Seven Biking Priests? (1/20)
This morning we met with church leaders from the Church of Norway to discuss the church’s role in addressing climate change. We heard from four speakers:
- Berit H. Agoy, Head of Department for Ecumenical International Affairs for the Church of Norway
- Tore Johnsen, Secretary General of the Sami Church Council
- Hans Jurgen Schorre, Church of Norway
- Linn Marie Holberg, Church of Norway
Berit H. Agoy: Global Justice and Climate Change
Berit was recently in Southern India where she met a Dalit man, who though his broken English, sent her a very powerful message. “Norway. Good People. Care for the Environment.” He told her that he taught his children that if you have two rupees you always give one to someone who needs it more than you. Furthermore, he wants his son to get an education so he can make more money and give more money away to those in need. This story served as a good reminder of our call to help others throughout the world.
To date, 80% of Norwegians belong to the Church of Norway, which is a state church. Unlike in the United States, in Norway there is no separation between church and state. In fact, the Norwegian government actually funds the state church! The country was set up this way in the constitution. It is required that one half of the Norwegian parliament members belong to the Church of Norway and the King is also required to be a member. The Prime Minister does not have to be affiliated with the state church.
One question that people typically have is whether the Church of Norway is allowed to criticize the government if they are being sustained by government funds. We were assured that this funding structure by no means hinders the church’s ability to get involved in political matters.
For the Church of Norway, climate change is entirely related to Global Justice. People in Norway aren’t the ones who will suffer the effects of climate change. In the short-term, warmer temperatures might actually mean better farming conditions. However, the issue of climate change needs to be seen through the eyes of the poorest people in our society. If we don’t address climate change and work towards creating more global justice, we will end up creating more global poverty, something the church has worked for centuries to eradicate.
Tore Johnson: Indigenous Peoples and the Norwegian Church
Tore told us that Norway is in the forefront of pushing indigenous peoples’ rights. The Sami church was established in 1992. Tore reminded us that the arctic regions of the world (Russia, Alaska, Canada, Mongolia) will be the most affected by climate change and that these are the regions in which there live large populations of indigenous peoples. In the far north a temperature rise of 8 degrees is expected to take place over the course of the next 100 years. This significant change in climate will adversely affect the ability of indigenous peoples to live in the same way that they have for centuries. Their way of life will be significantly altered. In Northern Norway, reindeer herding is an important part of Sami culture. Reindeer need snow and there won’t be as much if the temperatures continue to warm.
Furthermore, as temperatures warm the permafrost in the tundra will begin to melt away and loads of methane will be released. This will have a significant effect on the climate since methane is far more of a potent greenhouse gas than carbon.
As Christians we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
- Why is this happening?
- How do we view the world in which we live?
- What is our vision for the world?
- Who will be most adversely affected by climate change and how are we contributing to the changes we are seeing?
- How can we be part of the solution?
Torre reminded us that as humans we are fundamentally connected to the natural world. The bible states that the first human beings were taken directly from the soil, but we seem to ignore this connection at times. He went on to say that rather than change the bible, we need to rework our theology. We have misinterpreted important parts of the bible for too long and it’s time we change our lenses.
Hans-Jurgen Schorre and Linn Marie Holberg: Creation and Sustainability
Hans-Jurgen started off by mentioning the book “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane, Claiborne, a book that he recently read and found inspiring. Shane talks about being surrounded by “unbelieving activists and non-active believers” and it was interesting to ponder whether this was true in our respective cultures (Norway and the US).
Contrary to most churches in the states, the Church of Norway is highly visible in the political realm. The General Synod of the church has been part of the debates that are taking place about offshore drilling in Lofoten and has the official position of being opposed to this drilling operation. Oil is an incredibly touchy subject in Norway because of the industry’s impact on the country’s economic and social systems. Recently the Church of Norway officially demanded a five year break in oil exploration, a demand that received both positive and negative feedback from church members.
The main goals in the Church of Norway’s approach to creation and sustainability are to:
- Be a driving force for a sustainable society locally, nationally and worldwide.
- Contribute a just and binding climate agreement and mobilize people in church and society
- Create awareness on the environment, consumption and justice
- Create hope and confidence in the future through words and actions.
The church uses a different language to talk about issues of climate change and justice than most other segments of society. Whereas others use stats and science to appeal to the brain, the church uses songs, poems and stories that appeal to the heart.
Hans-Jurgen reminded us that even being “non political” is a political action. By not speaking up in the face of injustices and unfair policies, we are also sending a strong message. The Church of Norway believes that it is incredibly important to be a strong voice in the political realm.
One fun example of the church being politically active is the story of the “Biking Priests.” Seven priests were upset that they got reimbursed more for commuting by car than by bicycle so they got on their bikes and rode to the parliament. When they arrived, there was a new policy waiting there for them to review and recommend. How’s that for access to government and an active response?
Northern Norway tends to be more active in environmental issues than the South, but in general the country is fairly environmentally aware. The church is one of the strongest voices on the Lofoten offshore drilling issue.
In 2007 at the General Synod assembly the Church of Norway strengthened earlier statements that were made on consumption, justice and environmental concerns. I found the focus on consumption to be interesting because it seems to be kind of the elephant in the room in mainstream religions in the states.
The State of Norway has a strong green congregations program that allows churches to decide which actions make the most sense for them and there are Sunday school resources available to churches around the country that are used to teach children about our connection with the natural world.