to protect the environment. The CSI Synod has published a book called „Eco-Vision and Mission‟ for the Sunday School
The Diocese is taking every effort to promote organic farming. Some parishes have taken up organic farming seriously
15.Planting of Trees
We distribute saplings every year during the month of June with the cooperation of Social Forestry department of Kerala.
Diocesan Ecological Committee members arrange an eco study every year . We call it a pilgrimage as it is a search to the inner soul of Nature. 17.Regional Conferences
Diocesan Ecological committee organizes regional conferences for the propagation of the Green Diocese programmes during the month of May.
18.Parish level Eco Committees
As per the direction of the Bishop , Eco Committees were constituted in all the parishes of the Diocese with the Vicar/Church worker as the Chairman. A convener will coordinate the work of the parishes.
19.District level work
A clergyman is in charge of the eco activities in the pastoral district. On the first Tuesday of every month clergies of the pastoral district meet regularly for evaluating the pastoral work and for prayer and study. The clergy in charge of eco activities will report the activities in the meeting. The Diocesan Ecological Board has appointed observers/conveners to coordinate the work at the District level.
20.Eco Clubs in Schools
Eco Clubs were constituted in all the schools in the diocese. Every year the Diocesan Ecological Board conducts Green essay competition, Green Quiz, Green Painting Competition for the School Children.
21.Eco Bible Study programme
The Diocesan Ecological committee arranges an Eco-Bible Study programme for the clergy and the Church workers of the Diocese. 22. Eco-literature
Publishes eco-literature every year to educate the members
New Programmes introduced in 2006
1.Green Home Project
The Green Home project is a very popular Movement in the Diocese. Each parish selects an Eco friendly house . The parish honours that family. That family will be honoured publicly every December. The Diocese will select 12 families from these Green Home project winners for Diocesan Green Home Awards in a public function and the Diocese honours them during the month of January.
A high level seminar was conducted. Experts on Vasthu, Environmentalists, and Theologians participated. It called upon the Christian Community to construct church buildings which are ecologically sound. Do not waste money for the construction of Churches by imitating other Church buildings. Local needs, utilization of land, effective utilization of space inside the Church, minimum use of electricity, free movement of air and light inside the Church etc. should be observed in the construction of Church buildings. The papers were published in New Vision Magazine for a wider discussion.
Programmes for 2007
The motto of the Diocese- 2007- Healthy Living and Healthy Environment
The Diocese will distribute 10,000 vegetable seed kits during the month of April to the parishes, to promote organic vegetable cultivation in the Diocese. 2.Hand book
The Diocese will bring out a hand book containing two Bible Studies and a sermon on Healthy Living and Healthy Environment, Ecological programmes of the year, Guidelines of the Green Home project, Green Parish, Green School. 3.Deputation Talk
The diocese will train 110 laymen and depute them to the parishes to deliver the sermon on all the parishes of the Diocese on Environmental Sunday. 4.Eco-Management in Schools and Churches
The Board of Ecological Concerns published a paper on Eco- Management in the CSI Church and Schools. The Schools and Churches will implement the programmes this year.