Climate Change – Finding out more

Theology: Reflections on Creator and Creation

 Where should I begin?

If you’re new to these explorations, why not try the Tearfund video below. Then you might want to look at one of the books by David Bookless or the Hodsons, James Jones’ Jesus and the Earth, the reflections from David Osborne and Ghillean Prance, or the CAFOD study guide to Laudato Si’. You might also want to look at our lists of sermons, Bible studies and Lent courses.

Why don’t you list …? 

This is a list in progress. If you have suggestions, email them to us at

Want more?

Hannah Malcolm has a brilliant reading list – and there’s another good reading list on A Rocha’s website.

An Introductory Video

Tearfund has a brilliant new introduction – take a look. It’s part of a series of videos for churches on how Christians can engage with climate change: you can find the full series here

What the Bible says about the natural world from Tearfund on Vimeo.


A short reading list

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (DLT, 2010)  What does the Bible say about humanity’s relationship to God and the rest of the created order? A beautifully written exploration that calls us to rediscover our place as created beings and our specific role in creation’s praise of God.

Professor R J (Sam) Berry. “The Biblical Basis for Creation Care” (JRI Briefing Paper 8) A concise, 4 page summary of the Christian responsibility to care for creation which also includes a useful summary of different creation theologies.

Dave Bookless, Planetwise: Dare to Care for God’s World (IVP, 2008) What does it mean to look at creation in the light of the whole Bible story – from creation to new creation? And how does that change the way we care for the earth? Designed to be used for individual reflection or small group study, with questions at the end of chapters. Accessibly written and engaging. There’s also a good video introducing the concepts behind A Rocha and Planetwise here: If you like this book, you might also try Bookless’ God Doesn’t Do Waste (IVP, 2010).

Dave Bookless, “The Earthly Jesus and the Cosmic Christ” (The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Working Paper No 1, 2016)  What does Christ’s lordship mean for the whole of the created order? An important contribution to a New Testament ecological theology. Free to download here.

Celia Deane-Drummond, A Primer in Ecotheology: Theology for a Fragile Earth (Cascade, 2017) An introduction to different forms of ecotheology, with a section on the Catholic teaching embodied in Laudato Si’. You might also want to look at the author’s  Eco-Theology (DLT, 2008) an academic text which goes into greater detail.

Vigen Guroian, Inheriting Paradise: Meditation on Gardening (Eerdmans, 1999) and The Fragrance of God (Eerdmans, 2006). A  leading Orthodox theologian offers a mixture of personal and theological reflection, helping us to reflect about ourselves, creation and the Creator.

Peter Harris, Under the Bright Wings (Regent College Publishing, 1993, repr 2000) and Kingfisher’s Fire: A Story of Hope for God’s Earth (Monarch, 2008). Two books by the co-founder of A Rocha, Peter Harris, exploring its roots and its growth – with a focus on conservation and care for the earth. Audio excerpts from Under the Bright Wings:

Martin and Margot Hodson, eds. Environment and Hope, Anvil 29.1 (2013) – A collection of short essays by  theologians, scientists and activists responding to the question – how do we define an authentic Christian hope in the Anthropocene age?   Available free online:

Martin and Margot Hodson, Cherishing the Earth (Monarch, 2008) and A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues (BRF, 2016, rev ed coming in April 2021). Two excellent introductory works, both of which have associated study materials for small group study.

James Jones, Jesus and the Earth (SPCK, 2003) – What does Jesus say about creation? The former Bishop of Liverpool looks at the question, reflecting on the way in which the Gospels, as well as the Hebrew Scriptures, offer insights into the way Christians should look at the earth and their role in caring for it. Short and accessible, useful for group study.

Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation (Fortress, 1993)  One of the leading systematic theologians of the 20th century explores the relationship between the Trinity and creation.  What does creation mean to God? How are the different persons of the Trinity involved? What is the relationship between creation and God’s Kingdom? Not one for beginners – but highly influential.

Michael Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics (CUP, 2008)  A comprehensive survey of Christian thinking on environmental ethics, which explores the views of God, humanity, and the created order that  underlie different ethical frameworks. Weighty, but readable – and wonderful for provoking thought.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: The encyclical itself weaves a Franciscan sense of the ways in which creation reflects God’s love with analysis of economic, social and environmental injustices to produce an ‘integral ecology’. CAFOD’s study guide (available for download online) is an accessible way of engaging with a complex work.

