Christian Climate Action members talk about their personal experiences of action on the street and appearing in court.
“I fight with all my being for my four grandchildren in this situation of existential danger. And I am a Christian who cares for the Earth as God’s Creation; and for the world’s poorest peoples whose experience of injustice draws a special love from God.” CCA’s Phil Kingston.
Alice: ‘I cannot preach justice and not participate in this movement’
Alice Brencher is one of a number of Christians taking part in the Just Stop Oil protests. She has recently been arrested twice, once after she surfed an oil tanker and once after she glued herself to a caravan. Here she explains why she is taking action.
The climate crisis isn’t being addressed. Instead, the government and big oil companies and corporations are profiting from the oil industry and the energy crisis, bankrolling mass death and destruction. At least 40 new coal, oil and gas extraction projects are planned in the UK in the next few years, causing almost three times the current annual emissions.
A future of oil, on our current trajectory within decades, results in millions of deaths globally from heat stress and droughts affecting global crop land causing extreme famine, migration, political instability and conflict. Oil is killing people now, fueling war and destroying our future.
Secondly, my commitment to walk the Way of Jesus compels me not to be a bystander in the suffering of the vulnerable, to speak truth to power, and choose the way of self-giving sacrificial love. In today’s context, I believe resisting forces of evil is part of what it means to participate in God’s healing kingdom of justice and peace to the nations. I cannot preach justice and not participate in this movement of climate, social, racial and economic justice. I respect that not everyone can do this, but civil resistance is our best shot at getting the government to listen.
As Antonio Guterrez said after the latest IPCC report, “climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing fossil fuels.”
I speak to the system, you have committed crimes against humanity particularly in the global south. You are robbing my generation and all generations to come of their future. As climate justice is social justice, you have shown that you do not care about me or the socially oppressed. You will not get away with this.
I will likely be in court soon for the completely nonviolent action I have done as part of Just Stop Oil.
Towards peace and justice,
Hilary: Vicar in a Police Cell
Rev Hilary Bond is a member of Christian Climate Action and was arrested as part of the ongoing Just Stop Oil protests, which saw fossil fuel infrastructure shut down across the UK.
One of the desert fathers once said, “go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” I am sitting in “my” cell. Mine for how long I am not sure, but no more than 24 hours.
The walls are tiled. White rectangles except for two rows of sea green running around the room at about waist height like a chunky and unsubtle dado rail. There are also two dark blue tiles, one in the corner they tell you the CCTV can’t see – touch to flush, and one to the right of the shiny metal locked door. Touch this one and a soft buzz can be heard as the call for attention goes through to the custody officer at his desk. The first time I press this a person appears at the head height sliding hatch in my door; the second time, a disembodied voice emerges from the circle of holes in the white tile above the blue one – it feels strange to talk to a wall.
I should probably explain why I am here. I am part of a protest group called Just Stop Oil. We want the Government to commit to no new oil or gas exploration but to invest in renewables instead. We know you see – and I don’t mean we at Just Stop Oil – I mean we the whole of humankind – we know that using oil and gas not only fuels our cars and our homes but also the climate crisis. We know what use of fossil fuel is doing to our planet. We also know what to do about it, but somehow, those who have the power to create the huge changes that we need cannot bring themselves to do it. So, comparatively few of us, have chosen to disrupt oil infrastructure in an attempt to get our government to do what needs to be done, (according to ex-Government chief scientific advisor Sir David King), within the next three to four years.
This is the fourth time that I have found myself in a cell, and I realise with a rush of something I cannot name that I recognise this place. It’s not that I have been in this same cell before, it is that the blue gym mat mattress and pillow, the curved mirror and the light blue blankets have become familiar.
I study the grout between the tiles and let my eyes turn each place where vertical and horizontal meet into the cross of Christ. He understands this place too.
There is daylight. A window which I suppose you could call mullioned; glass tiles an inch or more thick set in a framework of concrete. I can’t see out, the pattern in the glass forbids it, but the light can see me, and it can lighten my cell.
I sing. A cell of this sort has great acoustics and I go through everything I can remember; hymns, worship songs and chants. I discover later that I have been heard, not that that was the point.
I read a little; “… and by accepting all things from him I receive his joy into my soul, not because things are what they are but because God is who he is, and his love has willed my joy in them all.” (Thomas Merton) … and I pause to contemplate. I feel a deep, solid and grounded peace, even as I cry for the injustices of the world and for those who seem to think that money is more important than anything. Unexpectedly the story of Heidi comes to mind. Heidi goes with the other children to pick the strawberries her grandfather loves but while he waits at home in anticipation she goes with the others to the market and brings home a coin instead of sweet fruit. The grandfather makes her bite the coin to see if it tastes sweet. Heidi learns something about where to find that which is truly of value and the grandfather learns the importance of teaching someone that it is okay not to do what everyone else is doing.
I ground myself back in the present moment. Eyes closed I hear the metallic slip of the observation panel in the door – they check regularly that all appears to be well.
I sing again, “most high omnipotent good lord, to you be ceaseless praise outpoured and blessing without measure. From you alone all creatures came, no one is worthy you to name.” Yes and amen!
I doze. It is warm and comfortable enough. I am surprised at how easy I am finding it not to think about when I will be released and with whom, but simply to be in this moment.
It is not long though until the jangling keys turn the lock in my door. My shoes are handed to me and I am taken back to the front desk. My things are returned and I challenge them about their big single use plastic bags. They say that they will try to get that little bit of their system changed. I am pleased, but against the bigger problem I wonder how much difference it really makes. And then I am out. A welcoming hug and a trip to the cafe to await others.
