Faith leaders must “grasp the nettle” on demanding action to protect the environment, a senior figure from the Christian development charity Tearfund has urged.
Ruth Valerio, the global advocacy and influencing director at Tearfund, was speaking during a panel yesterday at Civil Society Media’s Faith Week.
She said that the coronavirus crisis has exposed the depth of the environmental crisis facing the world, which is “something we have to tackle”.
She added: “We cannot let this pandemic go through without us addressing the environmental destruction we are causing.
“I think as faith leaders and faith communities we have a real role to play in grasping that nettle, and both speaking out about it but also making changes in our own lives.
“I long to see faith leaders in this country stand up and speak clearly about that.”
Valerio was echoing the words of Krish Raval, the founding director of the charity Faith in Leadership, who joined her on the panel and argued that the pandemic i s an opportunity to rethink how people interact with the natural environment.
Raval said: “I think we need to step up and say that certain things are wrong. We will not treat animals this way, we will not factory farm, we will not continue to pollute the environment in the way we have done.
“Every faith tradition has an answer to this.”
Raval also warned that the economic and environmental crises caused by coronavirus are “going to affect us for years to come”.
DFID and government reforms
Speaking about the government’s controversial decision to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, which was completed last week, Valerio said that aid charities “need to hold them [the merged department] to account, and keep making sure that overseas aid is independent”.
“That’s the big danger and the big concern, isn’t it, that it just becomes linked to our own, UK, selfish priorities and that’s how we use aid, rather than using it to benefit those who are the most needy.”
Councils partnering more with religious charities
Speaking during a session later in the day, Paul Bickley, a research fellow at the think tank Theos, said that local councils increasingly recognise the need to work with faith charities.
He said that Theos had seen “a change in mentality among decision-makers” in its recent work.
Bickley argued that this change had partly been the result of pressure on local authority funding, first after the global financial crash in 2008 and again through the effect of the coronavirus.
He said: “In so many of the ambitions they [councils] had – not just the cherry-on-the-cake type stuff but basic social services – they have had to recognise the need to partner with specific institutions and religious agencies.”
Faith charities as ‘first responders’
Theos’s latest research included interviews with people in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where the fire at Grenfell Tower claimed 72 lives in June 2017.
Bickley said: “There was relatively little relationship between the local authority and religious institutions in that borough until Grenfell.
“And then of course religious institutions were key in almost a first-responder way in that crisis, whereas the local authority was heavily criticised.”
He added: “It wasn’t that the local authority generously made space for religious communities.
“It was religious communities that were there, making the difference, while the local authority was perceived to be absent or ineffective in some way.”