This past October’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests were the biggest and boldest yet. As stories from the ground hit headline news, I sat shoulder-to-shoulder with an unlikely rabble: Christians and members of the clergy of all denominations, under the banner of Christian Climate Action, the Christian arm of Extinction Rebellion.
This protest is attracting people from all walks of life. There are groups such as Doctors for XR, XR Disabled Rebels, and XR Farmers, just to name a few. We all have different identities in our life, and I could have chosen any number of mine. I could have been there as a mental health worker, I could have been there as a Londoner and sometimes, I have to admit that I wish I took part as an introvert, sitting to the side in silence with others, escaping into a good book. However, I choose to be present as a Christian.
I choose to take part in Extinction Rebellion as a Christian because I need God beside me. Organizing Christian Climate Action around a nine-to-five job in the National Health Service can be challenging. As some of my close friends remind me, it is like doing two fulltime jobs. To dig in for the two-week rebellion required a surprising amount of infrastructure — such as cover from the rain, music for worship, and structures to block roads. Most of us were drained before the rebellion even began — trying to navigate how to get objects such as a four-meter-long ark, two tipis, and a piano across the country at late notice.
Martin Luther King Jr. makes it clear that “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” This sacrifice is why Extinction Rebellion is having such an impact: the dutiful concern of those spending a night in police custody, the persistence of those like Eddie from Cambridge who are on hunger strike, or the exhaustion of those coordinating behind the scenes.
Christian Climate Action had a meeting the evening before the rebellion began, where we came together and shared our anxieties about the rebellion ahead of us. Some spoke about feeling as though they have a weight on their chest, some shared of having sleepless nights and becoming tearful out of the blue. There was an obvious aura of us all feeling utterly shattered, to the point where we couldn’t finish sentences. We were praying, not because we felt that we should as Christians, but because we were pleading for God to help us — for a miracle to come down.
Don’t get me wrong, protests are amazing. You get an extraordinary sense of love for your fellow comrades and a raw sense of being alive that I have never felt anywhere else. I am always struck by peoples’ sheer effort and creativity, from organizational tactics to road blocking street art, for no other personal gain than a sense of standing on the right side of history. However, when you are days or weeks in, when the rain has clogged your clothes, and your ability to problem solve has withered away, you start to feel the overwhelming weight of exhaustion. On the ground we stopped asking each other the question, “How are you?” The answer was not relevant anymore. Instead we decided to ask each other, “Are you present?”
Being baptized at the Trafalgar Square protest site was not a publicity stunt for me. I had been Christened as a child, but still, receiving adult baptism was a choice I didn’t make lightly. I reaffirmed my baptismal vows at Extinction Rebellion because I needed God right beside me. I needed to draw strength from a God who knows what I am going through — who became human and spent his days standing up to the oppressive powers of the time. Whose passion for protest led not only to his arrest but his death.
The Gospel of Luke paints a picture of Jesus “in anguish.” In this heightened mental state, Jesus “prayed more earnestly and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The phenomenon of sweat turning to blood is certainly a rare phenomenon, but there are documented cases of it happening in situations of extreme stress, such as people being condemned to execution. I wanted to be close to a Christ who knows what it means to be scared of police lines but stand for justice anyway.
After I was baptized, I burst into tears. And I wasn’t the only one. I felt so many emotions all at once. I felt like a little child crying with God asking why I have to be here. I felt rage and sorrow for all creation, which is being undone, and an utter love for my brothers and sisters standing alongside me.
The truth is, we are not at Extinction Rebellion because we want to be. We are here because we are desperate. We are here because if we were not, then we would be passing on this burden to children and the poorest communities around the world.
This climate emergency is the core justice issue of our generation. So, the question is, are you present?