Melanie: “I’m still surprised to be doing this”
Melanie Nazareth spoke recently at a Quaker meeting. Find out how she came to join Christian Climate Action and why she’s getting involved in Beyond Fossil Fuels Together – an initiative hoping to help people new to activism to step into action.
Jonathan: Sitting – Humility and Non-violent Direct Action
Member of CCA and published author (Accompaniment, Community and Nature) Jonathan Herbert has written a reflection of his experience of sitting as a protestor, blocking a road.
‘When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and sat down and began to teach’
I’m at another Insulate Britain action and I’m sitting down again. Sitting cross legged on the ground trying to keep calm, flanked either side with other determined roadblockers. We don’t talk though; just keep silent, staring ahead focusing on a fixed point, feeling the cold seep in from the ground. We notice the anger and chaos we have created, hearing the horns, the constant swearing, the occasionally more nuanced ’we sympathise with your cause, but this isn’t the way to achieve your aims’. I feel scared, guilty, but determined to stay seated, stay focused. It would be easier to stand up and talk to people, talk to the assembled media, be distracted, but it’s not what I’m called to do. What I’ve pledged to do is just sit. Do nothing be powerless, just wait and surrender to the present moment and let things take their course. So, I sit.
Blocking a road non-violently like this I would suggest can be a form of contemplative prayer. Gently going to ground, lowering your voice, making calm and slow movements are also an entrée to prayer. Sitting doing nothing, keeping still, focused, listening to your breathing, noticing the many distractions which are usually more psychological than physical but refusing to give into them. On the road it’s the blast of horns and raised voices, in the chapel they’re inner voices of distraction. Sitting in protest and sitting in contemplative prayer can both feel like a waste of time. It’s hard to measure the outcomes of either but both can be a work of transformation in the sitter.
Both demand a kind of humility and willingness to surrender, one to the powers of law and order the other to a higher power. Sitting still is an act of rebellion against the tendency to be busy, productive, achieving; something that seems almost hard wired into the minds and lives so many of us. Blocking a motorway is a direct challenge to this life of constant striving and continuous movement that is the vehicle of 20th century capitalism. Contemplative prayer too can seem a waste of time to those whose mantra is ‘time is money’. To spend time doing nothing is profoundly counter-cultural, as is to surrender your autonomy and let go of conscious thought. The great gift of this kind of prayer is that in surrendering all and abandoning our own agency, we can begin to live in a place of great freedom and the sense that everything belongs. We begin to understand what Meister Eckhardt meant when he said ‘the spiritual life is more about subtraction than addition’
Being dragged away by the police, handcuffed, stripped of your possessions and locked in a cell for me are outward signs of the abandonment to God that is the starting point for contemplative prayer. Once you’ve been arrested and given yourself into the hands of the police you surrender a huge amount of autonomy. As Jesus says to Peter at the end of John’s Gospel ‘when you were young you fastened your belt around you and walked where you chose; but when you are old you will stretch out your arms and a stranger will bind you fast and carry you where you have no wish to go’ Jn 21. 18
There’s no choice about having your finger prints, DNA and photos taken. When led into the interview room the advice is the same as to those entering prayerful silence -’no comment’. There’s even more unknowing in the waiting to know whether you’ve been charged and when you’ll be summoned to court. Risking taking non-violent direct action is an entering into that cloud of unknowing.
If contemplative prayer is about submission, then non-violent civil disobedience can lead us to understand this more fully. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus brings the two together. ‘Not my will but Yours be done’, is Jesus abandoning himself into God’s hands just before he non-violently and willingly gives himself into the hands of the Temple guards.
Contemplative prayer like non-violent direct action calls for humility, and this is illustrated in the action of sitting down. We know the Buddha famously received enlightenment after sitting under a tree. In Islam, submission is practised 5 times a day in the salat, kneeling and prostrating oneself. In the monastic tradition we are told’ go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything’
Sitting on the ground can evoke humility and remind us that ‘it was from dust you came and to dust you shall return’ and it is of course the rich hummus or topsoil that all human life depends on for food and sustenance.
When I sit in a road block or in a prayer vigil, I see no difference between the two, for one feeds the other. Sitting enables a subtle shift away from the protest of ‘standing up for the earth!’ and all the attendant temptations to be seen as virtuous or an eco-warrior. It encourages my ego to get out of the way and the power of God to work through my weakness, a living out of John the Baptists call ‘he must increase I must decrease’. Sitting reminds me that I’m really quite small and powerless, but paradoxically this can lead to a greater sense of dependence on God which in turns leads to a strong sense of empowerment. In Luke 10 it’s not Martha’s activism that Jesus commends but Mary’s sitting and listening.
Sitting reminds me that if I want to change the way the world is, and to confront the principalities and powers at work in our death dealing economic system, I need to be transformed too. So I sit.
Holly: “Why I Rebel”
In this video, by the Progressive Christian Network, Christian Climate Action member Holly Peterson breaks down in tears as she explains why, as a Christian, she has decided to take action.
Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford describes it as ‘powerful and moving.’
Ruth Valerio, Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund states ‘this is a strong call to action on the biggest issue of our time.’
Phil: 82-Year-Old Rebel
The story of Christian Climate Action member Phil Kingston who, now aged 82, has been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience multiple times.
Sam: “In Court, Exactly Where I’m Meant to Be”
Read Samantha Lindo’s account of her experience of court, pleading guilty and speaking the truth.
View videos of actions led by Christian Climate Action members.