Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Equippers as Environmentalist: Re-Imagining Leadership in Today’s Western Church Part VII

If you are just starting the series, you might find it helpful to read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV ,Part V, and Part VI first. Now let’s look at another major shift taking place today.

From Rural Living to Urban Living
According to the Population Reference Bureau, through most of history, human beings have engaged in rural living.  As recent as 1800, only 3 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas.  By 1900, almost 14 percent were urbanites.  But it is within this past decade that the world reached a symbolic point where more than half the world’s population moved from rural living to urban living.  According the to the U.N., by 2025, 61 percent of the people on the planet will live in urban areas (Davey 2002:5).

As Andrew Davey reminds us in his book Urban Christianity and the Global Order, “The world is now an urban place.  The resources and concerns of the church need to acknowledge this.  This new situation means that, more than ever, theological reflection is needed on cities and the future of urban life” (Davey 2002:7).

So what are some of the issues that arise due to this monumental shift?  There is the impact that cities have on depopulated rural areas that help to feed and care for people in the cities.   Cities’ ecological footprints are growing much larger than their political areas, to the point of affecting the whole planet. As Davey writes, “The extent of a footprint is global as for example, resources are drawn from the rain forest of Southeast Asia, the copper mines of Africa, or the vineyards of Chile and Argentina, vast areas of plant life are required to consume the carbon dioxide output often in a different country, just as a city’s pollutants may eventually fall as acid rain on the communities and forests hundreds of miles away.  Wackernagel and Ress calculate that the hectare footprint per citizen is 4.27 in Canada, 5.1 in the US but only 0.38 in India” (Davey 2002:18).

While the Canadian and U.S. footprint is huge, the footprint of the poorest 20 percent of the population of North America is less than a quarter of the wealthiest 20 percent.  Just thinking about our ecological footprint raises all kinds of issues, from social justice both within and outside of the city, to the issue of globalization.  Globalization is an amalgamation of new technology, new transportation, and new communication networks that have created a global village where time and space have been redefined and old boundaries like nation-state have been blurred.  This new world has given rise to new international and transnational entities that are shaping the future with increasing pervasiveness.  The accumulative forces of globalization continues to widen the resource gap and this creates new questions in regard to social justice, identity, and a sense of belonging.

Urbanization and globalization are huge shaping forces in which the church needs to grow more literate, because we build our environment and then our environment shapes us.  In 1996, Habitat II, the U.N.’s commission on human settlements, converged in Istanbul to pose important questions about urban living.  The introduction to the preparatory report, “An Urbanizing World” warns against complacency: “One of the greatest ironies here is that the signs of urbanization are now so evident, so much part of our daily lives, that we have come to take them for granted as part of the ‘normal’ urban scene: the slums and ghettos, the homeless, the paralyzing traffic, the poisoning of our urban air and water, drugs, crime, the alienation of our youth, the resurgence of old diseases, such as tuberculosis, and the spread of new ones such as AIDS.  Every city knows the signs; every city must fight them” (Davey 2002:43).

Gorringe in his book A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment and Redemption, argues that a Trinitarian theology ought to be concerned about space, architecture, design, public policy, ecological sustainability, and city planning, because all of life expresses our theology and even buildings make statements.  He proposes a Trinitarian mapping of spatiality. God the Holy Spirit, the Redeemer, is “the author and inspirer of all those visions of a better human environment” (Gorringe 2002:48), and God the Father is the Creator who “brings order out of chaos, the structuring of space by form” (Gorringe 2002:48), and God the Son, the Reconciler “takes flesh in order to teach peace to the nations and make justice concrete” (Gorringe 2002:49).

Davey commends Leonie Sandercocks’s approach to planning and justice in the cosmopolis saying, “The new paradigm for planning that Sanderock advocates is mediated and sustained in what liberation theologians have taught us in the praxis where theory, reflection, and action combine, subject to the critique of marginal communities for whom change is a matter of life or death” (Davey 2002:53).  How will the church live out her faith in this context?  Who will she depend on?  This brings us to the final shift I would like to address in the next post, the religious shift from the Christendom era to the Post-Christendom context.


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