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Dr. Hilda Koster Photo courtesy Hilda Koster

Theology behind climate change matters

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  • October 23, 2021

When the Elliott Allen Institute gathers theologians from across North America for wide ranging discussions of the theological response to climate change on Nov. 12, it won’t be just nibbling at the fashionable edges of theology, says Hilda Koster, the Toronto institute’s new director.

“This is not just an issue,” she said. “It’s an issue in which the faith itself is at stake. If we as Christians, if we become de-creators, if we are uncreating — this is what we are doing — then we are going against God who is the creator of this world. That is sin.”

The online conference on “Theology and Climate Change” has been timed to coincide with the last day of the United Nations summit on climate change, or COP26, in Glasgow. Rather than counting angels dancing on the head of a pin, this conference is engaged with the hard realities of a global crisis, Koster said.

“What kind of theology do we need now that we’re faced with an accelerating climate crisis, which we clearly have,” she said.

A keynote speech delivered the night before by Franciscan Sr. Ilia Delio of Villanova University in Pennsylvania will set the scene for panel discussions of climate justice, gender justice, climate science and climate anxiety and the Church’s response. Koster expects a lot of the discussion will turn on the concerns of Indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous communities are on the frontline on a lot of these issues when it comes to climate change and resource extraction,” she said. “It’s also clear that Indigenous spirituality is an important part of the kind of re-envisioning that we need to do.”

Squamish elder Deacon Rennie Nahanee from Vancouver will be a featured speaker.

What religion has to say about climate change matters in very real, practical ways, Koster said.

“For the continuation of life on this planet, it’s clear that we need policy change. It’s clear that we need economic change. But we also need a change in the way that we think about our relationship to the Earth,” she said. “Climate change poses some really fundamental questions of who we are in the scheme of things.”

The fact that Pope Francis, along with Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew jointly issued a teaching document, their “Joint Message for the Protection of Creation” on Sept. 7, highlights the centrality of climate change to contemporary lives of faith, said Koster.

“We are also focusing on some ethical questions that are in particular being highlighted by Pope Francis. Concern for the poor and the marginalized is one of those questions.”

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