Children and young people—prophets—have been using their platforms and networks, including social media, to speak truth to those in power.
A while back, I was listening to a conversation between a friend and her 10 year-old son. My friend told her son at the end of their talk, “Remember, that you are the hope of our future…” Looking annoyed and uncomfortable, her son responded, “Mama, how many times do I have to tell you that I am not the hope of the future. Why do you put so much pressure on me?” My friend looked at me in surprise and we’re both clueless how to respond at that moment.
More and more children and teens experience anxiety—and more the common phenomenon now is eco-anxiety. The American Psychological Association describes eco-anxiety as "a chronic fear of environmental doom." 1
"Children are infinitely more informed than their parents think, a lot of the time," according to a 2021 global online survey of climate anxiety in 10,000 teenagers and young adults ages 16-25 in 10 countries, including the UK, US, Brazil, India and the Philippines.
Around 60% of the young people who responded to the survey said that they felt "very" or "extremely" worried about climate change; 75% said that "the future is frightening,” 56% believe that "humanity is doomed" and 39% were hesitant to have children. Fifty-eight percent of respondents felt that governments were betraying them or future generations.
The anxiety for the future is not only limited to the issue of climate change, it intersects with issues like gender injustice—the growing hate speech and hate crimes, in particular toward women and girls. It impacts racial and systemic injustices, militarization, war, and conflict, among others.
Although young people are radically impatient with the ongoing inaction and passive response of different sectors to the climate urgency, there is still hope amidst all these—and young people are championing it.
Within and beyond the World Council of Churches (WCC) fellowship, young people are at the frontlines of strong movements. The Climate YES (or the Climate Youth Ecumenical Service) is a product of a strong vision of young people present at COP26 in Glasgow, UK.
Members come from different parts of the world and are climate activists. Another group, Young Environmental Group, started at the WCC Ecumenical Youth Gathering in Karlsruhe, Germany this year. A group of young climate activists came together to strategize the young people’s message to the assembly in relation to the climate emergency.
Young people are already several steps ahead. Ecumenical movements like Climate YES and the Youth Environmental Group sprung out from the need to stir up the church and society to proactively act and commit to real transformation towards God’s call to God’s people for “abundant life for all (of creation and the cosmos), John 10:10b.”
In the recently concluded WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, young people sparked a climate protest, demanding decision-makers to intentionally and proactively “Walk the Talk,” a call to urgent action to climate change.
The more than 400 young people at the assembly clearly spoke of some of their laments on the climate crisis:
“● We lament the degradation and destruction of mother nature, including the oceans, for profit and human consumption, and the persecution of environmental activists who speak up.
● We lament the influence of green washing in our Christian communities that instrumentalizes the issues of climate crisis for profit.
● We lament the use of green colonialism to land-grab ancestral domains of Indigenous peoples, such as the Sámi peoples and the Maasai peoples for new ‘green technologies.’” 2
The message is clear. Young people are radically impatient of the slow response of the different sectors to the fast and changing climate conditions—for the worst.
Another clear “ask” from the young people at the WCC 11th Assembly was equal and fair representation of young people at the decision-making bodies. There is no way that the fellowship talks about the present and the future, without young people seated at the table.
As church and fellowship, we have to be reflective on our engagement with the young people. We often say that we accompany young people and provide a platform for them to speak and bring their concerns to us. However, if the accompaniment doesn’t equal to sharing the decision-making space or co-leadership, and the platform is not the decision-making table, then how is the church intentionally allowing herself to be inclusive of young people and the gifts they bring?
The call to being God’s good stewards of God’s creation is for all the generations to bear—towards a just and sustainable future for all. This is a responsibility not only for the younger generation, but also a conviction of accountability for older and other generations.
Young people can’t wait any longer. This is the church’s high time to engage herself with young people and renew her prophetic voice in the climate crisis today. And, at the same time, reflect a model of shared leadership and responsibility with young people in the decision-making spaces of the church and the fellowship.
1 Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist at the University of Bath in the UK. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220315-how-eco-anxiety-affects-childrens-minds
2 Message from the Ecumenical Youth Gathering at the WCC 11th Assembly: https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/message-from-the-ecumenical-youth-gathering-at-the-wcc-11th-assembly