Climate change, hunger and the Church's role
As we get older, many of us naturally start thinking about our own mortality and the mortality of others. This kind of daydreaming isn’t new to me, especially having grown up as a first-generation Korean American who both heard and experienced the impact that violence, persecution and poverty can have on a family and on communities.
As I continue to interact through Bread for the World with people globally who are most in need, I can't help but reflect on our life purpose as God's people. The Church is here for a purpose, and our purpose is clear: love God and love others.
As Christians, we tend to silo our callings without recognizing how our good works and their outcomes are interconnected. Some of us are called to care for people living in poverty, others to disciple and lead new believers and others to serve or care for children or the elderly. We are good at segmenting the root causes and our proposed solutions to addressing the problems of today’s world, but the more we are able to see that our work is interconnected, the more we will see the exponential fruit of our labors.
One example that deserves special attention in our world today is the call to address climate change, hunger and their interrelationship. These crises sometimes keep me up at night. Like many others, I am tempted to believe that each separately are too big to actually see meaningful change. But that simply isn’t true. In fact, I am seeing this can happen as governments, churches, and non-profit and community organizations work together.
The Christian call to focus on climate change and hunger
Recently, Bread, in coordination with partners in Africa, organized a “Convocation on Climate and Hunger” in Nairobi, Kenya. This convocation gathered nearly 70 global faith leaders predominantly from Africa as well as parts of Europe, and North America to engage around the causes, impacts, and solutions to hunger. We heard from people directly impacted by hunger because of climate change and engaged with faith leaders working with them. For me, this was a significant, transformational event that will help Bread deepen our roots and commitment to alleviating hunger through engagement on climate justice.
At the conclusion of the convocation, we came together around a pledge to continue working together. “A Faithful Voice on Hunger and Climate Justice,” is an unprecedented statement on the integrated reality and challenge of climate care and hunger. In the statement, we call on Christians and churches to:
“recognize Christ’s suffering presence in the communities hurt first and hardest by climate change: those without adequate means to flourish, the historically underserved, and those least likely to have a voice at the table where policy decisions are made – the very people who suffer disproportionately.”
Climate change and hunger have never been disconnected. According to the World Food Program USA, 80% of people experiencing hunger in the world live in areas prone to natural disasters and extreme weather. Additionally, in 2020 alone, extreme weather events displaced 30 million people. Currently, 1.8 billion people live in water-stressed areas, and this number is expected to grow to about half of the world population by 2030.
Regardless of whether climate change means more water or less, higher temperatures or lower, the fact remains that the changing weather patterns globally impact not just God’s creation but God’s creatures. Yes, this refers to the animals, but also to all people created in His image. I have been at conferences where Christians have declared climate change to be the issue we need to tackle. Others will say it’s hunger. The truth is that both are the issues we are called to address in our day. Both are devastating to what is most important to God: people.
Many of us long for justice to run like a mighty river, but more often than not, it begins with a trickle. That is what A Faithful Voice on Hunger and Climate Justice is meant to be, It is the beginning of an integrated approach on a global scale to affirm the direct link between the increasing changes in our global climate and the devastating impact on the world’s most marginalized, led by those most affected. To be clear, it is often not those who are most impacted who are contributing to their demise, but it is the ones looking back at us in the mirror. In fact, 10% of the world’s wealthiest individuals are responsible for around half of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Why the Church?
Christians are called to herald this truth. The entire Christian ecosystem is one of integration and partnership. God modeled this for us in the personification of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus modeled this in His life by demonstrating the kingdom of God in both word and deed. God’s understanding of family modeled this when He welcomed all, Jews and Gentiles alike into His warm embrace. The Bible’s teachings inspire, empower and motivate us to love each other and His creation. It is our job to be the trickle that will run like a mighty river to affect those most impacted by climate change and hunger.
As I also grow older, I become more sober-minded because too few of us believe that big issues like climate change and hunger can be eradicated.
“There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body.” (1 Cor. 12:12). My hope and prayer are that as Christians and churches un-silo all that divides us, we will soon begin to realize the multiplying power of an integrated vision of God’s kingdom on earth. And we can begin with our thoughts and actions surrounding the intersection of climate change and hunger.
Only when we finally realize that our actions impact someone a thousand miles away will we be tempted to consider their needs first. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr aptly reminded us from Birmingham Jail, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality...Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Taking action that will positively impact many lives near and far is a calling worthy of all our pursuits. My prayer is that Christians and churches will join us in this effort of loving others just as God loved us.
Rev. Eugene Cho is president and CEO of Bread for the World, a nonpartisan Christian advocacy organization urging national and global decision-makers to help end hunger – in the U.S. and around the world.