David Osborne, Love for the Future: A Journey (Wild Goose Publications, 2013). A beautifully written, lyrical account of a walk from Shropshire to Iona, contemplating the landscape and being led from that to contemplation of our relationship with God, the planet, and each other.

Sir Ghillean Prance, Go to the Ant: Reflections on biodiversity and the Bible (Wild Goose Publications, 2008)  Sir Ghillean was Scientific Director of the Eden Project,  Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. His engaging and accessible book links references to creation in the Bible with stories drawn from his many decades exploring creation in different parts of the earth.

Ruth Valerio, Saying Yes to Life (SPCK, 2019) – Archbishop’s Lent Book for 2020. Uses the story of creation found in Genesis 1 as a starting point to explore the theology and practice of creation care. The aspects of creation – earth, water, etc –  are explored: how does each one appear in Scripture? What is happening to each in our modern world?  And how can we respond to the crises creation faces? Helpful blend of theological reflection, case studies, and suggestions for practical action.

Rowan Williams – Christ the Heart of Creation  (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018) How do we “think about the relation between God and what God has made”? A survey of thinking around the relationship between Christology and the doctrine of creation. Complex, deep and worth wrestling to understand.

Talking about the heat ….

Talking about the Heat – Talking Points

We’ve gathered together information about the current heatwave and climate change for use in conversations or presentations. Research suggests that understanding your audience, establishing common ground and sharing stories all matter more than data in communicating around climate – but sometimes people ask for specific facts, too. So the idea is to make some of those facts easily accessible.  Please let us know how you use the material; we’d love to know what does and doesn’t resonate with particular individuals or groups.

Yes, heatwaves and extreme high temperatures in particular places aren’t just a new phenomenon …

  • This is true. The central US experienced extended heatwaves and set longstanding temperature records in the 1930s.  And if you’re speaking to someone who remembers the UK’s heatwave in 1976, they may well bring that up, as the media frequently do (the  BBC’s done a comparison of the 1976 and 2018 heatwaves for example)

And there are several factors involved in this event. But human-induced climate change is likely a key driver.

  • Weather is complex and generally involves the interaction of multiple factors. In this heatwave, scientists have generally discussed four factors:
    • higher background temperatures resulting from climate change
    • North Atlantic sea temperatures
    • the location of the jet stream, a band of high winds in the upper atmosphere
    • and annual weather patterns
  • So climate change would definitely be cited as a key driver, if only because of the importance of the rising temperatures.
  • But in actuality, some of the other factors are also affected by climate change.  For example the jet stream derives its strength from the difference between cold air coming from the Arctic and warm air from the tropics. Rapid warming in the Arctic means that there are smaller difference between the Arctic and the tropics. This can weaken the jet stream. A weak jet stream, then, can ‘stall’, leading to long periods of persistent high or low pressure in a given area … like the persistent high behind our heatwave. Indeed, a recent study which looked at various ways climate change was affecting atmospheric circulation concluded it was quite likely to create more ‘extreme extremes’
  • This means that we may well be (to borrow language from cooking programmes) getting ‘climate change two ways’ – seeing its direct influence in the higher temperatures and its more complex influence as one of several factors in the way the atmosphere circulates.

Let’s start with the increase in global temperature. It’s a simple matter of observation that in recent years, the earth is getting hotter than it used to be …

  • How much hotter overall? The trend towards higher temperatures goes back a few decades. Here’s one way of looking at things – Ed Hawkin’s ‘warming stripes’ which show the changes in global temperatures from 1850 to 2017. Dark blue represents the coolest temperatures; dark red (at the far right) the warmest.
  • If the earth weren’t getting warmer, we’d expect a fairly random distribution of blues and reds. But as the stripes suggest, we have now had 402 consecutive months of global temperatures above the 20th century average. Moreover “seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have all been during this century, and the degree of warming during the past three years has been exceptional.” (World Meteorological Organization’s head describing 2017)  In fact, the global average surface temperatures in 2015, 2016 and 2017 were all more than 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era.
  • The high temperatures in 2017 are particularly striking, as, unlike in 2015 and 2016 there was no El Niño event – which tends to raise global average surface temperatures – in 2017.
  • What about this year? From January to June of 2018, global surface temperatures were the 4th hottest on record according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, and right now the Global Warming Index is at 1.03 degrees Centigrade.  This is despite the fact that 2018 also has not, thus far, seen the appearance of an El Niño event.

