The Right Reverend Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, is the third most senior clergyman in the Church of England and told the Times newspaper this week that driving a large 4×4 car or taking unnecessary short haul flights could constitute a sin.

He repeated the comments to the BBC radio’s Today programme, though he qualified his position by saying whether or not these things constitute a sin depends on the individual circumstances.

The comments have angered some of those at the heart of the emissions debate, such as the RAC Foundation’s executive director Edmund King, who told reporters buying a car was a practical, not a moral decision and that perhaps the Bishop should “stick to what he knows best”.

But Claire Foster, the Church’s spokesperson on environmental matters, told edie that the Bishop was more than entitled to comment on these issues, as looking after the planet was central to Christianity.

“As Christians we have a duty to respect what God has given us – so this is core business for us,” she said.

“The Bishop uses cars and is a consumer just like the rest of us and the Church has every right to comment on moral issues.”

Asked to clarify what did and did not constitute and environmental sin, she said there was no one-size-fits-all guidelines and what was a sin for some might be acceptable for others.

“It depends on the circumstances,” she said.

“One of the things about this is understanding the actions we perform. You hear mothers say they drive these big 4x4s because they thing they are better protecting their children, which is a very reasonable concern.

She compared today’s situation and growing awareness of the harm we are doing to the planet to changing attitudes to slavery in centuries past, which was at one time regarded as vital for our economy and morally acceptable.

“There will come a point when our children and grandchildren will say you knew the consequences of what you were doing, what did you do to change?” she said.

The Church, she said, was doing its bit by trying to reduce its own carbon output under its Shrinking the Footprint scheme.

Bishop Chartres’ comments have also been defended by the UK religious think tank Ekklesia, which says that public astonishment that environmental care is a Christian conviction and that selfishness is harmful to people and planet illustrates “the extraordinary extent to which even the most simple theological concepts are obscure in a culture which is rapidly losing touch with organised religion.”

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: “We are often pointing out that the churches need to get their own house in order, rather than just being seen to lecture others. This is precisely what the Bishop of London’s comments and the Shrinking the Footprint scheme are all about. So it’s a bit tough that he’s being attacked for being a busy-body.”

Sam Bond

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