Environmental organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, are reaching out to churches and faith-based organizations for partnerships on issues of environmental stewardship.
Leaders and representatives of a variety of denominations, including Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist, gathered at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., on April 23 for a conference on how people of faith can join with secular organizations on issues concerning the environment.
“This represents the combination of eco-justice and economic justice,” said Tyler Edgar of the National Council of Churches EcoJustice Program in Washington, D.C., and one of the main presenters at the conference titled “A Faithful Response to Global Warming.”
“How those two issues can intersect is what people of faith can speak to better than anyone else,” she said.
“We (environmental organizations and faith-based organizations) share a call to be stewards of the earth, to care for our fellow human beings and to respect all life,” said Martha Lyle Ford of the National Wildlife Federation. “Climate change and caring for creation are not just political issues. It’s not even just an economic matter. It really is a matter of faith and spirituality and when you get down to it, it’s fundamentally a religious issue. And these are issues that transcend all political parties and all denominations.”
The core issues, according to the environmental organizations, are rooted in the biblical admonition to be both stewards of the earth and tend to the needs of the “least of these.”
Speakers indicated that many highly respected scientists, those at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, claim that people worldwide have about 10 years to make major changes on items such as power usage, greenhouse gases, carbon reduction and pollution before the effects are major and almost irreversible on a global perspective.
The economic justice issues come in as the people most immediately and directly affected by the consequences of inaction are those who are living in poverty, sometimes pushing them further into poverty with increasing rates for fuel and utilities and the inability to grow crops and make a living because of the effects of floods, storms and droughts.
“The question to ask now is ‘What does it mean for the church to respond in a way that is demanded by stewardship and justice for all of God’s creation?’,” Edgar said.
“We need to de-mystify some things,” said Steve Copley of the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance. “It’s a process. Because of the way things have been characterized politically and on television, people of the faith community have tended to shy away from the absolutely essential life of creation.”
Besides philosophical and theological reasons for participation by faith communities, leaders also noted that the effect of climate change and major deviations in weather patterns globally could have a practical effect.
“There are more droughts, floods and famines and just things we haven’t seen before in places they’ve almost never happened,” said Edgar. “Hurricanes are more intense. Plant cycles have been altered, dramatically in some cases. Our wildlife organizations have noticed changes in duck migration. We are seeing disease-carrying insects in places they have never been seen before. And a lot of churches are having to deal with this in their mission programs.”
Edgar pointed out that church mission budgets “may have to double or increase sixfold” to keep up with the challenges around the world brought about by climate change. She said in some cases, climate change and disasters brought on by environmental disturbances have hindered or prevented missionaries from operating in impoverished areas. It has also hindered U.S. churches from working completely and efficiently with partner churches worldwide.
A common question concerns even if people in the United States make dramatic changes concerning environmental stewardship, can that still offset the damage done by highly populated, high-consuming but often environmentally unfriendly nations such as China and India?
“If the United States doesn’t take the lead, nobody else is going to do it,” Edgar said. “We have to create leadership opportunities to bring other countries into it and work with developing countries to share technology we have and bring them to the table in a manner that is realistic. But we can’t wait for them to go first.”
Organizers said there are plenty of opportunities for churches and people of faith to address environmental concerns that include better recycling programs and energy audits in churches, the formation of “green teams” within churches to educate and lead, writing letters to the editor, being advocates for environmentally friendly laws or participate in the political process that deals with environmental and concurrent economic issues on the local level.
“We can make laws but there are higher principles and commandments to ‘love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and to love our neighbor,'” Ford said. “That’s the overarching law. What we all need to do as people of faith is to pray about this. And whatever you determine your course to be, do something.”
David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com