Naming (in)justice: climate change from Global South perspectives

by Caroline Wickens.

‘When I was growing up, Marsabit was a green oasis with streams of water and many trees’. A Kenyan colleague was describing his childhood in this hilltop town in the deserts of Northern Kenya. Marsabit has been in the news recently. After five years of drought, it’s finally raining there – but the earth is so dry that it cannot absorb the water, and the remaining animals are being swept away in flash floods.

The pattern of climate change is repeated, in different ways, right across the continent, with devastating impact[1]. In a context where churches play a massive role, African theologians are increasingly reflecting on the ways in which God is calling the people to respond. One starting-point is an understanding of human nature as fully embedded in God’s good creation. From Kenya, Jude Ongong’a rejects the ‘anthropocentric outlook advocated by the European Renaissance’[2], alongside several other writers who resist the spirit/matter dualism that flowed from Greek to Christian thinking and has continued to influence aspects of Western Christianity. They understand humanity as essentially relational. Human beings exist in a three-way relationship with the natural environment, with one another and with God[3], in patterns that are co-operative, not autonomous, and certainly not dominating or exploitative[4].

Several scholars explore broader concepts of unity and harmony. Kenyan theologian Eugene Wangiri focuses on urumwe, a Kikuyu concept expressing ‘a harmonious existence of entities whose being is ‘being-together-with-others’[5]. His invitation is to ‘live urumwe’ by recognising the interconnectedness of creation as the place where an incarnate God is revealed to us as Emmanuel, God with us.

Zambian theologians Kuzipe Nalwamba and Teddy Sakupapa use the New Testament language of koinonia to develop this approach[6]. They affirm the whole of creation as ‘God’s beloved’ and locate humanity within that wider community, in fellowship with the earth and with God, creator of all. Koinonia fosters an outlook on life where creation’s common life and good are at the core of all relationships. It challenges the disregard for creation with which Christianity has historically been linked. They identify our celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a key location for shaping our koinonia with one another, with creation and with Christ, focusing the essence of the church’s being and calling as an ecological community. Their reflections include a striking focus on the Holy Spirit, enabling fellowship as the one who gives life to all. Alongside this, Mary Gecaga invites participation in the ‘dance of creation’, where the perichoresis of the Trinity is mirrored as mountains and hills join in God’s dance[7].

Diakonia opens a second space for reflection. Environmental degradation creates hardship for millions, and the church’s call to service echoes Christ’s call to be good neighbours to those who struggle. However, our diakonia needs to go beyond offering practical help to folk in need, or reforming our own practice towards greater ecological responsibility. As God’s people, we are called to sustain and affirm creation as the location of God’s life[8] from a perspective that is hope-filled and kingdom-centred. Paul describes creation as ‘subjected to futility’ (Rom.8:20) but living in hope that it will be set free from its slavery to destruction. Margaret Gecaga illuminates this hope and ties it in with the story of creation by saying that we must be ‘gardeners as well as guardians’[9], an image of collaboration with God’s world in the expectation of new growth, flowers and fruit.

Finally, worship matters. Ghanaian theologian Robert Agyarko[10] writes about kerygma. Within the framework of proclamation, he names the importance of lament as a way of expressing our experience of disruption and longing for transcendence. Lament subverts the damaging status quo, names injustice and violence, protests ecological destruction, joins with the Spirit’s groans (Rom.8:26 – 27). It is an act of divine interruption, naming what is happening and creating the space for imaginative engagement with the question ‘how could this be different?’

What will all this mean for the people of Marsabit? The work of African theologians resources African churches to articulate what is happening to them; it also challenges the churches of the northern hemisphere to transformation, as part of the body of Christ.

This is the third article in a series – also see Naming (in)justice: an exploration of some conversations from the Global South and Naming (in)justice: women’s voices from the global South

The Methodist Church is currently undertaking a two year exploration of what it means to be a justice-seeking church through the Walking with Micah project.  Theology Everywhere is working in partnership with the project to host a series of articles about justice. For more information visit

[1] Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2004, describes this in The Challenge for Africa, Arrow:London 2009

[2] Ongong’a JJ, Towards an African Environmental Theology, pp.50 – 70 in Theology of Reconstruction eds. MN Getui and EA Obeng, Acton:Nairobi 1999:63

[3] Ongong’a 1999:60

[4] Gecaga M, Creative Stewardship for a New Earth, pp.28 – 49 in Theology of Reconstruction 1999:31

[5] Wangiri E, Urumwe Spirituality and the Environment, pp.71 – 89 in Theology of Reconstruction 1999:72.

[6] Nalwamba K and Sakupapa TC, Ecology and Fellowship (Koinonia): a Community of Life, pp.75 – 93 in The Church in God’s Household: Protestant Perspectives on Ecclesiology & Ecology eds.CW Ayre and EM Conradie, Cluster:Pietermaritzburg 2017:75

[7] Gecaga 1999:34

[8] Nalwamba and Sakupapa 2017:83

[9] Gecaga 1999:38

[10] Agyarko RO and J Cilliers, Ecology and Proclamation, pp.31 – 53 in The Church in God’s Household: Protestant Perspectives on Ecclesiology & Ecology eds.CW Ayre and EM Conradie, 2017:45

One thought on “Naming (in)justice: climate change from Global South perspectives”

  1. Hi, I’ve tried multiple times to get this full page up and am told every time that it can’t be found. I don’t know if anyone else has had the same experience but I wonder if there’s a glitch somewhere that can be put right? I’ve never had a problem before. Thanks Philip Hyne

    Sent from Mail for Windows


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