Is it time for loyal disobedience?

(Photo: Pexels/Markus Spiske)

At the Hook Lecture last year the theologian Dr. Carmody Grey was speaking about the intersection of faith and climate change. Echoing St Paul in Romans, she asked "Why do we not do what we know we should do ?" In thinking about the climate crisis this is surely the big question.

We have known about climate change since the 1970s yet have fed our addiction to fossil fuels ever more generously since. In the Church of England we make green gestures that we know are not enough to save us. The Church Commissioners invests millions in what we know will kill us.

Recent reports tell us what we do not want to hear; that it is likely that our children will become adults in a collapsing civilization. The heating world will give us failed harvests, extreme weather, millions of migrants and battles over resources. A glance at Ukraine, reminds us what that feels like.

Thinking of that future is almost unbearable so we ease the anxiety with the actions that are easy for us. We recycle and plant wildflowers in our churchyards. But we know it's not enough; this is bigger than you or me. The crisis is global and existential, and we cannot solve it on our own. So we must ask, what needs to be done?

We are skilled at distracting ourselves with worthy but minor matters whilst avoiding what is of great importance, so we go slow with the fifth mark of mission, and focus on church growth. It's hard to do otherwise, the culture tells us to be like the weather presenter and keep smiling through heatwave and flood. We know not to rock the boat !

These are tough times to be a Christian leader. Surely not I Lord? Yet this is the time for the Church of England to fully embrace its public role, to rejoice in being established. We are called to be a prophetic and loyal voice in this crisis. We have a civic role which is much more than saying a prayer at the local Cenotaph. We have sworn our oath of obedience and it is time to honour our promises.

Sharing a pastoral responsibility we have a duty to seek the end of the oligarch-friendly economics that condemns God's people to such suffering. Fulfilling our loyal oath to the nation and the head of our church is paradoxically to be found in disobedience to the treasonous policies and practices of government and corporations which are destroying the lives of those made in God's image.

Since John Locke, it has been understood that in the UK the government does not have unlimited power. If the government is treasonous, that it's not acting in the best interests of the people, then for a citizen to not resist, is treasonous too. There is a duty to resist. This is treason: the UK government has us on track for rises in temperature which will result in the deaths of millions of people, and likely destroy our civilisation and culture. It is planning new oil fields and a coal mine. This may be in the short term interests of a few but it is certainly not in the interests of the nation.

Here our call to be disciples and the call to be good citizens coincide. Seeking first the Kingdom of God we can be obedient to our call to serve the people and seek their wellbeing. Against all our upbringing, we may discover that to be a loyal subject and a disciple of Jesus we need to break the law. This gives us pause. Sometimes, we know very clearly why we do not want to do what we need to do.

Yet, our Lord challenged the Roman Empire's judicial system and St Paul was not afraid of prison. Our lectionary recalls saints and martyrs whose witness still inspires. We know of the survival of a confessing church and the failure of great and powerful regimes. We remember Bonhoeffer, Niemoller and Kolbe.

We know such civil disobedience has been effective throughout history. We have a statue of Gandhi outside parliament and we teach our children about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Suffragettes who smashed windows on Oxford Street.

Every time we open our scriptures we are reminded that love, truth and sacrifice can shape the world. We have a record: Our Lord did not fear the courts of the Roman Empire and the early church knew prison.

This is the time for us to be prophetic and loyal, and join a growing number of others in civil resistance. This is what needs to be done. Loyal to our Church and the people - God's own - we serve, we are called to face the current situation with courage, confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Rev Mark Coleman is a retired priest with permission to officiate in the Diocese of Manchester. He has signed up for the new campaign JUST STOP OIL which will mobilise 1000+ people from all walks of life to oppose the plans for new UK Oil fields during 2022. For more info visit