Tearfund’s climate transformationism

Tearfund (originally “The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund”) is running a new campaign to mobilise Christians against the “climate crisis,” hubristically modestly called “Let’s Change the Climate.” Oh, do let’s!

Tearfund was founded back in 1968 at a time when Evangelical reaction to the liberal “social gospel” had seriously eroded the concept of good works, making the gospel excessively privatised and pietistic. The increasing realisation of this weakness led curate George Hoffman to set up a direct Evangelical equivalent to Christian Aid, with the aim of ensuring that help for the overseas poor was directly linked to the good news of the gospel. We all welcomed it.

As a useful article, reviewing books on Tearfund and its US equivalent, World Vision, describes, as the years went by Tearfund found itself ensnared in what seems to be a general principle in modern Christian humanitarian projects: that of slowly becoming smaller versions of their secular equivalents, adopting the same agendas:

The interpretive lens Freeman offers to understand Tearfund’s dynamic history is “the cycle of secularization and revitalization,” which she argues has occurred repeatedly among Protestant Christian organizations since the 19th century. As established organizations become secularized as a result of professionalization, “spiritually hot” evangelical organizations pop up to replace them before the cycle repeats itself. What is interesting about Tearfund is that the same dynamic has happened inside the organization.

The article identifies three stages in Tearfund’s history. The first “Hoffman” period was gradually absorbed into mainstream aid concepts by a process of professionalisation:

As the agency drew closer to the work of development, many started to question what it meant to do “Christian development” as well as whether and how evangelism and development should be combined. Without fully addressing these questions, the leaders of the organization during the 1990s sought to join the mainstream development and humanitarian sector. This process of professionalization meant major restructuring of its organization, operations, and partnerships, which World Vision had begun a decade earlier. Without entirely letting go of its church and missionary partners on the ground, Tearfund established its own country offices and deployed its own disaster response teams. It taught its local partners professional accounting and assessment skills and made them abide by international codes of conduct and standards of behavior, which were and still are largely based on the Western dichotomy of secular and religious. [My italics]

Now I remember at that time nobody in the pews thought of Tearfund as having sunk into a secular model: it was the Evangelical aid flagship, after all. It ran what was really a political campaign to persuade the government to increase foreign aid, which was of course taken up readily by our benevolent members – except for one or two like a senior banker, who was aware of the dangers of aid-dependency in actually diminishing the prosperity of poor nations. But with the go-to Evangelical agency favouring the economic and social theory of all the other aid agencies, there was simply no context in a church setting in which the banker could critique the project. It is now clearer than ever that Western government aid has always been predicated on such dependency, and linked to quid-pro-quo commercial deals, in order to keep the poorer nations tied to our hegemony. But try discussing that over coffee after the Tearfund rep. has shown the glossy video!

The third and so far final stage in Tearfund’s history was a reaction to this secularisation, involving a concerted effort to direct aid towards local churches which, themselves, aim to transform their communities. This is an admirable ideal, but as the already linked article describes, it has not always been as successful as hoped. Problems include a tendency to involve only the prosperous members of churches, its inapplicability to struggling minority fellowships in hostile cultures, and the failure to realise that such transformation is often more effective when it is entirely indigenous, rather than “helped” by a Western aid organisation. I would add a theological elephant in the room: prioritising the transformation of society is a rather post-millennial understanding of being “salt and light.” It may be a natural development from “faithful witness” when Christianity gains influence, but it is not the thing itself.

Perhaps that is why the spectre of secularisation keeps reappearing, and I believe it has done so in spades in the latest “Change the Climate” Challenge. The whole thing swallows the climate alarmism playbook promoted by the “green industrial complex,” fur, bones and all.

If you look at Tearfund’s website, the campaign is said to emerge from the reports of churches in the developing world of their sufferings from climate change. This means, it seems, extreme weather events (the increased crop yields worldwide from higher CO2 are, in accordance with the conventional climate narrative, unmentioned). There are immediate problems with this, in that even the IPCC recognises that few, if any, categories of extreme weather can be linked to climate change. Extreme events have always happened and always will. Furthermore, the science already demonstrates that, historically, warming and cooling cycles have predominantly affected the higher latitudes: the tropics have remained more or less constant.

The suggested response to the problem, too, is a departure from the “local transformationism” policy, and indeed from the core idea of direct aid to local communities. Instead it is churches over here in the West who are being asked to meet the challenge, and apparently to change the climate, by all the old net-zero chestnuts: cutting travel, using less water (to prevent non-existent increases in droughts on the other side of the planet), cutting electricity use, changing your diet, cutting plastic waste, and finally signing a petition to … guess what – increase aid, but in this case to “climate-challenged” countries.

All this, of course, depends on believing a narrative pushed by governments, corporations and ideologically committed NGOs worldwide, which as we all know by now, depends on the myth that it is “settled science.” But in fact part of the recurrent process of “professionalisation” and “secularisation” is to accept without question the authority of those in the professional and secular world, rather than putting biblical theology front and centre (instead using it to back up the narrative unreflexively).

It is, however, ironic to introduce this message of practically ineffective self-sacrifice at the very time when net zero green policies have forced compliance to the “challenges” on Europe, and particularly the UK. We won’t travel when the fuel runs out or costs the earth. Water may be a problem if the pumping stations go down. Fuel and food look set to be unaffordable to many in our churches. And we’re giving so much money to the Ukraine government that, even if sterling doesn’t collapse, there is no leeway to reverse the recent cuts to foreign aid.

It’s also ironic that Tearfund has joined the climate bandwagon in the eighth year of the latest stasis in warming.

As for the benefits to poor countries, this is also the time when Western pressure to conform to Net Zero targets has denied locally sourced cheap fossil fuel energy to much of the poor world, reversing development for the first time in decades. It has also bankrupted Sri Lanka by denying it artificial fertilizers to favour organic land use. My pastor friend there informs me they now have to run a 24 hour prayer helpline because of the escalating suicide rate. It is not fear of potential Armageddon that is oppressing them, but actual starvation.

Now, not all our immediate problems here are directly due to green policies, though 20 years of “climate changing” energy strategy has been a major contributor (without changing the climate) which, I would have hoped, Christians would have heeded. But remember how much of a piece Net Zero has been with COVID lockdowns, Building Back Better, and expanding NATO. On the last, sanctioning Russian oil and gas, and then blowing up Nordstream, have even been touted across Europe as furthering the environmental agenda. It seems that the CIA were first in line to meet the Tearfund Challenge.

You’ll have concluded by now that I don’t buy any of this at all. It is, of course, always tempting for aid agencies to look behind the effects to the political and economic causes of poverty, which are real and wicked. But in so doing they become political and economic pressure groups, rather than aid-providers, and they don’t understand the politics and the economics – and the science – well enough to avoid becoming pawns of the powerful and frankly evil people behind the curtain.

But like my banker friend back in the 1990s, what is one to do on “Tearfund Sunday”? To speak out at all would be divisive when “Save the Planet” has become the universally accepted religion from kindergarten to rest home. Still less is there any opportunity in a church setting to teach people the evidence that has led over 1400 scientists now to sign a declaration that “There is no climate emergency.” At least, even creating such an opportunity is a distraction from the gospel of salvation, which ought to be the beginning, middle and end of a church’s business. Unfortunately, Tearfund gets a pass on slipping green politics into the whole UK Evangelical church without having to make a solid case for it.

So I’ll just have to stay home, I guess.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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