Caring for God’s creation is a key tenet of diverse Christian faiths including Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Methodists, Quakers and Baptists, who have all cited action to address climate change as a moral obligation. And Pope Francis has repeatedly made the religious case for addressing global warming, warning, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”
As business, government and academia increasingly coalesce as a force for climate action and a more sustainable global ethos, the impetus to maintain the status quo is weakening. Add religious institutions to the mix and it becomes a moral imperative.
“Before man was asked to love his neighbor, love God, or care for the least of these, he was asked to love the earth,” said Rev. Marjani Dele, minister of missions at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC), said at an EPA hearing last summer. “You could say that it was a type of first commandment.”
No stranger to shepherding social behavioral change, the UCC in 2013 became the first mainstream denomination to vote to divest from fossil fuel companies, by passing a resolution “for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of ‘best in class’ fossil fuel companies by 2015.”
The UCC also passed a resolution calling for its church buildings to become carbon neutral, starting with energy audits on all their facilities which include about 5,200 congregations nationwide.
Katharine Jefferts Schori, among the most powerful women in American Christianity as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has stated that those who deny climate change are turning their backs on God’s greatest gift — knowledge.
“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” Jefferts Schori said in the Guardian. “I think it is a very blind position.”
Jefferts Schori is part of the Episcopal Church’s pastoral ministry for 2.5 million members in 17 countries, the world's third-largest Christian communion following the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Once an oceanographer, Jefferts Schori was the first woman elected as a Primate in the Anglican Communion; when the Bishop says that climate change is a “moral issue, in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already,” millions of devoted followers are listening and the echo is being amplified by social media.
The Episcopal Church hosted a webcast last week, lobbying legislators to take action, and launched 30 Days of Action, a campaign calling on Episcopalians “learn, advocate, act, proclaim, eat, play and pray. … Focusing on environmental change on a personal, community and global level for 30 days can help Episcopalians proclaim a commitment to caring for God’s creation.”
Even evangelical churches, seen as conservative politically and as fundamentalist religiously by more mainstream Christian denominations, are taking up the cause. “The major evangelical groups in this country have been much more forward in addressing this issue because they understand that it impacts the poor,” Jeffers Schori told the Guardian.
“I really hope to motivate average Episcopalians to see the severity of this issue, the morality of this issue,” said Jefferts Schori. “Turning the ship in another direction requires the consolidated efforts of many people who are moving in the same direction. It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country, where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place.”
Not to be outdone, the Catholic Church’s 1.2 billion followers include activists such as The Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM), a group of about 100 Catholic organizations actively engaged in climate change-related activities. The Group, which announced in February that many of its members across the world would fast for action on climate change during Lent, recently launched a campaign to give Catholics a platform to air their concerns and sign a petition prior to the United Nations COP21 climate summit in Paris in December.
“Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people. Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts,” the petition says.
The New York Times reports that the Pope will meet with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September to discuss consequences for the world’s most disenfranchised before his September address to the UN General Assembly and the US Congress.
The GCCM petition, in advance of Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical, follows the Holy Father’s directive: “On climate change there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.”