This increase in global mean temperatures isn’t just a continuation of ‘normal’ natural processes, as some people argue. Human activity is the dominant cause.

  • Both natural processes and human activity are involved in temperature changes. But, as Professor Myles Allen shows in a brilliant presentation covering the basic science of global warming (click on the links to see the videos), if you look at the warming that would be expected were only natural processes (primarily solar variability and volcanic activity) involved, it’s nowhere near as much as the warming we’ve seen in recent years. Indeed, estimates based on natural processes alone would suggest that temperatures should have gone down from 1970 … just when the current warming trend started. If you put together what we’d expect from natural processes with what we’d expect from increased emissions relating to human activity, however, you get something that corresponds quite closely to observed temperatures. This indicates that in the warming since the 1970s, human activity is the dominant factor.
  • Here’s another great illustration, this one by Emanuele Bevacqua, inspired by the warming stripes of Ed Hawkins (used with permission – with thanks to both!)  It shows how the mean global temperature increases (bottom panel) as a result of rising CO2 concentration (top panel).  (Data: 1880-2017, @NASA, #UCSD)

So we’re starting from a hotter baseline overall. And as average temperatures get hotter, extreme heat events  are also increasing in intensity, duration and frequency.

  • As we increase greenhouse gas levels in the air and the overall temperature rises, this makes it more likely that extreme heat events will occur. If you’re mathematically inclined, one way to think about this is that if temperatures are normally within a range of probability, as the norm shifts towards higher temperatures, the likelihood of extreme lows diminishes, and the likelihood of extreme highs increases. Another analogy scientists often use is that of an athlete on steroids. If a baseball player, for example, is made stronger by steroids, not every swing at a ball will be a home run – there are too many different factors involved. But more will be, just because he has more power. In the same way, the average temperature rises don’t mean there will never be extreme lows – but extreme heat will be far more frequent.
  • And we’re seeing just that. If you look at 2018,  a map of national temperature records (both monthly and all-time)  through 18 July indicates only four record lows but fifty-one record highs.
  • Some of those record highs are extraordinary
    • Our temperatures have been high for us: in the UK, on 28 June, Glasgow set an all time record of 31.9°C (89.4°F) and Belfast of 29.5°C (85.1°F)
    • But take a look at some of the other temperatures globally. On April 30th, Nawabsha in Pakistan set a record for the hottest temperature for the month of April ever measured: 50.2°C (122.4°F)
    •  in early July, Ouargla, Algeria registered the highest temperature ever reliably recorded in Africa of 51.3°C (124.3°F)
    • On June 25th, Qarayyat in Oman set a world record for the highest minimum temperature in a 24 hour period: 42.6°C (108.7°F)
    • And you certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be taking children to visit Disneyland in California on the 6th of July; the maximum temperature nearby was 46.7°C (116°F)
    • perhaps most surprising are some of the highs from the far North: July saw 32.2°C (90°F) in the capital of the Finnish province of Lapland on the 17th and 29.5°C (85.1°F) in Sweden’s northernmost weather station on the 18th. And in Siberia, the World Meteorological Organization noted that “the Western Siberian Hydromet Center of Russia issued a storm warning due to temperatures of more than 30°C for more than five days.”
  • The fact that these high temperatures and extended heatwaves are so widespread is a clear marker of the changing climate.  To go back to the comparison between 1976 and 2018, in June 1976 the UK’s exceptionally warm summer was a fairly isolated occurrence … as the map on the left below (which shows mean June temperatures relative to a 20th century baseline) shows. But in June 2018, in a hotter world, not only is the UK facing much hotter temperatures than usual, but so are much of the Northern hemisphere and Antarctica … and some of the most intense anomalies (especially those in northern Russia) are far more extreme than anything seen in June 1976. *
  • Ref:

Temperature extremes and heatwaves can be deadly:

But they shouldn’t be taking us by surprise. Such events have long been predicted by climate models.

Take a look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports over the years, and it’s clear …

Until recently, though, it was hard to tell whether particular events were made more likely or more severe because of climate change. But it’s now become possible to do “attribution studies” for extreme heat events and some other climate-related phenomena.

In most, though not all, cases, when scientists did such studies of extreme heat events, they found that climate change has indeed made the events more likely or more severe.

