A wellspring of hope

One of the first cohort of ten students who began the new Master’s programme (co-created with the University of Roehampton) in Theology, Ecology and Ethics at the London Jesuit Centre in September 2019, Melanie Nazareth has had the opportunity to translate the academic into the practical as an environmental activist.

The MA course was enormously attractive to me because of its focus on praxis. On an individual level, the MA was a framework for exploring my motivations as an activist and, in turn, for a more rigorous discernment. I am part of Christian Climate Action, a faith group within the Extinction Rebellion movement, and I see nonviolent direct action as a part of my path in following Jesus.

Within the ethics module I came to a renewed understanding of being faithfully hopeful and courageous. I need this to resist the temptation of despair that goes with confronting the lack of political will and meaningful action on the climate. That wellspring rather wonderfully led me to facilitating online morning prayer sessions to help other environmental activists sustain their hope and courage during lockdown, and more recently when we faced backlash on our return to the streets. We have built this prayer time into an online community that has brought us a much more diverse and widespread engagement, and has enriched our discourse immensely.

Justice is embedded in Extinction Rebellion’s purpose: we have always spoken for global and social fairness in tackling the climate and ecological crisis. Now, because of conversations around race, there’s also a bigger focus on how we might share power structures and tackle cultural injustice, issues that are inextricably bound to the roots and the consequences of this crisis. I see this seeking of justice as answering the call of Laudato si’, which identified the need to change a system that causes such harm to the marginalised, the poor and people of colour.

Much of what I do in Extinction Rebellion is alongside people of other faith traditions, and seeing my Muslim brothers and sisters much more anxious about the impact that arrest will have on their lives has brought an acknowledgement that civil disobedience is a much greater sacrifice in culturally non-dominant groups. So my own practice has consciously shifted away from the strategy of accepting arrest to the potential of faith witness: for instance, I have organised 24/7 interfaith prayer vigils outside Parliament and developed this model for local community engagement in a Covid-world. One of the things that has felt important about all this is the opportunity to offer something distinctively faith-based in a movement that is primarily secular.

My faith has more recently taken me into an emerging Extinction Rebellion group with biologists and conservationists to advocate for all life forms, from the microbiome of the soil through to orangutans, as climate change is not only destroying human flourishing, we are taking down millions of God’s creatures with us. This is one consequence of the MA deepening my theological appreciation of the sacred ecology of creation beyond the human.

I don’t know what the future holds. After many years of a career in law, God sent these unexpected gifts of activism and returning to study my way, and I need to find a way to use them well.

Blog by Melanie Nazareth, MA stuudent 

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