What do we as Christians have to learn from Extinction Rebellion?

I was fortunate to spend some time with rebels at Marble Arch and Parliament Square last week.

This is a movement with a difference, and we have much to learn.

You may have noticed that the only arrests were of people who had chosen to stand or sit somewhere which was inconvenient – in the road, in the doorway of Shell offices, on top of the Docklands Light Railway. No-one was arrested, that I know of, for vandalism (chalked notices have been washed away now), abusive behaviour, littering, drug or alcohol use.

Chants were not of anger, but most commonly chants such as ‘we love you’.

Why was this?

Extinction Rebellion have 10 principles:

  1. We have a shared vision of change. Creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
  2. We set our mission on what is necessary. Mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organising” to achieve this.
  3. We need a regenerative culture. Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
  4. We openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system. Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
  5. We value reflecting and learning. Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
  6. We welcome everyone and every part of everyone. Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
  7. We actively mitigate for power. Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
  8. We avoid blaming and shaming. We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
  9. We are a non-violent network. Using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
  10. We are based on autonomy and decentralisation. We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power.

Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.

My first challenge to Christians is, ‘do we hold those principles?’

  1. Do we have a shared vision of change? – Do we want to see Love winning over all, to see all people committing to loving one another and knowing they are loved (as Jesus commanded). Do we want life for all people in the generations to come?
  2. What is our mission? Are we taking Jesus as our example? Do we recognise that the current system needs to change or are we going along with a society and culture which is denying human rights, tolerating homelessness, and failing to look after creation and our future?
  3. Are we about church or culture? Looking again at Jesus, did he stick to the synagogue or did he challenge the culture?
  4. Are we comfortable? Is it nice to go to church? Are we prepared to be challenged ourselves?
  5. Do we consider what we have done and are doing regularly? Are we prepared to change what we do if what we’re doing isn’t working or is being hurtful or negative?
  6. Do we really and truly welcome everyone and every part of everyone? I don’t just mean do we welcome those people who manage to cross the threshold of the church door but are we known for our inclusivity? Do we go out of our way to be open and welcoming to people who don’t come into our space? As a church, are we truly accepting of the LGBTQ community, for example?
  7. Jesus constantly challenged the status quo and the hierarchy, but do we? Is the vicar, the pastor, the bishop, the deacon, the denomination given unquestioned power?
  8. Has our faith become one of blame and shame? Do we point the finger at others or ourselves and enter into an endless round of judgement, conviction, repentance and forgiveness? Or can we accept our weakness and be kind to ourselves and others, not blaming or shaming but rather, enjoying the all-encompassing love of God?
  9. Are we non-violent in our words and actions? Do we answer back, pull rank, insist on our own way, ignore others? Or do we listen, consider and put ourselves last?
  10. Do we work together collectively, listening to the voice of the Spirit and recognising that God can move in mysterious ways?

My favourite part of Extinction Rebellion principles comes at the end:

‘Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.’

So reminiscent of Mark 9:14 ‘For the one who is not against us is for us.’

But it’s not just the writing down of these principles that makes Extinction Rebellion special. I would argue that we Christians have some of the best principles written down in the teachings of Jesus.

It’s the training and action that makes the difference.

I attended an induction at Extinction Rebellion, as everyone is encouraged to do before taking any action.

We were taught about non-violence, how to meet anger and frustration with acceptance, a listening ear and love.

We were taught how to de-escalate a situation that could get violent.

We shared our thoughts; everyone was respected.

We were encouraged to look after ourselves, to be aware of our needs – maybe of the need to take a break, to eat, to be quiet, to get warm.

And we organised ourselves into small groups of 4 or 5, called Affinity Groups. These people were your friends to whom you could reach out if you needed support – you swapped phone numbers, you stayed near each other.

Non-violence and community building don’t come naturally, but they can be taught and learned. Friendships were made, we all committed out loud to keep the principles.

There is no in group and out group in Extinction Rebellion. There is no ‘membership’. We are all members if you like by virtue of our commitment to the principles and values.

Leaving London, I was full of hope, not just because people are waking up to the science of climate change and acting on it, but because this civil disobedience is being done in a spirit of love and peace.

I know it will not always be easy and there will be differences and fallings out, but Extinction Rebellion seems to me to be aligned to the way the Spirit works and I think we as a body of believers have much to learn and apply to how we are with each other.

Thalia Carr

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