  • In 2017, Climate Brief stated that “of the 48 attribution studies that have looked at extreme heat around the world, 85% found that climate change had made an event of that kind more likely or more severe.”*
  • To give some examples, World Weather Attribution (WWA) studies of individual events have shown that:
    • The 2017 summer heat in Spain/Portugal was made at least ten times more likely by human-induced climate change
    • The June 2017 heat in central England was made four times more likely
    • Average summer temperatures like those found in New South Wales in 2017 are fifty times more likely than they were compared to early in the 20th century
    • But not all heatwaves are related to climate change. For example, the WWA study of the 2016 Indian heatwave suggests it was not. It’s important to recognise this, as people who are uncertain about climate science often express the view that people concerned about the climate attribute too much to climate change.

The World Weather Attribution group has released preliminary findings for this heatwave as it affects northern Europe and concluded that climate change made it roughly twice as likely.

What does this mean for our future? If we keep on with current patterns of emissions, scientists are predicting that extreme heat events will continue to increase so that heat events we think of as extreme will become the norm … or even cooler than the norm:

  • For example, Dr Andrew King, one of the WWA scientists who studied the European heat wave of 2017, stated that “Under a business as usual scenario, where we continue to increase our greenhouse gas emissions, we find that, in Europe, extreme heat events like June 2017 would be close to average by the end of this century.”
  • A Met Office study suggested that under the IPCC’s various scenarios, summers like 2003 could be as frequent as every other year by the 2040s … and under its two higher emissions scenarios, summers like 2003 could be on the cool side of the norm by the 2050s.

And that could have devastating effects

  • The House of Common Environmental Audit Committee has released a report noting that “heatwaves threaten health, wellbeing and productivity” and that “The average number of heat-related deaths in the UK is expected to more than triple to 7,000 a year by the 2050s.”

But if we reduce our emissions dramatically in line with the Paris ambitions of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees, extreme heat events, while they’ll still increase, won’t increase as much:

  • Going back to the articles mentioned above, Dr King noted that if we meet the Paris ambition of keeping global warming to 1.5°C, he “would expect very hot June temperatures in Portugal like this year’s to occur [in Europe] in about one in every four years.” If we get 2°C of global warming, however, “such heat would occur in about one in every three years on average.”
  • And the Met Office study cited above suggests that while almost all scenarios will mean that once exceptional heat will become common in the UK by the 2040s, rapid action to stabilise emissions could significantly lessen the intensity of future heat extremes.

So the key variable in determining what happens in the future isn’t some uncertain force or scientific principle. It’s people. Including us. And people’s … our … choices.

The need to act is urgent. Really urgent. So what can we do? 

For one thing, we can bring our concerns before God. We can ask God to guide us in our own responses. And we can pray for those who are making decisions for businesses and countries around the world …

  • Some of the things that need to happen seem way too big for us to have any impact. But God is bigger than all of them. As Ruth Valerio reflected in ‘Making no sense if God does not exist’, prayer about the climate – entrusting our fears and concerns to God and asking God to act in our lives and in the wider world – is a radical act in itself
  • More specifically, people may tell you that nothing we can do matters because China and India won’t change, and Donald Trump says that climate change isn’t real. But China and India are changing, and many state and city governments in the US are taking radical action regardless of Donald Trump. We can pray for people around the world who are caring for creation and offering hope.
  • resources for prayer abound – take a look at Season of Creation, Pray and Fast for the Climate (which offers monthly prayer points relating to the latest news)  Eco Church and CTBI for starters

We can find out our carbon footprint and take an individual pledge to reduce it. Some of the most effective ways to do this are

  • switching to a green energy supplier for our electricity and gas – it’s easy and has a significant impact. An average UK household switching to renewable energy for its electricity would reduce its emissions by about 1.4 tonnes a year. (Data: Average UK domestic electricity consumption; Climate Stewards footprint calculator). You can also work on making your home more energy efficient … saving emissions and money.
  • not flying unless it’s absolutely necessary. The difference it can make in your footprint is truly astonishing. A return flight to New York adds  about 1.7 tonnes to your footprint, Orlando 2.1 tonnes, Rio de Janeiro 2.8 tonnes, and Sydney? A whopping 5 tonnes. By contrast, Eurostar to Paris comes in at just … 4.1 kg.  (Climate Stewards footprint calculator, Eurostar)
  • using public transport, taking advantage of some of the amazing new technologies in electric vehicles (see our piece on electric cars and the information from the Energy Saving Trust) or getting exercise on our bikes or on foot for shorter journeys
  • eating less meat … or switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet

All of this becomes even more significant if we encourage others. What if your church encouraged people to switch to green energy and ten families did?

