This year, 2021, is a critical one for the world to take action on climate change and protect the integrity of creation. Major global events are scheduled, which will shape the world’s environmental agenda for the coming years. The decisions that are made – and the actions that follow – will determine what kind of world future generations will inherit.
Creation care is a fundamental part of Anglican identity, expressed in the Mark of Mission: strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
In this, the first of three companion pieces, the Anglican Alliance wants to highlight powerful voices from within the Anglican Communion, which can inspire us all on our ongoing journey of creation care – the prophetic voices of Indigenous Anglicans across the Communion.
During Advent, the Anglican Indigenous Network (AIN), in partnership with the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) and with input from the Anglican Alliance, ran a webinar series Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis. This was the first time the three bodies had worked on a joint endeavour and the collaboration has proved strikingly fruitful. The webinars provided rich insights and conversation, which this piece explores.
The Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis webinars have also born fruit beyond their impact on the participants. Last month, a delegation headed by the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations (ACOUN) was able to lift up those voices at the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA), to which the Anglican Communion is accredited. As a result, critical insights from Indigenous Anglicans in every part of the Communion were shared and helped shape the statement presented by the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF) to the member state-led meetings of the Assembly. This process, and the impact of the voices at UNEA, is described in the second piece, which will be published shortly.
The third piece in the series will detail the other major environmental events and opportunities 2021 provides and how the Anglican Communion will be engaging with them.
Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis
The four webinars, which took place during December, were each based around a video made by Indigenous Anglicans in a different region of the Communion: Aotearoa & Polynesia, Africa, Amazonia and the Arctic. Each offering was deeply insightful, moving and challenging. Although coming from such diverse and far flung places, and produced independently, a unifying theme emerged: the real impact of thought patterns, or world views, on the physical world – both for good and ill. Two world views crystallised: an extractive world view and a relational one.
The extractive world view is prevalent in societies whose wealth is derived from an economy based on extraction and exploitation. Unfortunately, this extractive world view was one shared by the missionaries who were part of colonial expansion and through them exported to other parts of the world. This point was made during the discussion in the second week’s webinar, hosted by the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. “The form of Christianity that colonised abroad had a lot to do with the culture of the time,” one participant from Australia said. “It was not conducive to caring for the land”. A participant from Ghana agreed. “We treat creation as a commodity to be grabbed”, he said – an outlook that comes “from what western Christianity brought to us. We have to go back to our old theology”.
Thankfully, as that participant indicated, there are other world views within the global Body of Christ – and, more specifically, within the Anglican Communion. And it is these alternative understandings that are so stunningly presented in the videos created for the Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis webinars.
Speaking about the impact of the webinars on her personally, Dr Elizabeth Perry, the Anglican Alliance’s Communication and Advocacy Manager, said: “The sessions helped me, a White, western woman, to see the world from a different perspective. It was a privilege to be invited into that generous space of sharing and to hear the voices of people who, in my experience, have been ‘other’ …on the margins. But those voices found an echo deep within me and helped me see much more clearly what is at the heart of the planetary crisis – and where healing lies.”
In the video from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, contributors offered Indigenous theological reflections on the environment saying, “Indigenous Maori and Pacific peoples understand creation is inherently unified. There is a profound connection among all that exists with creation. Maori recognizes relationship as kaitiakitanga. …At the heart of the term kaitiakitanga is whanaungatanga (kinship) – the interrelatedness of all creatures within all species. Plants and birds, rivers, lakes and sea, mountains and hills, animals and insects all have value in themselves and are to be respected and honoured. In this way kaitiakitanga respects the mana (authority) of all living things and seeks to uphold all their mauri (vital essence) with tapu aroha and manaki (sacred love and care). …The concept of kaitiakitanga positions human beings in creation – not as supreme masters over the earth community but as interdependent members of the earth community. Perceiving ourselves as interdependent members of creation requires us to broaden our gaze beyond our anthropocentric concerns to include consideration of all living entities in everything we do.”
The Prophetic Indigenous Voices offering from Africa shared similar theological wisdom. Rev Dr Kapya Kaoma from Zambia reflected, “The African world view sees humanity in relationship to the entire created order. Unlike in the West, the African world view has repeatedly pointed to the interconnectedness of humanity to the world of nature. Humans are part of nature. …I want us to see how the African world view can help reform our thinking, because until our thinking is reformed, this crisis will continue to haunt us. The most important thing we need to realise is what Africans realised centuries ago: that we live on this earth, but it does not belong to us.”
The videos from Amazonia and the Arctic similarly demonstrated Indigenous Peoples’ deep understanding of connection and interdependence with the natural world which is in such marked contrast to the utilitarian one, which underpins most of the global economy. They also make clear the severe harm that results from this extractive mindset and practice. The whole planet is suffering – seen in biodiversity loss, climate change and unimaginable levels of waste and pollution on land and at sea. And Indigenous Peoples are especially under threat as their lands are taken over and lost.
The Arctic video will be added shortly.
The way of understanding the world expressed in the four videos of the series is a deeply biblical one. Kinship and connection with God’s good earth, tending and caring for it, joining in creation’s song of praise and hearing earth’s groans are all ideas found in the Bible.
What the Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis made clear was how very much the world as a whole needs to turn away from (repent of) a mentality of extraction and embrace one of relationship.
It is not simply a matter of “listening to” these voices and incorporating them into the current dominant paradigm. That would be to tweak but keep the current status quo of centre and margin. Rather, it’s about making these (currently) marginal voices the central ones – replacing the mindset of extraction, exploitation and detached utilisation with one of relationship, connectedness, respect, gratitude, understanding our interdependence and mutual flourishing.
Why the Anglican Alliance cares about the environmental crisis
The Anglican Alliance exists to connect, equip and inspire the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation. The integrity of creation is under severe strain as a result of climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Environmental degradation and climate change are also major factors driving poverty and migration and are therefore cross-cutting issues that are part of each of our three pillars of relief, development and advocacy. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the interconnectedness of the life of the Earth and shown us anew how we are all “our brother’s keeper”. Human health is dependent on planetary health.