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Jeremiah, Justice and Climate Breakdown


"For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood… then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever." —Jeremiah 7:5


About 2600 years ago, Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, presented the people of Judah with a choice—a choice between two different journeys that would lead to two very different destinations.


One way, the way of "business as usual," would lead them to destitution, death, and destruction. The other way, what we may call the narrow path, would lead them to love, liberty, and life.



The only way to avoid the car crash of civilization and cultural collapse would be to not continue doing what they are currently doing. Rather, they are called to slam on the brakes, amend their ways, and repent. A new world, the prophet tells us, is possible.


In our verse, we see that amending their ways means rejecting 'business as usual':


(1) No longer oppressing the outsider (Nationalism, Racism, and Cultural Apartheid must lose their power if a new way forward is to be found).

(2) No longer oppressing the vulnerable (Economic Policies that put profits before the vulnerable must lose their power if a new way forward is to be found).

(3) Rejecting the shedding of innocent blood (Violence, Empire building, and Militarism, which shed the blood of the innocent must lose their power if a new way forward is to be found).


Instead of injustice and oppression, the prophet calls the people to 'execute justice.' The new rallying cry that must be embodied to avoid collapse is no longer power games, pride, and privilege but is to be found in the word 'justice' and the hope of justice.


Justice is the dream of the prophets. As the prophet Amos imagines the day 'when justice will roll on like a river.' Justice is also at the heart of God, as Isaiah says, 'For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.' To know God is to do justice.



In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see justice embodied and entwined with extravagant mercy. He welcomes the weak, gathers the oppressed, and lays down the prophetic challenge to the unjust structures and organizations of his day. Overturning tables, he says, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a den of robbers.' Ethnocentric apartheid has no place in the justice and covenant-shaped purposes of God.


Turning to our own times, we see parallels. "Business as usual" will lead to catastrophe and breakdown. The status quo of carbon-intensive capitalism and consumerism, bankrolled by corporations that put profit before people, acts like the foot on the accelerator as we exceed CO2 levels and temperatures that are not compatible with human existence.


To move from the broad way to the narrow way must involve 'repentance,' a turning around, or as our passage puts it, they must truly amend their way and doings.


We are at 1.2 degrees above preindustrial temperatures. The icebergs are melting, the waters are rising, the forests are burning, refugees are rising, conflict is growing, food supplies are vulnerable. We are heading to 1.5 degrees in the coming decade, and without sustained and deliberate repentance, recalibration, and alignment with justice, we face a world of mass migration, mass starvation, and societal collapse. As Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said, 'The horsemen of the climate apocalypse are at the gates.' Or in the words of the UN Secretary-General, 'We face a direct existential threat.'


As a church, we choose the way of Jesus, the way of justice. We confess where we have become complicit and caught up in economic structures and systems that lead to the ruin of God's good creation. Yet, we also seek to speak truth to power. Personal mitigation is not enough, and so we look for systemic change.


And so we point out that 100 companies have been responsible for 70% of carbon emissions since 1988. And so we speak justice-inspired truth when we lament the fact that these companies are financed by financial institutions. Since the Paris Agreement was signed, 1.9 trillion dollars have been invested in the fossil fuel industry. While profits will be made, the cost for this will be borne by the most vulnerable, as increased CO2 emissions mean increased temperatures, which means increased death.


Let us turn attention to a High Street Bank.



Barclays, as the bank which is the worst climate offender in Europe, has invested 85 billion since 2015 in the fossil fuel industry, of which 24 billion is in fossil fuel expansion.


Let justice speak. We cannot use all of the carbon in existing reserves and remain below 2 degrees. And to expand and find new reserves is simply unjust, unethical, and if these reserves were turned into emissions, it would be a crime against humanity.


Let justice shout. Barclays need to change their ways. Customers should cancel their accounts, and shareholders should do all in their power to reform. Members of the public should also, through justice and peace loving rebellion, rebel against these dark forces, hold them to account, and use non-violent civil disobedience to, as it were, overturn the tables and offer the world a new way forward full of justice-shaped possibilities.


"For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood… then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever." —Jeremiah 7:5

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