We can encourage our Government to increase its ambitions on carbon reduction, help Britain adapt to a changing climate, and work to ensure that other people have what they need to develop sustainably and to adapt.

  • Hope for the Future is a leading advocacy charity that helps people develop positive relationships with their MPs around climate issues. They have great advice on how to approach and hold good conversations with MPs (contact us for a copy of their handbook) as well as issue briefings covering topics from health and climate change to decarbonisation of heating and the encouragement of renewable energy.

And we can encourage businesses to act responsibly on climate issues:

For Christians, taking this kind of action is a matter of faith, love, hope and joy.

  • faith
    because we believe that God made and loves the world and all that is in it. Caring for creation involves our affirming and proclaiming our faith in the Creator and the goodness of God’s work.
  • love
    God calls us to love both God and our neighbour. If I work (however imperfectly) on reducing climate risks, I’m seeking to protect my neighbours, especially the most vulnerable, from losing their livelihoods or lives. That’s love in action.
    If I don’t, it’s hard to claim to be part of a community of love.
    So reducing climate risks is something we need to do – a central part of our discipleship, not an optional extra for ‘the greenies’.
  • hope
    because we believe that God loves the world and reconciles all things in Christ. This gives us (as the excellent articles in Anvil’s Hope and the Environment issue indicate) both an ultimate hope and a proximate hope for the planet … a hope that results not in casual optimism but in loving perseverance and shared engagement
  • joy
    Creation is a gift. The more we care for it, the more we come to appreciate the wonder of that gift and to rejoice in its beauty and diversity.
    Sharing with others in the work of protecting creation can create new communities – we realise that we are bound together with brothers and sisters locally and around the world, and we share together in ways that create new bonds of action and affection. That’s a joyful thing!
    Above alll, as Pope Francis says: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us” (Laudato Si 84)”. As we and our fellow humans come to understand this love better through our care for creation and each other, we encounter the source of all our joy.




*The large heat anomaly in northern Russia is actually particularly concerning from a climate perspective. This is why.

Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees

This is less about subtle negotiations of words and phrases, and more fully about real people’s lives.”

Revd. Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance

In September this year, two major new compacts on migration and refugees will be presented for adoption by member states at the
United Nations General Assembly. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be the first global agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN that addresses ‘all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner’. The complementary Global Compact on Refugees seeks to establish a wide-ranging and more equitable global response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations. It is hoped that this response will better support both refugees and the communities that host them.

Both compacts will have involved almost two years of consultations and negotiations following the New York Declaration in December 2016.

Ahead of the latest round of consultations on the compacts, Caritas Internationalis and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN recently co-hosted an interfaith conference at the United Nations in New York. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders brought different perspectives to the question of how the global community can achieve effective international cooperation and shared responsibility to alleviate the suffering and build hope for millions of refugees and migrants. The voices of migrants and refugees were also heard. Reverend Rachel Carnegie, the co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, was invited to offer the concluding remarks at this significant event.

We’ve excerpted some of the discussions here; you can read a fuller summary involving all the participants on our website.

Faith based organisations not only relevant but crucial

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the UN, who chaired the session, described how faith-based organisations provide so much of the infrastructure for the immediate and long term support for refugees and migrants. He talked of a person-centred, holistic approach, helping refugees and migrants to achieve their full potential while enriching their new societies through the exchange of talents and culture. “Even when [a migrant] is of a different faith, many know of the reputation of faith based organisations to extend care to anyone in need, because of the principles of charity, mercy and solidarity flowing from that faith. Faith based organisations start not from political or economic perspectives, but from the affirmation of the human dignity of all people before all else. This person-centred approach, while not unique to faith based organisations, is at the heart of all their work. It also inspires a more holistic approach to caring for the migrant and their families, rather than addressing migration simply as a political or economic problem. Faith based organisations typically address the needs of every person as an individual in communion with others and the common good of all society.”

After outlining the wide range of practical responses of faith based organisations in the care of migrants, Archbishop Auza said, “During negotiations towards the global compacts there has been discussion on the role of faith based organisations. Some have questioned their relevance but as today’s event hopes to show, we are not only relevant but crucial to help migrants and refugees and also to the work of states in caring for them. The pivotal part they play in welcoming, protecting, promoting, integrating and sharing the journey of migrants and refugees should be noted and lifted up as an example for all of civil society and receive explicit reference in the global compacts.”

