By adviser Hans-Jürgen Schorre
In many ways, the church consciousness on environmental and distribution questions reflects the consciousness in society. Even so, on the background that has been described above, the church has often been one of the first to bring up such questions.
As early as 1969, the Bishops’ Conference passed a statement titled “Pollution of Nature and Everyday Life”. Here, concrete environmental problems were mentioned, that “appeals to the conscience of the individual. But at the same time, it is about a social problem of worrying dimensions. It can be solved only through considerable efforts by society. If this challenge is to be met efficiently, this will imply a slowing-down in the growth of our wealth. However, this is a sacrifice that we as a people – and as civilisation – have to take on. Our belief in God as creator, gives human beings a holy obligation to take care of his creation. And the fundamental commandment “You shall not steal” forbids us to use up resources that rightfully belong to our children and grandchildren.” (Minutes, Bishops’ Conference 1969)
The World Council of Churches made the work with “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation” a part of its programme; this was four years before the Brundtland Commission presented the report Our Common Future to the United Nations. Dr Oluf Langhelle, Senior Research Scientist at Rogaland Research, who took his doctor’s degree in “sustainable development” thinks in this connection that the very term sustainable development was used/coined for the first time in this church work.
In the Church of Norway, the “Protection of Life” statement from the 1989 General Synod is central: “As a society, we must act from the assumption that the gloomiest prediction of the experts on the moment for the ecological breakdown may prove to be correct. If we choose less radical solutions, we run a dangerous risk.”
In 1992 the report “The Consumer Society as an Ethical Challenge” was presented to the Bishops’ Conference. The Bishops’ Conference passed an extensive statement on the subject, and both the report and the statement attracted attention in the church as well as the political environment and the industry.
The 1996 General Synod treated the case under the label “Consumption and Justice” and formulated the result as a liturgical greeting in the form of a letter: “The General Synod greets all congregations and councils in the Church of Norway and everyone of good will”. The General Synod sent the resolution to all congregations. In the last resolution point, the General Synod challenged all levels within the church:
“The General Synod encourages the staff and boards at all levels in the Church of Norway, national, diocesan and local, to implement the challenges as described in the letter. Concrete objectives should be formulated for all aspects of the work in the Church, related to the nine mentioned challenges, and there should be regular reportings to evaluate the progress.”
The 1996 resolution addresses nine areas for concrete challenges in the years to come:
The use of church funds, Introducing Fair Trade, Resource awareness, Using time and money, The human dimension, Indigenous people, Debt cancellation for the poorest countries, Climate, Green tax.
In many ways this resolution was the beginning of a comprehensive work both centrally, on the diocesan level and in many congregations. It is remarkable that this involvement has been unanimously confirmed and developed further from three General Synods with new compositions. Through this, the CofN is gratifyingly unanimous across all other possible divisions. Then the 2001 General Synod had another treatment of the case in light of a comprehensive evaluation of the work so far. In the 2001 General Synod resolution, it was said that “The vision must be to make the church the world’s largest environmental movement” and that the subject “Consumption and Justice” concerns the entire congregation.
The 2003 General Synod treated the subject under the title “Protecting the Sea”. The background for this treatment and a resolution that particularly dealt with the management of our northern waters with a particular focus on the management of fisheries, the fish farming business and the oil production will be further described below. The fact that the General Synod this time decided to introduce the celebration of “Creation Day/Creation Period” as an integral part of the ecclesiastical year, may become one of the most important contributions of the church for a frequent reminder of our God-given responsibility of management in the future. It may contribute to us seeing ourselves as an integral part of creation, and thereby promoting the values of, among other things, gratitude, humility and responsibility.