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A Black ‘Green’ Church


The question as to where the Black Church is when it comes to climate justice issues is a relevant one. The politicizing and polarising nature of the climate justice debate seems to have numbed many Christians and churches. The Black Church, in the past, mobilized a ‘hermeneutic of freedom’ that motivated and mobilized the African American community in its response to oppression.  It was, historically, the embodiment and organizational strength that ensured the African American community’s survival, sanity, and self-worth.

Over the past three decades, with the rise of secularisation, prosperity theology, gentrification, and the upward mobility of the black professional classes, this prophetic voice of the Black Church seems to have been quietened. Environmental justice is at the top of the youth and millennials' agenda and almost at the bottom of the Black Church priorities. The stereotype that ‘black people are always late’ seems to be true when it relates to the climate crisis and the Black Church. 

The reality is that the matter of climate justice lacks a prominent presence in the pulpit, noticeboards, committees, outreaches, prayer meetings, and budgets of many of our congregations. This is so even though there is so much overlap between climate justice and racial and social justice.

The term ‘climate change’ is a catch-all phrase used for the long-term shift in the earth's average temperatures and weather conditions, which threatens our present ability to live healthy and productive lives. The majority world's opinion is that this long-term climate change has been caused primarily by our human activities. What is indeed troubling and, therefore, of even greater significance for the African American community is that the ill effects of the climate crisis are being felt disproportionately in our communities.

Though Christian climate change advocacy groups have played a proactive role in addressing environmental concerns, oftentimes, they do so in the absence of many voices of color.  So why is there an absence or reluctance of Black Christians at the climate debate table? Some have said it is because this “new injustice” is shrouded in academic-speak and political obfuscation. Furthermore, others point out that climate conversations seldom use language or images that come from the spaces and places where ‘black people’ hang out. There is a call for the culturizing of the issues into ‘black speak.’

The ‘prophetic fire’ to use a Cornel West expression is the responsibility of the Black Church’s clergy and laity.  We must find and raise our voices to speak up and speak out on the ways we abuse the planet and devise ways and means to limit our contributions to the climate crisis.  The creation of a Black ‘Green’ Church movement requires urgency. That sense of urgency will raise the profile of climate justice and creation care before our congregations and communities.  A theology of creation care must be communicated in our sermons, bible studies, Christian literature, and church programs. Discipleship programs and evangelism convocations must be infused with practical activities that educate and mobilize green options.

In this election year in the United States of America, may the environmental lobby from the Black “Green’ Church impact the proposed lawmakers with the urgency of our times.

Rev. Ronald A. Nathan is the Star of Zion’s World Politics Editor and Pastor of the Hoggard A.M.E. Zion Church, St. Michael, Barbados.

Black Church, Eco-thelogy, Green Church, Environmental Justice


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