Hope, Action, and Neighbor Love: The Planet and Christian Discipleship

May 31, 2023

Part 2 of this two-part conversation.

(To begin Part 1, click here)

Caleb Schut: I visit Uganda quite regularly. On my trips, I often go into the slums of Kampala. One of the quickest growing slums in Kampala is Katwe. Tucked behind larger developments, Katwe is a handful of acres packed with shabby houses and people sleeping on the ground. I have to walk sideways to get between the homes and I feel claustrophobic in the very brief time I spend there. 

The majority of people in Katwe today are from the Karamajong region in the Northeast of Uganda. The Karamajo people were historically pastoral, moving herds to wherever there was water and food. In the 20th century, they became subsistence farmers. But climate change has meant that the reliable rainy and dry seasons have disappeared. They have been in drought for years. Now, when/if it rains, it causes mudslides and flooding because the earth is unable to receive the water. Children have been sent to the slums of Kampala from Katwe in order to earn a few dollars each month to send back to Karamajong.

Being in Katwe was the first time I saw the real-life impact of climate change on the most vulnerable. The tragedy is that for the families who live in Karamojong, only generational shifts will make their homeland livable again. Only tree planting and climate altering shifts will make Karamojong an area where family farms can once again thrive.

The story of Karamoja will be the story of so many more places. 

Nate Rauh-Bieri: This is a difficult story. And you’re right, it’s playing out in so many places. Climate change is not the distant future; it’s here and now. But its effects aren’t being felt equally: those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis, like the farmers in Karamajong, are suffering its worst impacts. You have faced this story firsthand in Uganda. And though its ending is not yet written, how do you make sense of this, theologically? What spiritual resources do you draw on? 

“…those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis, like the farmers in Karamajong, are suffering its worst impacts.”

Nate Rauh-Bieri

Caleb Schut: One of our vocations as Christians in the West at this moment is to increase our sense of suffering with humans who live in parts of the world impacted by climate change. The wealthy world has contributed the most to the changes in climate like the ones faced in Karamajong. That is a heavy reality. It’s difficult to leave Katwe with the right balance of Christian moral obligation to act faithfully on the one hand and a healthy acknowledgement that I do not have the capacity to solve this enormous problem on the other. 

In the past couple of years, I’ve become convinced that part of my own discipleship needs to consider how we can love our neighbors through creation care. Here are a few things I’m trying to do better:

  • 1) Eating less meat, especially beef: I love a good steak. I also know that my choosing the chicken or fish instead of the beef doesn’t change anyone’s life. But it’s a choice that we can choose collectively that can have a significant impact. The cattle industry is brutal environmentally and has contributed significantly to the deforestation of rainforests in tropical (developing) countries. 
  • 2) Buying less stuff: Our family is making a concerted effort to buy less and especially to buy less stuff new. There are so many wonderful ways to buy second-use products, we rarely have to purchase something brand new. We’ve also canceled our Amazon Prime membership to discourage us from one-click consumption. We choose to buy from companies who are reducing the impact and increasing the reuse of their materials.
  • 3) Finances: My wife and I made climate related not-for-profits a part of our giving plan in 2023. There are so many organizations doing great things. We also need to examine where we have money invested. That’s on our list for 2023.

Nate Rauh-Bieri: I’m encouraged by your example. You’re taking action in three high-impact areas: reducing meat and dairy, buying less stuff, and moving money to where it can do good. Here are some additional areas people might consider: 

  • 4) Energy choices: choosing less carbon-intensive ways of getting around, swapping out gas for electric appliances, etc. all matter—a lot! The UN estimates around 66% of all emissions originate from household decisions. Those of us in the world who can make such decisions have a lot of power and hence, responsibility. These are also acts of faithfulness and neighbor-love. 
  • 5) Communal mindset: Our personal choices are vital, but so is having conversations and taking action—with others!—within our institutions, workplaces, denominations, and communities so that they set policies and invest in projects that care well for our wonderful and wounded planet. I think of activist (and Christian) Bill McKibben’s mantra: “The most important thing you can do as an individual is be less of an individual. Join together with movements big enough to matter.” How can we use our limited time, energy, and resources to create positive change on a more collective, systemic level, so that solutions become accessible for everyone?

“Join together with movements big enough to matter.”

Bill McKibben
  • 6) Act with others: Read a book or watch a documentary—and also talk about it with friends. Walk or bike to work—and also join advocates for better mobility infrastructure where you live. Maybe you’re looking into getting rooftop solar—get involved in efforts to bring community solar to your area. There are so many ways to get involved. Just pick a place to start.

Caleb Schut: That’s all really helpful. I’m increasingly convinced that climate action is discipleship in a world that is warming. The commitment of Christians to love their neighbor has to include climate care in 2023. But like the rest of Christian discipleship, it isn’t a solo effort. It happens in community. Perhaps this is uniquely true of climate action. 

We know what the problems are; we know who is being impacted; and we know what actions each of us can take to love our world and neighbors more completely. It will cost all of us something, but it has already cost some people everything. May we embrace hope as we actively seek to love our neighbors and care for our environment. 

Dig Deeper

Consider the following titles for your continued learning: 

Following Jesus in a Warming World by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap 

Nature documentary series by Sir David Attenborough: A Life on Planet Earth, Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Our Planet, among others. Search various streaming services or find at your local library. 

Saving Us by Katharine Hayhoe. Check out two other reviews from in All Things of this book (1) here (2).

In the Face of Climate Change, We Must Act So That We Can Feel Hopeful—Not the Other Way Around” by Katharine Hayhoe

Refugia Faith by Debra Reinstra and our recent in All Things review.

2040 documentary

Leave a comment if you have additional reading/viewing you’d like to recommend related to discipleship and care for our plant.

About the Authors
  • Caleb Schut recently moved to Australia with his family. He graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 2016, served as the associate pastor at Grace Chicago Church in Chicago, IL for six years, and currently is an Assistant Pastor at an evangelical church in Sydney. Additionally, Caleb and his wife run a non-profit called Beautiful Response in partnership with leaders in Uganda and Haiti.

  • Nate Rauh-Bieri is a climate and environmental advocate and consultant. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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