PRESS RELEASE:Call for ‘cloud of witnesses’ to support Christian climate protesters on trial

Monday 23rd May 2016

Contact: Ruth Jarman 07970 907784 / 01252 849904

Climate Change_149Supporters of action against climate change are invited to gather in front of Hammersmith Magistrates Court at 9am on Tuesday 31st May to pray and vigil as five Christian climate activists go on trial for whitewashing the walls of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

On the first day of the Paris climate conference in November of last year, five members of Christian Climate Action exposed the hypocrisy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change by whitewashing its walls and rebranding it the Department for Extreme Climate Change in black paint. The protesters were arrested and charged with criminal damage.

The activists will enter court at 9:15am. After this there will be short vigils on the hour and half hour outside court throughout the day. Supporters are welcome to join these vigils at any time throughout the day for as short or long a time as they wish. More details: http://tinyurl.com/hp2v3h4

One of the five, Westley Ingram, said,

‘We stand everyday before a Judge who holds us to account. This day in court must be considered in this light. There are two judges, two laws and two authorities ruling on our actions and one must be subservient to the other. The conduct of this government through DECC is on trial today as well ourselves. We encourage Christians to consider whether civil disobedience may be considered holy obedience when the law of the land is in conflict with the law of love as exemplified by Jesus Christ.’

Phil Kingston, 80, said:

‘I am looking forward to speaking on behalf of my grandchildren and their generation, and the generations who will follow them: to continue to add to this unprecedented concentration of greenhouse gases when we know that they are causing climate change is, I believe, to cause criminal damage at a worldwide level.’

Helen Whitall, said:

‘What we did was reasonable under the circumstance. As a Christian I feel that whilst it is essential to always act out of love for God and others, I have a responsibility to speak out against injustice to protect all that God loves, human and non-human, which may at times involve non-violent direct action in the tradition of Christ and the prophets where I feel justice and truth are being silenced.’

Ruth Jarman, said:
‘For 20 years I have been campaigning on climate change and it is clear to me that lawful political action is not being heeded. When we look back to times when governments and their laws were wrong we revere those who broke the law to stand up for what is right. In many cases peaceful civil disobedience enabled the change to a better society. The law is here to keep order and peace but climate change is set to bring unimaginable chaos and breakdown of global civil society. Campaigning to the limit of the law and then standing by and watching the destruction of what God has made can’t be right. When there is a mismatch between obeying the laws of our country and those of God, I have to go with the latter. It is Christian obedience, rather than civil disobedience. For me, being a Christian requires me to listen to my conscience and act accordingly.’

The group has received support from a number of theologians. The scholar, writer and broadcaster, Professor Alastair McIntosh said,

‘Christian Climate Action is a howl of prophetic protest against the kings of our time, who have turned their backs on caring for the Creation, and imagine they can do so with spiritual impunity.’

Professor Tim Gorringe, Emeritus Professor of Theological Studies at the University of Exeter, said:

‘Wendell Berry speaks of organized Christianity as a “respecter and comforter of profitable iniquities”. This includes war, in all its forms, which is blessed and hallowed in every Cathedral and in most parish churches, and support for an economic system which threatens to make human life on earth impossible. Both are in contradiction of every single line of the Messianic Writings. To be Church, which is disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, is to protest these blasphemies and to call for a politics and an economy which is answerable to the God of Life.’

ENDS

Contact: Ruth Jarman 07970 907784 / 01252 849904

Editors Notes:
More information, including statements of support and photographs, can be found on our website: http://www.christianclimateaction.wordpress.com
A video of our action: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/climate-change-activists-vandalise-government-building-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks-a6754496.html
The letter handed into DECC at the time of the action: https://christianclimateaction.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/dear-amber-the-letter-we-handed-in-to-decc-to-explain-our-re-branding-exercise/
The statement read out by one of the five, Ruth Jarman, at her police interview following arrest: https://christianclimateaction.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/ruth-jarmans-statement-read-at-police-interview-at-charing-cross-police-station-30th-nov-2015/

Phil’s reflection on CCA at Ffos-y-Fran

Action on Tuesday 3rd May helping to shut down Ffos y Fran, the UK’s largest open-cast coal mine for the day.

IMG_1564.JPGOrganised by Reclaim the Power and 350.org, this marked the beginning of 2 weeks of action world-wide to keep coal in the ground. I was with four members of Christian Climate Action who were asked to be one of two teams to block internal roads at the mine so that transport would be unable to take workers to the area of current excavation. Our brief was for five of us, Ruth Jarman, Martin Newell, Jo Frew, Julie Timbrell and myself, to go to the narrower of the two roads before 6 30am when the shift was to start and for Ruth, Martin and me to lie down in the road and lock-on to one-another. We were committed to be respectful of those who we met and to do no damage to machinery. After getting into the mine by crossing over two barbed-wire fences with the help of a small carpet – and under the eyes of helicopter crew – we found the road, locked-on, and spent the best part of 3 hours taking in the sight of a beautiful blue sky and delicate clouds, marred  by the vapour trails and the disturbance which they trigger in us – spreading death in their faraway silence.

