Engage out of love not fear

By Emelia Haskey

Posted in News

Rev James Bhagwan came to Australia to give a speech at the first annual Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS) Polkinghorne Oration. But he also came with questions for all Australians.

‘Is a Pacific Island life worth less than an Australian life? Because when we refuse to make the changes that need to be made for the sake of the entire planet, we are only thinking about ourselves,’ said James.

‘Is your level of comfort worth more than our existence?’

James is an ordained Methodist Minister from Fiji, and since 2018 he has served as the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. He is an activist for climate justice and has spoken all over the world at events such as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

His mission is to fight for global action on climate change and he advocates against environmental destruction in the Pacific Islands.

‘Climate change has been recognised by Pacific Island countries … that includes Australia and New Zealand … as the single largest security threat to our region. Recognising that the issue is not for just small developing islands but also for Australia and New Zealand, there is a need for a seismic shift – a real paradigm shift – to take place,’ he said.

During his tour of South Australia, he met with the United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC); preached at Pilgrim Uniting Church; had dinner with the Vermont Fijian Congregation; and met with candidates for ministry at the Uniting College.

His strong message and call to action was welcomed by those who attended the recent Polkinghorne Oration, as attendees left feeling both challenged and energised as they discussed ways in which they could further climate justice in their own communities.

James, however, isn’t fazed by the scepticism and inaction he has faced when speaking at global climate events.

‘Sometimes the prophetic voice is not welcome. We go into our work knowing full well that it’s not welcome. The Christian path leads to eternal life but along the way there is rejection and crucifixion. Even if we are facing people who don’t want to listen, we still speak.’

The Uniting Church’s strong connection with churches across the Pacific Islands and commitment to safeguarding our natural environment are things that bring James great joy.

‘I want to acknowledge not just the leadership in the church, but to see people from the Uniting Church standing up and joining in marches and getting out there and talking to people – it’s really wonderful to see,’ said James.

Though he is glad to share his perspectives as a Pacific Islander, he made clear at the Oration that we must look to Aboriginal Australians to lead the way in the journey to climate justice and Indigenous self-determination.

‘Our church leaders [in the Pacific] call on all Pacific diaspora to support the Yes vote in the Referendum this year … it’s part of the whole discernment and journey of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

We need to engage out of love, not fear.’

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