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Charles Birch

Tribute to Prof. Charles Birch (1918 - 2009)

22 December 2009

It is with deep sadness that I learnt of the death of Prof. Charles Birch.  On behalf of the World Council of Churches I send sincere condolences to the family, relatives and friends of Charles Birch in Australia and beyond.  We thank God for the life of Charles Birch and pray for his soul to rest in eternal peace.

The WCC remembers Charles Birch with fondness and deep respect for his brilliant contribution to the ecumenical movement on how faith and science could contribute to addressing problems facing human beings and nature in an industrialized and industrializing world.

Charles Birch was courageous and prophetic in using his knowledge and enormous gifts as an eminent biologist and a theologian.  In 1975 he addressed the WCC’s fifth assembly in Nairobi eloquently promoting the concept of sustainability.  Speaking on the theme of “Creation, Technology and Human Survival: Called to Replenish the Earth”, he made “a chillingly detailed analysis of the threats to human survival, whose total impact is so serious that “it demanded the positive ‘de-development’ of the rich developed world”.  He asked what positively we could do, “for if we cannot permit technology to have its head we cannot do without it.”  Our goal therefore, he suggested, “must be a just and sustainable society; and this demands a fundamental change of heart and mind about humankind’s relation to nature.”

Charles Birch’s scientific and theological foresightedness was such that thirty five years ago he laid down a strong foundation for WCC’s climate change programme.  To date we continue to be inspired by his insights and ideas and for a long time to come we shall remain deeply indebted to this faithful servant of God and humankind.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary
22 December 2009