A member of staff came over to let us know that we were trespassing and that the police had been informed. He explained that the safety of the protestors was their priority and that none of the workforce would be coming where we were. We had some good moments of connection with him when he told us that his father and grandfather had been miners and that he was proud of that tradition. I said that my grandfather had been a miner in the Rhondda about 12 miles from this one and that I had come to know what he hadn’t, namely that burning coal is destroying the planet and harming life. He said that he has three children and is having to consider these issues himself. By about 9am, some 400 of our colleagues had got into the mine and had closed it for the day. No-one was arrested. I was grateful that anxieties I’d had about violence had not been fulfilled.

Being locked-on was a new experience for me. It triggers vulnerability. It is also very satisfying in meeting needs for meaning and contribution. It is so special to experience the support of friends, especially Jo and Julie whose job was to make sure we were ok. This is what life is about, not more stuff but relationships, the beauty of the Earth, and its life-forms. We ended our stay in this desolate place, literally a scar on the Earth, with a prayer of gratitude that the morning’s outcome had been good;  and asking for a huge change of heart towards care for the Earth, the poorest peoples as the ones most affected by climate change, and the generations who will follow us – and that we be given the grace to find an economy which is a subsidiary of the Earth instead of the current one which regards the Earth as its subsidiary.

Phil Kingston

100 years of recognition of the right to Conscientious Objection

A sermon by Steve Hucklesby, given at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, on the 8th May 2016, to mark 100 years of the recognition of the right to conscientious objection.  We are posting it on our site because we think it says really helpful things about why Christians should sometimes follow their conscience rather than the law.

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Each year Conscientious Objectors day is marked on 15 May. So as we approach this day this year, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on ‘conscience’. How does our faith impact on conscience? And are the insights we might gain from those who have stood by their principles and suffered as a result.

This year is rather special as we mark 100 years of the recognition of the right to conscientious objection. Conscription was introduced in the UK in 1916. It was introduced because during the First World War we were struggling to get sufficient voluntary recruits for the needs of the army.

The Trinity Hall, Book of Remembrance lists 134 members of Trinity Hall who tragically died in that war. We remember to this day their sense of duty and calling. No doubt some who fought in that war will have had conflicted opinions about the war and about their part in it. Even so once conscription was introduced in spite of their doubts they responded to the call of the nation to fight.

Others could not in all good conscience fight under any circumstances. Conscientious objectors suffered ridicule and were accused of a lack of patriotism. Women were encouraged to present them with a white feather – a symbol of cowardice. There were 16,000 people who registered as conscientious objectors. Of these 6,000 were imprisoned. This was often because they failed to gain absolute exemption but instead were required by the tribunal to put on uniform and serve as non-combatants in the military.

I am going to talk about briefly about the lives of two conscientious objectors before coming on to our reading from Acts 4.

But first some thoughts on the nature of conscience and how is it perceived in our scriptures.

Philosophers largely accept that conscience is formed not only by powers of rational reasoning but stems from a sense of morality that is deeply embedded within us. Our moral integrity forms a part of our sense of identity – our own sense of our worth as individuals. Where people of faith may part company from secular philosophers is in the belief that God is the source of all righteousness.

The Old Testament gives an account of God giving to Moses laws for the people of Israel on tablets of stone but the tablets of stone are not where God intends law to rest. God’s new covenant is expressed through Jeremiah. This looks forward to a time when,I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. In their minds and on their hearts. Recognition maybe that God intends law not only to guide our behaviour but also to transform our being.

In the Psalms and Proverbs we frequently see the heart referred to as the seat of conscience – the place where morality resides. For example the Psalmist implores God to create in us a pure heart. We see a thirst for teaching “… that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. An appeal to Turn my heart towards your statutes”.

The expectation is that our conscience, or sense of moral integrity, is transformed by God’s action.

I am going to provide accounts of two young men who objected to joining the army on the grounds of conscience but let us also recognise that for others, their conscience led them to an equally strong sense that the German aggression had to be stopped.

Many Conscientious Objectors were motivated by a religious conviction. One such example is that of a young Methodist local preacher William Burwell. In 1914 he initially had told his mother that in all likelihood he would respond to the voluntary call to fight. However on an army training ground he saw sacks of straw suspended between trenches. Into these sacks army recruits were taught to thrust their bayonets. On seeing this he had a change of heart. He recalled in his memoire:

“the thought came to me like a flash. That is not the way Jesus taught us to behave towards our enemies. It was a conviction that came to me with sufficient force to make me resolve to endure whatever was involved in refusing to fight. My firm belief was that when conscription came I should be shot.”

