Christians and Climate Change Refugees

In the first two installments of this series on climate refugees, we have covered the definition of climate refugees and given some concrete examples of communities being affected by climate change. We have also considered global policy concerning climate refugees and what individuals can do to make a difference. In this final installment I want to speak specifically to my Christian readers (which is most of you) and answer the question, how should Christians respond to climate refugees?

Christians and Climate Change

Christians, especially conservative, white evangelical Christians, have historically denied man-made climate change. Though I personally disagree with that position, my aim in this series has not been to convince you that man-made climate change is real. My goal has been to bring to your attention the fact that warmer climates, changing weather patterns, and an increase in natural disasters are displacing millions of people from their homes every year, whether those changes are caused by humans or not. But because of evangelical Christians’ historical position on climate change, it has become difficult to highlight the differences between a political opinion about climate change and its affect on real people and communities. So, for now let’s set aside our political opinions about climate change and look at how we, as followers of Jesus, should respond to climate refugees.

What the Bible Has to Say

Scripture does not specifically address the modern concept of climate change or climate refugees, but there are stories of communities affected by natural disasters and changing weather patterns that disrupt individuals’ livelihoods. Let’s take a look at the story of Naomi and Ruth as an example.

The book of Ruth opens by introducing us to a refugee family. Naomi, her husband, and her two sons moved to Moab because there was a famine in their home country of Judah and they were struggling to survive (Ruth 1:1-2). It doesn’t say explicitly, but it seems as though they were welcomed in Moab because Naomi’s two sons married women there and they stayed for ten years (Ruth 1:4). The majority of the book of Ruth focuses on the difficulties that Naomi faced when she decided to return to Judah with her daughter-in-law Ruth after the famine had ended. As a widow with no sons Naomi had no one to care for her and no way to earn a living upon her return. She and Ruth relied on the compassion and generosity of others to survive until Ruth married Boaz.

Throughout her experience as a climate refugee Naomi was treated well and supported in various ways by Ruth, Boaz, and others. The sharing of resources exhibited by Boaz (and presumably by those in Moab) is something that Christians should seek to exemplify with widows, orphans, and the homeless, but also with climate refugees.

Practical Ways to Respond to Climate Refugees

Adjust your thinking. As I touched on above, it can be all too easy to think of climate change only in political terms, but we should be thinking of it in humanitarian and biblical terms as well. If you have become accustomed to internally (or externally) scoffing every time you hear a discussion about climate change, try to be intentional about really listening to what is being said and consider how those policies and opinions might help or harm real communities. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to agree with man-made climate change. Some policies and ideas can benefit communities regardless of whether or not those implementing them believe that humans are responsible for changing weather patterns.

Support organizations that serve climate refugees. Many Christian organizations do disaster relief and serve communities around the world who are affected by famines, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. Samaritan’s Purse is a great example. Other organizations are seeking to mitigate the effects of climate change through social entrepreneurship. For more examples of this, check out the previous article in this series.

Support policy that addresses the issue. If we truly believe in biblical compassion and caring for those in need, then we should be supporting policies like the federal grant that allowed for residents of the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana to relocate to the mainland because their homes were sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. It shouldn’t matter that President Obama believes in man-made climate change or that he was not part of your political party. What should matter is that an entire community of struggling Americans were given the opportunity to move to safer homes when many of them might have ended up homeless otherwise. Let’s make a habit of looking at these kinds of policies with people in mind before we look at them with politics in mind. I hope this series has been helpful and has served to challenge your thinking on an important issue that I believe will only grow more pressing with time. If there is something I didn’t cover or if this discussion has raised additional questions for you, feel free to contact me. I would love to chat about this more!