For the last 11 days a protest known as the Extinction Rebellion, or XR, has brought parts of central London to a standstill, with large scale road blocks at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge, and Parliament Square. These areas were transformed into peaceful festival sites with dramatic art installations and public protest performances. An unlikely band of rebels, a small Christian group called Christian Climate Action, was among those who played a key role.
Christian Climate Action is a rapidly growing network of dedicated Christians around the world who are banding together to teach and practice nonviolent direct action to push for urgent action on climate change. Since November 2018, chapters have sprung up in the U.K., Australia, and the Netherlands, and have inspired movement all over the world.
“We are all about following Jesus in serious, dedicated way, but also in a joyful way, in a practical way of helping brothers and sisters crushed by the system,” says Margriet Bos, a Christian in the Netherlands.
On Easter Sunday, after a full week of non-stop civil disobedience with XR, members of Christian Climate Action U.K. sat on London roads and “became church” — sharing bread and wine, readings from scripture, prayers, and songs as they celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. On Maundy Thursday, members imitated Jesus and brought soap, towels, and buckets to wash the feet of exhausted fellow protestors for five hours to demonstrate love and care.
Christian Climate Action played a key role in securing the protest site at Marble Arch as they arrived by a truck which was used to block traffic and was later transformed into a solar-powered stage. Rev. Sue Parfitt, along with two other Christians, ensured that the truck was not removed by police by locking themselves to the underside with metal chains. Richard Barnard, a member of the U.K. Catholic Worker Movement, then climbed on top of the truck and unfurled a banner reading “tell the truth.”
The group also played a core role in the maintenance of a site at Oxford Circus. When the police attempted to clear the site by asking individuals to leave, members of the group refused and chained themselves to each other, forming a human barricade — an action which resulted in the arrest of three of the groups’ members, including Rev. Sue Parfit.
Even as they work with the Extinction Rebellion movement, the group is unashamedly open about how their Christian faith is their primary animating force for action. One of their purposes is also to “challenge all Christians to question their cooperation with the system in which we live – and to suggest to them that to be a Christian might mean non-compliance with ruling authorities.”
Following the justice of Jesus
Over time, Christian Climate Action has developed deep theological roots that guide their trainings and actions. Holly-Anna Petersen explains that while the ultimate goal is to be faithful, the group tries to be as tactful as possible in their actions.
“Nonviolent direct action isn’t something that we go into impulsively, all guns blazing,” says Petersen. “It’s something we need to be wise about, acknowledge the power structures at play and prayerfully consider how we can expose and invert these.
She told Sojourners about her reaction the first time she heard the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple and how it transformed her view on Jesus:
I remember thinking Jesus isn’t some push over, that is integrity and that is bravery. How many people here would be okay with doing the modern-day equivalent of that? Going into the building of the people who are the powerhouses of today, the oil companies or the banks that are funding them and turning over the tables, addressing the crowds and telling them about the corruption that they are causing? It’s a pretty scary thing to even imagine doing.
A vision and call for Christians
The XR actions target the government to take action, but Christians in the U.K. are also passionate about urging the church to take action. The Church of England was reported in 2018 to have £123 million investments in major fossil fuel companies. In 2018, Christian Climate Action dropped a large banner off the balcony of the General Synod chamber when critical debates were taking place. The banner read: "‘We are young Christians. For us and our children, climate change is the biggest threat we face. Please pray and act for all those afflicted by climate change now and in the future. As a church community, we cannot continue to invest in fossil fuel companies. So we ask you, on our behalf, to divest now. May God defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy’ (Is. 24:2-5.)’"
Australian Christian Greg Rolles is being fined $75,000 for his rail action to stop Adani Group from cutting through the Great Barrier Reef.
“I really don’t want to be sued and lose everything I have, but I am more worried about global warming and the environmental injustices of this world,” Rolles says.
“The greatest threat we face is global warming, and we have a responsibility as Christians especially in the Western world to nonviolently disrupt and slow the process down for the sake of people in the majority world. [Am I] interested in answering myself, my own empire, or answering God’s call to work for kingdom?”
Holly-Anna Petersen calls Christians worldwide to wake up to the climate emergency, and for the church to take a clear lead on the crisis.
“I would say that really acting in solidarity means taking action which is proportional to the suffering,” she says.
“The Bible is very clear that in Christ we are all each of us together as one body, ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers.’ Acting in solidarity means that we need to act like we would if their suffering were our own.”
Though the group of Christians who regularly take action is small, Petersen isn’t discouraged.
“When we look back at social justice movements over the last 200 years, it doesn’t involve the masses, it only involves 1-3 percent of the population rising up. We don’t need to wait for everyone to agree with us before we take action. We just need those who are willing to take climate change seriously to take action now.”
“[In November], there were just eight of us, but marvelous things were happening. Extinction Rebellion was looking up to us. It was wonderful and powerful.”