William Burwell spent the war in prison in harsh conditions suffering much mental and physical hardship.

My second account comes from another Methodist, Jack Foister and his motivations and outlook were a little different. Jack Foister was the son of a Cambridge boat builder. In contrast to William Burwell, Jack had a strong political motivation and was a socialist. Like William Burwell he had a good evangelical upbringing. He had won a scholarship to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. But studies had been put off by the war, so he ended up teaching at King’s School, Peterborough. The headmaster at King’s School was anxious to keep his teachers. He tried to persuade Jack to not to claim conscientious objection but to claim exemption on the grounds of the educational needs of the school and on his genuinely poor eyesight.

Jack turned this down and instead applied for conscientious objection on the grounds that he believed the war to be wrong. A tribunal determined that he must put on uniform and take up service in the military as a non-combatant. But for Jack it was not acceptable to be supporting the war in any way. When a warrant was made for his arrest he handed himself in at a police station. He was later imprisoned, tied up, punished for not obeying military orders and eventually one of 35 people sentenced to death at a barracks in France, where he had been forcibly taken. The 35 then had their sentences commuted to 10 years in prison and Jack was eventually released in 1919.

In all likelihood Jack could have quietly sat the war out teaching in Peterborough. As a Cambridge graduate before the war he had a bright future to look forward to.  But now, as a conscientious objector, it was almost impossible to get a job.  

What was the point? What did this act of resistance achieve? You might think not very much – other than for Jack to know that he had been true to himself and to his ideals.

It is probably because conscience forms a part of our sense of who we are, that people like Jack Foister are prepared to take great risks. The American Civil Rights movement was at its core about preserving people’s dignity and self-image, as much as it was about achieving political aspirations. Martin Luther King said that “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because conscience tells you it is right.” 

On resistance Dietrich Bonheoffer comes to mind.

In 1939 Dietrich Bonheoffer went to the United States for a few months to escape the draft. He could have sat out the war in America but recorded in his diary that it was simply ‘unbearable’ or ‘unthinkable’ for a German to be there. For him it seemed to amount to abandonment of his fellow Germans. He returned to Germany to join the resistance with all the risk that went with that.

Again we see this sense of having little choice but to go with conscience.

Peter and John’s actions in Acts Ch 3 and 4 are of a rather different order. Their motivations are not essentially political. We see them healing the sick and preaching salvation through Christ. Unlike Bonheoffer they were not involved in plotting a political revolution.

The openness and honesty of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin provided the Annas the High Priest with a glimpse into their hearts. The judges realised that Peter and John are unschooled ordinary men. Annas still thought that there might be a chance of persuading them not to preach – but he was put straight “We cannot help ourselves. (This is who we are – this is our calling). And so we see here a clash between personal conviction and authority – in the case of Peter and John the conviction arises from their direct encounter with Jesus, and from the Great Commission.  In verse 19 they recognise the mandate of the Sanhedrin to sit in judgement, but say rather bluntly Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God”. The implication being that if Christ’s commission to heal and preach in His name is contrary to the Sanhedrin’s interpretation of law, then the law itself stands condemned before God.

Now, there are different views as to whether actions of civil disobedience can be justified in the UK today.

The Christian tradition has a high respect for the law and the process of law. In a democracy such as our own there is an ethical cost associated with choosing to contravene the law.

Yet members of our churches are among those who have been arrested in actions of civil disobedience: we think for example of the Occupy Movement following the financial crisis of 2009; at demonstrations over the fracking of gas; blocking entrances to the Aldermaston site to protest the UK’s continued investment in nuclear weapons and blocking the Government sponsored arms fair held in London. In all these actions of non-violent civil disobedience we can see Christians at the forefront.

If you have taken the exceptional step of going against the authority of the police in protest then you need to have an explanation as to why the issue in question warrants such exceptional action. In some cases the explanation has included the defence that they are seeking to prevent the execution of a greater crime. And indeed a defence along these lines was accepted by a Judge in a court in London two weeks ago. Five people were found not guilty following their obstruction of the London Arms Fair.

Actions such as these are designed to cause us to think.

I wonder whether we have become too accustomed to thinking of morality as a private matter. We may think of morality as something that applies to me and my behaviour. It is not so fashionable to be talking about morality in public life.

On aspects of public life do we search our consciences?

What are the issues around which you would want to speak out?

Do we have that sense that God is writing his laws in our minds and on our hearts? Engaging not only our powers of reasoning but also our heart.