There must have been a refugee or migrant in all our pasts

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the President of Caritas Internationalis and the Archbishop of Manila, reflected on the guiding principles set out by Pope Francis – the four verbs that articulate our shared responsibility – to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees at all stages of their journey. He reflected on his own family history of migration, and said,

We invite everyone here never to forget that in our families, clans or peoples there must have been a migrant or a refugee some time, somewhere. In their name the God of Israel calls us to love the stranger, but will we remember or choose to forget? …. Christians believe that Jesus migrated from the condition of being God’s glorious son to that of being a lowly human being. As a baby he became a refugee in Egypt with his parents to escape the ire of Herod. He praised outsiders in his stories, like the Good Samaritan, and presented strangers as models of faith, such as the woman of Samaria at the well, the grateful Samaritan healed of leprosy, the persistent Syro-Phoenician mother, the Roman centurion who cared for his servant and believed his word, and to cap it all, Jesus identified himself with strangers. ‘When I was a stranger, you made me welcome’ (Matthew 25) declaring that what we do, or fail to do, to strangers we do, or fail to do, for him.

For Christians a stranger has a human face – the face of Jesus”.

To turn one’s back on migrants is to turn one’s back on God himself

Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, spoke about the duty of a society to its own citizens, alongside its obligation to maximalise human dignity and freedom for all – preventing exploitation, and enabling safe and secure passage for people on the move – as well as ensuring decent living and social conditions for refugees and migrants. As did Cardinal Tagle, Rabbi Rosen reflected on the Biblical mandate to care for the “stranger” and the centrality of the experience of migration to the Biblical narrative.

We are commanded not only to love our neighbour in the Bible, but also specifically to love and empathise with others who seek to dwell in our community…. The Hebrew word ‘ger’ that is commonly translated as stranger is better translated in terms of the meaning in Hebrew as sojourner. … As it is written in Leviticus and Exodus, ‘for you know the soul of the sojourner for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’. The ancient Jewish sages point out that our historical sojourner experience is referred to more than anything else in the Hebrew Bible, some 36 times, precisely in order to serve as inspiration for our moral conduct.

Not for nothing does the history of Biblical salvation begin with a story of a migrant, Abraham, who leaves his birth place in Ur of the Chaldees, in today’s Iraq, for a better future for himself and his family, to contribute to a better future for humanity…. The orientating event of Biblical sacred history is the emigration experience, being delivered from persecution and journeying towards a better future in a promised land.

To turn one’s back on another in need, but especially those whose very existence is vulnerable, most dramatically evidenced in the plight of refugees and migrants, and especially the children among them, is to turn one’s back on God himself.”

No one leaves their home town just like that – things force people to leave

Sheikh Mohammed Abu Zaid, Chairman of the Sunni Court of Saida in Lebanon raised the significant point from Islamic teaching that migration is a justified choice for those who are under threat, or being ‎persecuted, or oppressed. He also described how Islam encourages Muslims to respect the receiving community as hosts and in turn to be welcoming and helpful towards immigrants in a ‎practical way by providing support, seeing them as a blessing from God.

He described how one of his congregation had asked him what religion had to do with the issue of migration. It was a serious question. He’d replied, “Remember, Abraham had this experience. Moses had this experience. Jesus had this experience. And our prophet Mohammed also had this experience. These great religious figures experienced being immigrants…. Even our calendar – our counting of days and months and years – started with this event: our honoured Prophet leaving his hometown….

Is it easy to leave your home town? … We think that people just leave their hometown for pleasure. No one leaves his hometown, his city, his village, his country just like that. There are certain things that are forcing them to leave.

Immigration is a challenge to my belief. It is challenging me to prove my belief. If I’m welcoming, if I’m sharing, if I’m loving then I’m proving that I’m a true believer. Religion in general [and] Islam specifically, teaches us to look at migrants and displaced people as a blessing from God. God sent them to us to prove our belief in God through our good deeds and our help to these people, who are coming to us as brothers.”

It is my great hope that this meeting will bring about a range of wonderful results

The Venerable Gijun Sugitani, Chair of Religions for Peace in Japan, spoke of the vital role of interfaith dialogue. He also highlighted the crucial importance of accountability – the question of who will assume responsibilities regarding the global compacts, signalling the role of religious leaders in upholding policy recommendations as well as playing their part in the response. Nobody, he said, is allowed to be a ‘bystander’ – to ensure that policy translates into concrete implementation.

Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves

Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, spoke of faith communities as bridge builders. He talked of the need to re-humanise the other, through encounter, reflecting in particular on the responsibility to care for young people on the move seeking safer lives, better opportunities, futures of hope.

Most people want to reside and prosper in the land of their birth. This is natural. Yet to do so they require safety, food security, economic opportunity, freedom from environmental distress and prospects for their children’s future. Forced migration is the result of war, poverty and environmental degradation and climate change that compel people to leave their homelands. Because of these factors we are currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And the face of the migrant is increasingly a youthful face. For the first time in history, half of all refugees are children and youths and one in every 200 children in the world today is a refugee.

“ ‘Otherness’ is another item connected to migration. It is a perception based on our territory. The imagined ‘other’ is often part of a narrative in which the definition of oneself comes with limits and borders… Speaking about identity or even multiple identities remains a taboo in many societies because it goes against the grand narrative of many nation states that base the concept of national identity on this grand national narrative. However, globalization continues to challenge the ethno-national model and exposes us to ethnic, religious and cultural otherness to a degree never before seen in the history of the world…. Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves – with the many layers of identity that make a person unique.

We must continue to think that we are bridge builders rather than the builders of walls. And we must bring hope and peace to this world that it needs more and more today.”

A key theme running through the session was the importance of bringing a human face to the statistics of migration and to acknowledge all that migrants and refugees contribute to their new societies.

The moment I was on my feet, I wanted to help and give back

A refugee from Iraq shared his own story. He spoke of how before the Iraq war of 2003 his family had lived a very comfortable life in Iraq. After the war, as people were being kidnapped and killed his family resisted moving, determined to stay in their home country. Even when his family was robbed at gunpoint in their home, his parents still would not leave the country. ‘Leaving the country – for anyone it’s a big decision’, he said. ‘It’s really, really hard’.

Another year later, in 2006, he was kidnapped and a ransom demanded. For 9 days he was tortured. On his release the family was told they would be killed should they be seen again in Baghdad, at which point they finally decided to flee the country. Leaving with hardly anything, they went first to Syria where their passports were stamped ‘not allowed to work’ on entry. ‘Imagine starting a new life somewhere you can’t work’, he said. ‘How’s that going to work?’

With the family’s life savings completely used up, the family applied to the UN for refugee status and after two years of vetting the family was given the opportunity to move to the US.

We’re very grateful that we’re here, but it’s not easy. Being a refugee in a new country with new language, new everything – I almost felt that I was in a different world’. Watching his parents, ‘the strongest two people in my life’, struggle with the challenges of their new life – worrying about how they would find work, provide food and pay their bills – motivated him to work three jobs along with his college studies so he could help his family. ‘The moment that I felt I was on my feet, the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to help and give back to the community. I’ve been working for a charity since 2012 helping immigrants, refugees and people from here just helping whoever needs help. I am just one example out of millions.’

Representatives from various member states of the UN attended the session and were warm in their appreciation for the faith perspective and contribution to inform the upcoming negotiations. Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, the Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the UN, said, ‘As a member state of this organisation, I am very happy and glad that I came. It is not every day that you see such an inclusive panel… A better world is possible, we all know that, but it has to take a lot of understanding from our part… This has been very clarifying for me… we thank you for giving us a very clear vision. My delegates and I are going into the next stage of negotiations with the four points you have mentioned very clearly: welcome, promote, protect and integrate’.

Ambassador Saint Hilaire of Haiti also expressed his gratitude for all the panel were doing. ‘Your actions are very inspiring to us as member states, he said. ‘You are making the difference. Thank you so much’.

Keep the image of a migrant or refugee actively present in our minds

In her concluding reflections, Revd. Rachel Carnegie appealed to all to ‘keep the image of a migrant or refugee known personally to us actively present in our minds as the discussions move forward’.

And she articulated four key challenges for the journey ahead:

  1. How can we make the Global Compacts a vision of hope, of humanity and our common good?
  2. How can we make them stronger in upholding the dignity of migrants and refugees?
  3. How can we overcome our internal barriers and become inclusive societies in an interconnected world?
  4. How can we renew, as the United Nations of the world’s peoples, our commitment for peace, solidarity and justice?

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