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Why is the Church of Norway involved in these Questions?

By adviser Hans-Jürgen Schorre

One could give several answers to why the church is preoccupied with questions on environment and sustainable development.

In this connection, the 2003 General Synod gave the following statement:

The church involvement for nature and environment arises out of the Christian belief in the Creation: The world and all that is in it is created by God – for wise and responsible administration. A ruthless exploitation of creation and an overconsumption of the resources of the Earth therefore imply an insult against God’s creation.

In this light, the General Synod encourage all members of the church to display environmental involvement and to have a critical and conscious relationship to their own consumption.

The General Synod is happy about the many signs of hope showing that church involvement makes a difference. It creates insight, consciousness and responsibility within the church, and it is being noticed by other players in society. The church challenges and is being challenged itself.

The fundamental starting point is several biblical texts, and the understanding of God as Creator and Lord, and the human being as created and administrator is fundamental to both the Old and the New Testaments.

The selfish strive of humans after wealth and exploitation of others is time and time again criticised in harsh words in both the Old and the New Testaments, even though humans try to justify themselves through worship and pious acts. Even today many people think that this is what the church “is really supposed to do”. All statements in concrete social issues are labelled as inappropriate “political interference”. Such an opinion must be considered an unbiblical understanding of the church.

An example of a text from the Old Testament:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
(Isaiah 58:5-7)

In the New Testament, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7):

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

When speaking of a future judgment of the humans (Matthew 25), Jesus says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

These texts are rather radical in their criticism of a human self understanding that makes itself the Lord and owner of creation and uses the resources of the Earth unbalanced for its own profit. In almost every service in the Church of Norway, there is a sentence during Intercessions that according to the “Book of Worship” goes like this:

“Give peace on Earth, with freedom and justice for all. Teach us to protect human worth from the beginning of life to the end of life. Have mercy on those who live in poverty and need. Help us take care of your creation and share your gifts justly.”

In connection with the offering, a short prayer is said when the gathered gifts are presented at the altar:

“Lord God, heavenly Father, the world is yours, and all that is in it. All that we own belongs to you. Bless these gifts, so that they may be a blessing for your kingdom and our neighbour, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

In addition, today the church also lives in an increasing globalization, and contact with brothers and sisters in the faith that live in poverty and are threatened by environmental destruction, is constantly improving. Then nobody should be surprised that such a clear and radical foundation leads to a clear criticism from the church of an unbalanced

market-liberalistic financial management that makes some people rich, but at the expense of other people and the environment of life. One should rather ask the question why the church has not taken an active part even earlier, and is even clearer in action and words. It is impossible to distinguish between a Sunday faith and an everyday practice.

Thor Bjarne Bore, chairman of the Church of Norway National Council, said in his opening address to the 2004 General Synod on the obligation of the church to the world:

The church cannot sustain its character of being a confessing church without confessing at the same time its obligation to the world God has created.

Christian faith and our responsibility in a wounded world are closely connected. The love of Christ can never be isolated to the reality of thoughts and words. The love of Christ seeks binding action.