For we would want to respond with the Psalmist “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer”.

Steve Hucklesby works for the Joint Public Issues Team: Baptists, Church of Scotland, Methodists and United Reformed Church working together.

This was given as a sermon reflecting personal opinions on these issues.

How you can support CCA

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On 31st May five members of CCA are standing trial for rebranding the Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC) the ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’, in an attempt to expose the fact that DECC’s actions on climate change do not match up to its fine words (read more about what we did here). There are many ways you can support us even if you have not been able to take part in direct action with us yourself-

  1. Make a noise about what the government is doing – our whitewashing action was only small, and the government is still heading fast in the wrong direction on climate change, supporting fossil fuels and cutting support for renewables, efficiency and the green economy. We did what we did to expose the truth behind the DECC’s claims on climate. But if we want to really make a difference, we need as many people as possible to speak up about it and not let it continue uncontested. Write to your MP (template email here), the DECC (template letter here), and tell others what’s happening.
  2. Pray the dangerous prayers – pray for us standing trial on 31st May. Pray the Spirit will be evident in us, and will speak the truth through us. Pray for courage. Pray for clarity. Pray God will be made known more fully. Pray for us as we decide where to go from here. But – we also challenge you to pray earnestly about your own response to climate change; where is God wanting you to get involved? Where might Christ be calling you? Are you prepared to make sacrifices if necessary? What price would you be willing to pay to truly follow Him? Pray the dangerous prayers bravely and honestly, and be open to seeing them answered.
  3. Give to our solidarity crowdfunder – if you are behind what we did and want to stand alongside us as we face court costs and possible fines for exposing the deadly truth behind the government’s climate whitewash, even if you were unable to take part yourself you can join with us in paying the court costs by donating to our crowdfunder here.
  4. Join the vigil outside court on 31st May – we are on trial on 31st May, and would love as many people as possible to come along and support us. We will be holding a prayer vigil outside court (full details here), either just drop in to show your support or come for the day.
  5. Join CCAget in touch if you think you’d like to be involved in future

CCA join Reclaim the Power at ‘End Coal Now’ day of action.

 

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As part of Reclaim the Powers action camp at Ffos-Y-Fran, members of Christian Climate Action have blockaded a road in the coal mine.  The day of action itself included hundreds of people occupying the site on May 3rd 2016.

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Below is the Press Release:

PRESS RELEASE

3rd May 2016

 

 

Christians on the Front Line Against UK Coal

Five members of Christian Climate Action blockaded the Ffos-y-fran open cast coal mine at 6:25am this morning, helping to close off the access road to the mine. They were among 400 people from Reclaim the Power camp who shut down the largest open cast coal mine in the UK for the day and called for the end of coal mining in the UK to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The activists were dressed in red to lay down the red line that fossil fuels, especially coal, must stay in the ground. The UK government announced last year that it plans to end coal burning for electricity by 2025. Christian Climate Action says this is not only too late, but also little more than a hypocritical gesture if the UK continues to mine coal for shipping overseas.

Phil Kingston, 80, one of the five and originally from Penarth said, ‘My grandfather worked in the Welsh mines. We know now that coal is hugely damaging to God’s creation and to the future of my grandchildren and their generation. The poorest people in the world are being hit hardest by the extreme weather events that are being caused by climate change. For all these reasons I feel called to take action to keep fossil fuels in the ground.’

Ruth Jarman, 52, who lay on the ground with her arm in one of the tubes, said, ‘Our government agreed last year in Paris to try to limit climate change to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. To have any chance of meeting this target 85% of known fossil fuel reserves, and 90% of coal, the dirtiest of all, need to stay in the ground. By stopping mining at Ffos-y-Fran, the largest opencast coal mine in the country, we are simply helping our government to live up to its own promises.’

The ‘End Coal Now’ action is part of the Groundswell year of action and international mobilisations taking on the fossil fuel industry.

The five are: Ruth Jarman from Hampshire (52), Phil Kingston from Bristol (79), Father Martin Newell from Birmingham (48), Jo Frew and Julie Timbrell.

‘As Christians we feel we have no option but to take sides on matters that threaten the future of so much of God’s creation, including the people he loves,’ said Ruth. ‘By participating in this action to stop the mining of coal, we intend to place ourselves on the side of justice and peace.’

ENDS

Editors Notes:

  1. More information about Christian Climate Action, including statements of support and photographs, can be found on our website:www.christianclimateaction.wordpress.com
  2. The Reclaim the Power mass action camp, End Coal Now, is part of the Groundswell year of action and international mobilisations taking on the fossil fuel industry this May.  The camp shut down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine – Ffos-y-fran in Wales. www.reclaimthepower.org.uk/endcoalnow